Luxembourg's history can be seen in the facades of the many buildings that are protected and preserved as part of the country's architectural heritage. The various criteria used for determining and then promoting the built heritage need to be objective; in the Grand Duchy they are decided on by the National Sites and Monuments Service: Heritage sites may be chosen because they are ancient, they hold particular interest in terms of architecture and history of art, they are particularly rare, they serve as a place of remembrance or they are highly typical. The procedure is intended to guarantee the selection of a series of architectural sites that represents 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 walk around. In this first article on the built heritage, we suggest an architectural walk in Esch-sur-Alzette. So put on some comfortable shoes, and you might even like to bring along a pair of binoculars to check out the intricate details in these open-air historical sites!
Esch-sur-Alzette - an unsuspected melting-pot of European architecture
A bit of history before you start out on this architectural walk. Although Esch-sur-Alzette was first mentioned in 773, it was Henri IV, Count of Luxembourg, who granted the town its freedom in 1287. Esch-sur-Alzette was fortified in 1311, then dismantled in 1671; its growth is largely due to the discovery in 1838 of 'minette' iron ore. Thereafter the rural village became a prosperous industrial centre, striding forward. 1906 was a key year, marked by the implementation of the Wirtz-Krasnick scheme, which laid down the alignment of the town's streets. This was followed in 1924 by the improvement scheme and new districts designed by the German town planner Joseph Stübben.
Throughout these years the initiators were German, Belgian and French as well as Luxembourgish, and the influences of Germanic and Latin architecture are evident.
That makes Esch-sur-Alzette a real melting-pot of European architecture. This 5km walk will show you a number of architectural expressions connected with Historicism, Art Nouveau, Modernism, Functionalism and contemporary architecture.
The starting point for the walk proposed by the Escher Infofabrik – the tourist reception and information office of the town of Esch – is the Berwart Tower (1721), which used to be the entrance porch to the baroque chateau of the lords of Berwart. Past, present and future stand side by side at this first stage of the walk: next to the tower, two modern galleries lead to an administrative building – belonging nowadays to Arcelor Mittal – with a 1995 metal structure which was awarded the first European prize for the best steel construction.
It would be impossible to give details here of the 34 stopping points on the walk; here is a small selection representing the different styles to be discovered:
- The buildings at numbers 36 to 40 in the Rue Emile Mayrisch, with their Art Deco stucco decoration against a red façade.
- The town's hospital, built between 1925 and 1930, with its architecture inspired by that of German sanatoria.
- The Lycée de Garçons (boys' secondary school), built in 1909 in a French neo-Renaissance style, displaying the coat of arms of the town of Esch-sur-Alzette surrounded by palm trees, Ionic-inspired columns, and sculptures.
- The Hôtel de Ville (town hall), erected between 1935 and 1937 by the Esch architect Isidore Engler and decorated with sculptures by the top artists of the time. You will be able to make out the town's coat of arms, a number of bas-reliefs paying tribute to industry, sciences, sport, public education, town planning, electricity, metalworking, etc. Don't miss the national motto - Mir wölle bleiwe wat mer sin - below the tympanum.
- The Hôtel de la Justice de Paix (court-house), built in 2012. Its radical geometry and lines in a contemporary architectural style confer a monumental character on the building.
- The Théâtre municipal (municipal theatre), built between 1959 and 1962 by the Esch architect Robert van Hulle.
- The Monument aux Morts commemorating those who died in the Second World War, constructed in 1956 by the Luxembourg architects Nicolas Schmit-Noesen and Laurent Schmit, houses the Musée National de la Résistance (National Resistance Museum).
- The walkway created in 2009 between the town centre and the Gaalgebierg municipal park, a magnificent green space, is where the walk ends.
A virtual walk including the main sites is also available thanks to the University of Luxembourg's Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C2DH). This is a series of videos showing the development of the main town in the iron ore region, and its buildings. A visit not to be missed, from the comfort of your armchair!
Virtual walk in the rue de l'Alzette of the historical and architectural guide Esch-sur-Alzette of the Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (in French). © C2DH / Université du Luxembourg.
Discover the Villa Olivo in the historical and architectural guide Esch-sur-Alzette of the Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (in French). © C2DH / Université du Luxembourg.