In Roman times Strasbourg was called Argentoratum and was an important city in the province of Upper Germany. It became an episcopal see in the 4th cent. Destroyed by the Huns in the 5th cent., the city was rebuilt and called Strateburgum [city of roadways]. After becoming part of the Holy Roman Empire in 923, Strasbourg, with the surrounding rural area, came under the temporal rule of its bishops. Its location at the crossroads of Flanders, Italy, France, and central Europe made it an important commercial center. In 1262, after some struggles with the bishops, the burghers secured the status of a free imperial city for the city proper. An upheaval in 1332 established a corporate government in which the guilds played a leading role.
Medieval German literature reached its height in Strasbourg with Gottfried von Strassburg. There also Johann Gutenberg's printing press may have been invented (15th cent.). Strasbourg accepted the Reformation in the 1520s under the leadership of Martin Bucer and became an important Protestant center. The Univ. of Strasbourg, founded in the 16th cent. as a Protestant university, numbered Goethe and Metternich among its students. The city's prosperity began to decline in the early 17th cent. and was severely damaged by the Thirty Years War (1618–48). In 1681, Louis XIV seized Strasbourg, which was confirmed in French possession by the Treaty of Ryswick (1697). The persecutions of French Protestants after 1685 were not carried into Strasbourg, which raised little objection to the annexation. The city enthusiastically supported the French Revolution and thereafter increasingly adopted French customs and speech.
Bombarded by the Prussians during the Franco-Prussian War, Strasbourg was ceded to Germany by the Treaty of Frankfurt (1871). It was recovered by France in 1919, following World War I. The city was occupied by the Germans and severely damaged in World War II. Most historical monuments, however, were saved. Chief among these is the Roman Catholic cathedral, begun in 1015 and completed in 1439. It has a famous astronomic clock installed in 1574.
After the war, the city expanded toward the east and south; in 1967 some 30 neighboring towns were absorbed into a new Community of Strasbourg. In 1949, Strasbourg became the seat of the Council of Europe. Strasbourg is now also the seat of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Union's European Parliament.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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