Fairy tale village of Colmar, France
Sights to see in Colmar, France
A trip to Colmar is a trip to the villages of your childhood fairy tales.
Founded in the 9th century, this town has layers of history and charm. Spared from the wars of the French Revolution and the World Wars, the architecture dates back to the 13th centuries and is a reflection of both German and French rule that controlled the Alsace Region.
As you walk the city, make sure to keep an eye out for dates painted onto the side of buildings.
La petite Venise (Little Venice)
One of the most picturesque areas in Colmar, the canals are reminiscent of Venice, Italy. There are quaint pedestrian bridges and colorful half-timbered houses provide plenty of ambiance for the canal-side restaurants. Small boats take passengers on rides up and down the canal.
Another area with colorful houses is idyllic quarter where fishermen once lived centuries ago. At the time, professional fishermen were a powerful entity in Colmar and had a bustling business. They fished to the greatest extent possible and stored their catches in fish ponds until they were sold at market. The appeal today is the colorful half-timbered houses that make a beautiful picture.
Koïfhus, Ancienne Douane (Old Custom House)
This 15th century building was once the economic and political center in medieval Colmar. The ground floor was used as a warehouse for goods and a place to collect taxes on imports and exports. The first floor was the council chamber for the Décapole, the federation of imperial cities. (Look up at the windows and you can still see the coats of arms of the ten cities.)
Maison Adolph is the town’s oldest surviving private house. It was built in 1350 for the Adolph family.
Maison des Tetes (House of the Heads)
Built in 1609, you will understand why it is called the House of Heads when you see the 106 heads, called grotesque masks, decorating the facade and a three story bay window.
The house was built for a shopkeeper, Anton Burger, and is an example of the German Renaissance style. The house also has a stature of a cooper sculpted in 1902 by Auguste Bartholdi (of America’s Statue of Liberty fame) commissioned by the Wine Exchange which occupied the building in 1898.
This building was restored in 2012.
Maison Pfister (Pfister House)
Built in 1537, this home was built for Ludwig Scherer Hatter who made his fortune with the silver trade in the Valley of Lièpvre. Despite its medieval characteristics, it is the first example of the architectural Renaissance in Colmar.
With its oriel of angle in two floors, its wooden Gallery, its octagonal turret and its wall hinges that represent scenes biblical and secular, the Maison Pfister became one of the symbols of the old Colmar. It owes its name to the family that the restored and occupied it from 1841 to 1892. This building was recently restored (facade and roof) in 2012.
This museum situated in a 13th century medieval convent has Holbein the Elder, Renoir, and Picasso’s. The highlight is the 1515 Isenheim altarpiece painting by Gruenwald, a revolutionary Alsatian Renaissance painter. In the time of illiteracy amongst the poor, altarpieces were storybooks for the illiterate parishioners. This German Renaissance painting on the verge of Luther’s Protestant Reformation shows realistic images of death and colorful demons. It’s interesting to think of this painting in contract to the Italian Renaissance with Raphael’s and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel of pastel heavenly “beautiful” images.
Built in the 14th century, this building is an example of Gothic architecture. A visit here though is primarily to see the famous 1473 Schongauer alterpiece painting “vierge au buisson de roses” (Virgin of the Rose Garden).
St. Martin Church
This building, dating back to 1292, has been used as a Franciscan library, hospital, Protestant Church, and the venue for summertime Colmar International Festival of Music.
This building was the home and now museum for Auguste Bartholdi – the famous sculptor of the Statue of Liberty. The museum has many examples of his sketches and models used to create his famous statues. The museum is very light on the history of the sculptor and the Statue of Liberty – but perhaps I just wanted to read/see more as I am an American who loves the Statue of Liberty. You will also see Bartholdi’s statues in many of the square around Colmar. A great artist and I especially like the sketches and models of the Lion of Lyon.
Just outside of Colmar on the road to Riquewihr, you will see a replica of the Statue of Liberty.
Park Champ de Mars
A beautiful park with a center fountain that you will probably walk through if you come from the train station. The highlight for me was the beautiful 1900 carousel with medieval characters. Look careful for the Colmar scenes painted on the carousel.
The Ambiance of Colmar
The entire town is a delight in French country charm. While Provence reminds me more of Degas & Renoir landscapes and lavender perfume, the Alsace region and Colmar is French fairytale. With minimal English spoken, it feels less touristy and authentic. I expected to see Gaston from Beauty and the Beast bound down the cobbled roads. The cafe’s had all the French quaintness with an accordion player outside.
Peak into back alleys to find layers of buildings going back 400 years and still useful as local businesses and homes with 20th century pavement.
Even the train station does not disappoint in leaving a lasting memory of this unique border region influenced by the charm of France and Germany.
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