Discover the surprising Mulhouse Old Town

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Mulhouse Old Town may seem to be at odd in Alsace where visitors are used to seeing half-timbered houses in picturesque districts such as in Colmar and Strasbourg. Despite the too many concrete buildings built in the aftermath of World War II, the old town hides several historic monuments. In place of traditional Alsatian half-timbering, Mulhouse reveals houses with painted walls, decorated with frescoes and manors and townhouses made of bricks.

The fortifications of Mulhouse

From the former fortifications that used to surround Mulhouse there remain two towers accounting for the town’s oldest buildings: the Devil’s Tower (Tour du Diable) and the Bollwerk Tower (Tour du Bollwerk).

Built in the 13th century, the Devil’s Tower was used as a prison, in particular for witches.

The Bollwerk Tower, a symbol of Mulhouse, is a defensive bastion from the 14th century. Its name means “bastion” and produced the French word “Boulevard” as cities dismantled its ramparts and moats in the 19th century in most of France to give way to large streets. The Bollwerk Tower was separated from its ramparts in 1840. In the 1970s, Bernard Latuner restored the fresco on the façade depicting a knight.

Mulhouse © French Moments

Mulhouse © French Moments

The State listed the Bollwerk Tower as a Historic Monument since 1898.


Mulhouse Old Town: Place de la Réunion

Mulhouse 67 © French Moments

Place de la Réunion, Mulhouse © French Moments

The epicentre of the life of Mulhouse is Place de la Réunion. The square takes its name from the joining of the city with the young French Republic on 15 March 1798. It looks over the pedestrian shopping streets of Rue Mercière, Rue de la Lanterne and Rue Henriette.

Located in its centre, the statue of the Yeoman stands over a fountain.

Mulhouse Christmas Market © French Moments

By the fountain of the Hallebardier © French Moments

The square is surrounded by most of Mulhouse’s interesting buildings: the Saint-Etienne Protestant Temple, the former Town-Hall, the Mieg house and the Lys Pharmarcy.

The former Town-Hall

Mulhouse © French Moments

Place de la Réunion, Mulhouse © French Moments

The beautiful Old Town-Hall on Place de la Réunion dates back to 1551. Built by Michel Lynthumer, an architect from Basle, it is a masterpiece of Rhenish Renaissance architecture. Passing through Mulhouse in 1580, French writer Montaigne described the monument as a “magnificent gilded palace”. Its façade was decorated in 1698 by Jean Gabriel in trompe-l’oeil representing allegoric figures symbolising good government and justice as well as the coat of arms of the Swiss cantons to which Mulhouse was allied.

Mulhouse Christmas Market © French Moments

The former town-hall of Mulhouse © French Moments

These coats of arms were removed when Mulhouse joined France in 1798 before being painted back on during the 1988 restoration of the façade.

The Old Town Hall now houses the historical museum of Mulhouse which records the history of the autonomous Republic of Mulhouse prior to 1798.

On the right side of the building hangs a reproduction of the Klapperstein, the “chatterbox stone”.

Mulhouse Old Town - The Klapperstein © French Moments

Mulhouse Old Town – The Klapperstein © French Moments

The Klapperstein is a stone suspended by a chain, representing a man’s head with eyes wide-open and sticking out his tongue. The original 12kg piece of stone is kept in the historic museum inside the building. In the Middle Ages and until 1798, slanderous people were condemned to cross the town on a donkey with the stone hanging from their necks.

Mulhouse Old Town - The Klapperstein © French Moments

Mulhouse Old Town – The Klapperstein © French Moments

The original text written in German on the façade next to the stone says:

I am called the “chatterbox stone”

Well known to bad mouths.

Whoever takes pleasure in squabbling and quarreling

Will carry me across the town

The Saint-Étienne Protestant Temple

Mulhouse Old Town - Temple Saint-Etienne © French Moments

Mulhouse Old Town – Temple Saint-Etienne © French Moments

This 97 metre high Saint-Étienne Temple sanctuary is the highest Protestant church in France and the second-tallest church in Alsace after the Cathedral of Strasbourg. Replacing a former Romanesque-Gothic church, the current building was erected by architect Jean-Baptiste Schacre between 1859 and 1866.

