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Riquewihr (Alsace): History and heritage

Riquewihr, ancient medieval city, is a small town located between the Vosges and Alsace, in the heart of the vineyard, classified among the "most beautiful villages in France". Flowered in summer with the traditional geranium, it is adorned with its decorations during the Christmas period to welcome two million annual visitors. The city, which extends over a rectangle measuring two hundred by three hundred meters, has around ten sites and monuments classified as Historical Monuments, as well as around forty houses and buildings listed on the supplementary inventory of Historic Monuments. In 1898 the Riquewihr Archaeological Society was founded in order to preserve its heritage, that is to say to prevent the destruction of old houses and to restore them.

The history of Riquewihr

It all started in the 6th century when “Richo”, a frank owner, operated the site. A little later, the name is transformed into "Richovilla", then "Richovilare" and finally "Riquewihr" around 1094. Possession of the counts of Horbourg, they build an enclosure in 1291, to protect the inhabitants and their property against the invaders and the village became a city in 1320. Belonging to the county of Montbéliard following a marriage, the city moved to Württemberg. It was to grow rich in the 16th century thanks to the vineyard, but also experienced hours of misery: Austrian domination, plague epidemics. The castle was rebuilt in 1540, a second enclosure provides more security to the city, which thus becomes a seigneurial residence.

During the 17th century, it was prosperity and the bourgeoisie, feeling safe, built very beautiful stone houses with gable ends and pretty balconies in wood or with exposed beams. There is no lack of materials: sandstone from the Vosges and fir trees. They thus produced sculptures, moldings, doors with capitals and arabesques, mullions of windows in the Renaissance style, banisters of stairs, balustrades, and launched the fashion of flowered balconies, despite the passage and looting of armies. during the Thirty Years' War.

Attached to France in 1796 because the Württemberg had to give up their possessions on the left bank of the Rhine, the city suffered virtually no damage during the two world wars. Riquewihr can thus continue its renown thanks to the exploitation of its vines which produce muscats, famous Gewurztraminer and fine Riesling.

The city tour

When you enter the old town through the lower gate, you pass through the porch of the Town Hall.

Not far from there, on the left, was built in the middle of the 16th century the Württemberg castle which has housed since 1970 the Museum of Communication in Alsace, retracing two thousand years of history of Posts and Telecommunications with presentation of uniforms, stamps, devices, vehicle, all installed in a 16th century stable.

In 1324, the Count of Württemberg acquired the Lordship of Riquewihr, a marriage made in an alliance with the County of Montbéliard. After a passage under Austrian supervision, a new castle was built in 1540 with a crenellated gable, crowned with deer antlers and Renaissance windows. In the neighboring building, the count installs the chancellery. The castle remained unoccupied between 1723 and 1748 because it was placed under sequestration by the king. After this date, returned to favor, the lords of Württemberg taking the name of lords of Riquewihr and resettled there until the revolution. The castle passed through private hands until the beginning of the 20th century when the city bought it and set up a school there which would be sometimes French, sometimes German!

Let's go up the main street, the rue du Général de Gaulle. All along, on both sides, we discover narrow alleys, with taverns and beautiful half-timbered houses. We arrive at the top of the city at the Porte Haute, not far from the Tour du Dolder. This door dates from the 1300s. Under the passage, we find the double-leaf door and the wooden harrow. From the 16th century, the first enclosure proved insufficient and the Duke of Württemberg therefore decided to build a second enclosure to better protect the villagers. This is how the drawbridge is built, the upper and lower city gates, defensive towers, bastions added in 1621 and a wide moat outside. Let's cross the passage and admire this landscape of vines ...

Retracing our steps, just at the Porte Haute, stop in front of the Tour du Dolder. This tower was built at the same time as the ramparts in 1291. Twenty-five meters high, it served as a defense tower, a watchtower and represents the emblem of the city. Its exterior appearance was designed to threaten the enemy, while its physical appearance inside the village was prettier with its timber beams and four cantilevered floors. In the 16th century, a guard lived there and was tasked with closing the doors at night, warning in case of fire or enemies and keeping watch. Since 1911, the City Museum has been located there. We discover daily life since medieval times with Merovingian remains, weapons from the 15th century to the 18th century, the life of the guardian-watchman-porter, costumes and tools relating to wine. On the fourth floor, the view over the rooftops of the city is superb.

At the foot of the Dolder tower, is the Fontaine de la Sinne, installed in the 16th century. This fountain was used to clean barrels, barrels, and all containers used by winegrowers. The central column bears the coat of arms of the Lords of Horbourg on one side and the coat of arms of Riquewihr on the other - a mixture of the coat of arms of the Horbourgs and Württemberg.

Before continuing the historical visit, a short stop is essential in the shop "La Féerie de Noël" which will seem curious to you to say the least in high summer: The Nutcracker awaits you at the entrance of this store whose window is illuminated and the decorated Christmas tree… all year round!

Going down the main street, on the left, take the rue des Juifs, the old ghetto and you come to the Tower of the Thieves. This tower, attached to the 13th century fortifications, with walls two to five meters thick and eighteen meters high, is one of the main defenses of the city. It was transformed into a place of exercise of justice and a prison in the 15th century. In this place of torture, those guilty of misdeeds were subjected to the question. We can visit the torture chamber and in its center we come across the five-meter deep oubliette, as well as the reconstruction of the warden's chamber. On the upper floor is the room of the guards and clerks with an exhibition of the instruments of torture used. Adjoining the guard room, we enter the Maison du Vigneron dating from the 16th century where all the tools of winegrowers and coopers are displayed.

A little further down, halfway down the main street, still on the left, we arrive at the Place des Trois Eglises. Originally, this square was framed by three religious buildings. During the reform in 1534, the buildings were transformed, one into a Protestant temple, the other into a school. Demolished in 1845, two new churches were built (the Protestant on the same site, the Catholic towards the Porte Neuve).

Let's go down the main street again and stop at Maison Hansi. Jean-Jacques Waltz, nicknamed Uncle Hansi was born in February 1873 in Colmar, then a German city. Bad student, he preferred drawing and published his first map around 1896 when Colmar discovered postcards. His success was great when he published a collection of plates called "images of the Vosges". But the greatest was "The History of Alsace told to the children of France" in 1912. His literary works as well as his satirical and anti-German drawings brought him to German courts. For a few years around 1930, he worked in advertising, notably for Les Potasses d´Alsace. During the Second World War, his ideas and his drawings were still anti-German, he had to take refuge in Agen. Returning to Colmar, he passed away in June 1951. His drawings and watercolors can be found on stained glass, dishes, posters, programs, books and around four hundred postcards. A multifaceted artist, he was also an engraver, writer, historian. The museum "Au nid de cigognes" thus pays homage to him by exhibiting more than 150 works.

The main buildings having been visited, we go back down to the Town Hall. Until the Revolution, this building was in the center of the village, on the main street. Relocated, it was rebuilt at its current location in 1809.

After having made a beautiful walk, we leave Riquewihr, nicknamed "the Pearl of the Vineyard", this city which knew best how to preserve its Alsatian-type houses, with half-timberings, oriel windows and interior courtyards furnished with wells and fountains, as well as its ramparts surrounding the site.

Video: Riquewihr, Alsace, France in 4K Ultra HD (January 2022).