Monday, 18 November 2013

Breisach

The Franco-German border town of Breisach am Rhein has, like much of this area, been the subject of a tug of war between rival powers for much of its history.
The steep hill on which St Stephansmunster (left) is built was already a settlement in pre-Roman times, and the Romans built a fort there too, calling the place Mons Brisiacus, or Breakwater Mountain. Before the straightening of the Rhine in the 19th Century this hill could become an island when the river flooded.
The hill was a again important as the Germans tried to halt the Allied advance at the Rhine towards the close of the Second World War. Most of the town was destroyed and so today its history can only be discerned in small survivals and restored monuments.
The cobbled streets of the old town on the hill surround an attractive cathedral with both Romanesque and Gothic elements and more than a hint of fortification. Inside is a fine carved altarpiece and a golden, repoussé-decorated reliquary. On a simpler note, I also admired a beautiful carving of a yoked ox (right) above the door of a house in the town.
When you pass through the old town gate at the foot of the hill, you enter what is effectively an entirely modern town built more or less on the former flood plain. There is a nice market too.
Not far away, the formerly volcanic range of hills known as the Kaiserstuhl, believed to be named for a court held there by the Holy Roman Emperor Otto, dominates the plain as you travel towards the Black Forest.