Luxembourg's history can be seen in the façades of several buildings that are protected and preserved as part of the country's architectural heritage. Various objective criteria are used by the National Sites and Monuments Service to identify and promote heritage sites in Luxembourg. Sites may be chosen because of their age, their interest in terms of architecture and history of art, their rarity or typical nature, or because they serve as a place of remembrance. The aim is to guarantee the selection of a range of architectural sites that represent the country's cultural identity.
Are you an architecture buff? With more than 1,200 protected buildings and objects, Luxembourg is a great place to explore on foot. In this second article about the country's architectural heritage, we take you on an architectural walk around Luxembourg City. So make sure you're wearing comfortable shoes, and why not bring along a pair of binoculars to check out the intricate details of these open-air historical sites!
Luxembourg City: three districts with a rich history
Message to walkers: Luxembourg's capital may be small, but every district has examples of architectural heritage that you won't want to miss, especially as the city spans a thousand years of history! The architectural walk we have designed takes you from the station district (quartier Gare) to the European district of Kirchberg, via the city centre (Ville Haute). But this is just a small selection to whet your appetite!
The station or Gare district contains several late 19th-century and early 20th-century buildings. The district began to be developed following Luxembourg's declaration of neutrality as decided by the 1867 Treaty of London and the dismantling of the fortress.
Luxembourg Central Railway Station (gare centrale) is the starting point for our walk. The current station building, which dates back to 1907, is flanked by a tall clock tower. The façades reflect the Baroque style of the Moselle region. Don't miss the gable decorations – a symbol of national sovereignty – on the main hall and the prince's pavilion.
Just opposite, the Alfa hotel, currently under renovation, is an excellent example of the Art Deco style. Built in 1930, the façade features decorative elements that are typical of Art Deco, including geometric motifs and triangular balconies.
We'll now head up to the Place de Paris, which marks the southernmost tip of the Bourbon Plateau. It was seen as the gateway to the avenue, with its two corner buildings on the north side, including the Paris Palace hotel and restaurant, strongly influenced by the French style, built between 1909 and 1912.
There are two other important buildings to point out before we continue on to the Upper Town (Ville Haute). The first is the former administrative headquarters of ARBED, now Arcelor Mittal, built from 1920 to 1922. This palace with four wings, resembling an aristocratic residence, was built to demonstrate the power and influence of the steel group. You will notice several ornamental details reflecting science, trade and industry. A little further on we come to the head office of a bank, the Caisse d'Épargne de l'État et du Crédit Foncier, now the Banque et Caisse d'Épargne de l'État. Work on the building took place between 1910 and 1933. It reflects the First French Renaissance style with elements of Art Nouveau.
The station district is linked to the Upper Town by the imposing Adolphe Bridge, built from 1900 to 1903 over the Pétrusse valley. With a huge arch spanning 84.65m and a height of 16.2m from the base to the keystone, for many years it was the largest stone bridge in the world!
Upper Town district
We are now in the Upper Town district, or Ville Haute. This district has a rich architectural heritage, with many outstanding buildings. Make sure you don't miss the following gems:
- The Cercle Cité – Cercle Municipal, a Neo-Baroque-style building inaugurated in 1910. The frieze on the façade depicts Countess Ermesinde granting the charter to the residents of the city in 1244. From 1953 to 1969, it was a meeting place for the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC).
- The Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), built between 1830 and 1838 in a Neo-Classical style. The builders mainly used stones from the former Franciscan monastery which stood on the same site until 1829. The Hôtel de Ville is on Place Guillaume II, named after the King of the Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxembourg, whose statue can be seen in the centre of the square. An interesting fact is that the Luxembourgish name for the square, Knuedler, refers to the knot in the corded belt worn by Franciscan monks, the Knued.
- The Grand-Ducal Palace, whose façade tells the story of the different stages of its construction: the original town hall was rebuilt 20 years after a gunpowder explosion in 1554, then extended in the mid-18th century. The Chamber of Deputies was added in 1890. In summer, you can take a guided tour of the interior of the Grand Duke's residence.
Do you fancy a change of style and some more contemporary architecture? Then you'll need to head to Kirchberg. On foot or by bike, cross the Grand Duchess Charlotte Bridge – known as the Red Bridge – until you reach the Place de l'Europe designed by Ricardo Bofill in 2004, a striking architectural landmark which features:
- the Contemporary Art Museum of Luxembourg (MUDAM), a work by the Chinese-American architect and Pritzker Prize laureate I. M. Pei;
- the Musée Dräi Eechelen, the restored keep of Fort Thüngen (1732), with an interior by Jean-Michel Wilmotte;
- the Philharmonie, designed by Christian de Portzamparc.
A stroll along avenue John F. Kennedy will take you past a host of contemporary buildings, including most of the European institutions based in Luxembourg. This young, modern and constantly changing district is a fascinating architectural backdrop to finish off your walk – and after all that exercise it's definitely time for a refreshing drink!