The little town of Thann lies on the eastern slopes of the Vosges, in the département of Haut-Rhin (Alsace). A historic town which once belonged to the Habsburgs in the Middle-Ages, Thann is renown for its remarkable Gothic church and the Rangen vineyard. The town is also the southern gate to the Alsace Wine Route.
Thann: a bit of History
The historic town of Thann is situated at the entrance to the Thur Valley along the ancient route between Italy and the Netherlands.
The Legend of St. Theobald
Legend has it that the town originated from a miracle attributed to St. Theobald, the Bishop of Gubbio (Umbria, Italy).
In 1160, Ubald (or Theobald), a medieval bishop of Gubbio in Umbria saw his death coming soon and promised his Dutch servant his episcopal ring as a reward for his loyalty. When Ubald died, the servant tried to get the ring off and pulled off the whole thumb. Hiding the precious relic, he set out for his homeland. In June 1161, after crossing the Alps, he came into Alsace and stopped in a place covered with a large forest of fir trees. Tired, he leaned his pilgrim staff against a tree and fell asleep. When he woke up he discovered that the staff had taken root.
From the Engelbourg Castle, the Count of Ferrette saw three bright lights shone forth from the top of the fir trees and came down to meet the pilgrim. When the Count understood this was a heavenly sign, he promised to built a chapel on the site. Immediately the staff was released… the site where the chapel was later built by the count became the town of Thann and the finger relic of Ubald stayed there to be venerated inside the new sanctuary.
From the Counts of Ferrette to the Habsburgs and the French
Historically, Thann developed from the time when the Counts of Ferrette placed a toll at the entrance to the Thur Valley. Travellers who wished to cross the Vosges and the Bussang Pass by this route had to pay a toll to the counts.
In 1324, Countess Jeanne of Ferrette married Albert II of Habsburg in Masevaux. By legitimate process Thann and its surroundings became an entirely Austrian territory. The Austrian dynasty granted a great number of charters to the town with the right to mint money, to hold large public markets, and to use a coat of arms and a seal.
The same year, construction of the St. Theobald church had already started and the town attracted a growing number of pilgrims who came to venerate the Saint’s relic.
After the Thirty Years’ War, on the 24th October 1648 the Habsburgs signed the Treaty of Westphalia, stipulating the transfer of Thann and their Alsatian territories to France. From then on, Thann shared the history of the province of Alsace.
Saint-Theobald Collegiate Church
The Saint-Theobald Collegiate of Thann in Alsace is considered one of the most beautiful Gothic churches in Alsace. A local saying states: “The spire of Strasbourg is the highest, the spire of Freiburg is the broadest but the spire of Thann is the prettiest.”
The choir features remarkable wooden stalls carved in oak and walnut from 1442.
Find out more about the Saint-Theobald Collegiate in Thann.
The old town of Thann and the castle
The old town of Thann is organised as a maze of narrow streets around the Collegiate. It has a few Renaissance houses with bay-windows.
St. Theobald Fountain
The St. Theobald fountain (fontaine Saint-Thiébaut) situated in the centre of the Place de l’église dates back to 1549. The statue of the Saint – sculpted around 1500 – was placed on its top in 1840.
The Witches’ Tower
Built in 1411, the Witches’ Tower (Tour des Sorcières) was part of the medieval fortifications of Thann. The bulb-shaped roof was added in 1628. The tower used to be a prison for the people accused of witchcraft and now houses a local museum dedicated to winemaking.
The Engelbourg Castle
The old town is dominated by the ruins of the Engelbourg Castle, also known as the Witch’s Eye (Œil de la Sorcière in French). It was built towards 1224 by Count Frederic of Ferrette on a prominent hill to the north of the old town commanding the opening of the Thur Valley. When Thann entered into possession of the Habsburgs, it became a major piece of the defence of Anterior Austria. The castle greatly suffered from the Thirty Years’ War and was occupied by seven different forces between 1633 and 1639 (including Austrian, French and Swedish). The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 pushed back the French border from the Vosges to the Rhine, and the castle lost its strategic interest. In February 1673, Louis XIV ordered the dismantlement of the Engelbourg Castle. Three attempts were made to destroyed the huge tower and when it fell it overturned and cracked into several parts. One of them dropped in such a way that it formed a large stone ring. Resembling an eye, it was nicknamed the Witch’s Eye by the locals.
The vineyards of Thann
Covering an area of 18.5 hectares to the east of Thann, the famous Rangen Vineyard is classified as Grand Cru and produces a wine of great renown. It extends on the southern face of the Rangen mountain with steep slopes (45°). It was mentioned in the Middle Ages and impressed Michel de Montaigne who stopped in Thann on its way to Italy:
“the slopes full of vines, the most beautiful and best-cultivated, extending so far that the Gascons who were there said they had never seen so many stretching so far”.
There is a path through the vineyard that leads up to a chapel dedicated to St. Urban, the Patron saint of wine growers.
Read more about the region of Alsace.