Thann collegiate inspired the soaring spire of the Temple and recalls more generally the style of Rhenish spires. The bell tower houses a chime cast in 1867 in Zurich, which is the largest chime found in a Protestant Temple in all of France.

Mulhouse Old Town - Temple Saint-Etienne © French Moments

Mulhouse Old Town – Temple Saint-Etienne © French Moments

From the former church, the current Temple retained the original stalls from 1637 and the 12th century stained-glass windows which are some of the most beautiful in the region.

The Mieg House

Firstly mentioned in 1418, this mansion with its easily recognisable turret was converted into a bourgeois Renaissance house. The largest house on the Place de la Réunion, it was inhabited by Louis Witz who affixed his coat of arms to the façade around 1640. Later, the Miegs, an influential local manufacturing family, lived there from 1679 until 1840 and painted the trompe-l’oeils.

 

The Lys Pharmacy

This house was first inhabited in 1464. In 1649, after the Thirty Years War, Jean-Henri Engelmann bought it to establish a pharmacy, which still operates today. Notice inside the building, the ceiling is decorated with paintings dating from the 17th century.

The Lys Pharmacy © French Moments

The Lys Pharmacy © French Moments


Mulhouse Old Town: the Upper Town

The Chains Court and Rue des Franciscains

The Chains Court (Cour des Chaînes) is a large house built in the 16th century. Its name comes from the chains that separated the inside courtyard from the street.

Mulhouse Old Town - Cour des Chaines © French Moments

Mulhouse Old Town – Cour des Chaines © French Moments

The building contains a fine spiral staircase in the central turret as well as magnificent painted ceilings created in 1675. It the 18th century, the Cour des Chaînes housed a textile factory.

The rue de Franciscains is a picturesque street that leads to the St. John chapel.

Rue des Franciscains © French Moments

Rue des Franciscains © French Moments

Rue des Franciscains © French Moments

Rue des Franciscains © French Moments

The Saint John Chapel

The 13th century Saint John Chapel remains the only trace of the Knights of Malta commandery. Until the Reformation, the Order was the most important one in Mulhouse in the Middle Ages. When Mulhouse joined France in 1798, the city sold it as communal property and subsequently housed a brewery, a smithy and a warehouse.

In 1893, the sanctuary was the first monument in Mulhouse to be listed as a historic monument. Today, it serves as a concert and exhibition hall.

Chapelle Saint-Jean © French Moments

Chapelle Saint-Jean © French Moments


The new district around Square de la Bourse

In the early 19th century, a new district was built to the south of the town.

Place de la République, Mulhouse © Taxiarchos228 - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Place de la République, Mulhouse © Taxiarchos228 – licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Serving as an emblem of the industrial boom experienced by Mulhouse at the time, the “Nouveau Quartier” is set around a triangular garden, the Square de la Bourse, which is surrounded by arcaded buildings.


The Europe Tower that towers over Mulhouse Old Town

Mulhouse Old Town - Tour de l'Europe © French Moments

Mulhouse Old Town – Tour de l’Europe © French Moments

The Europe Tower, at 112 metres , is Alsace’s tallest office building. Completed in 1972 by architect François Spoerry, the reinforced-concrete structure takes the form of a triangle representing the three borders: France, Germany and Switzerland.


Mulhouse Old Town: More Info

Mulhouse is famous for its technical museums:

  • Cité de l’Automobile
  • Cité du Train
  • Electropolis
  • Printed Fabric museum
  • and the Zoological and Botanical Garden
Zoo of Mulhouse © Vassil - licence [CC0] from Wikimedia Commons

Zoo of Mulhouse © Vassil – licence [CC0] from Wikimedia Commons

Check out my blog post on the Christmas market of Mulhouse.
Mulhouse Christmas Market © French Moments

Mulhouse Christmas Market on place de la Réunion © French Moments

For more information, visit the website of the Mulhouse Tourist Board.

More info coming soon as I’ll be updating this post with new content following my October 2020 discover of Mulhouse. Stay tuned! 🙂


 

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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations, and a degree of Economics and Management. Pierre is the author of the Discovery Course on the Secrets of the Eiffel Tower and the Christmas book "Voyage au Pays de Noël".

2 Comments

  1. I was very taken with Mulhouse when we visited last year. It’s an interesting town and not overwhelmed with tourists, which isn’t always the case in Alsace.

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