Alsace today

Alsace is now part of the Grand-Est, one of the 13 new regions created by the territorial reform that took effect on January 1, 2016.

Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine provinces map
Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine provinces map

It consists of 3 departments:

Haut-Rhin (68 – Colmar) – Bas-Rhin ( 67 – Strasbourg) and Territoire de Belfort (90 – Belfort).

The capital Strasbourg is also the seat of the Council of Europe, European Parliament and European Court of Human Rights.

The city centre stretches on the left bank of the river Rhine.

It includes the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Strasbourg and La Petite France district, both classified World Heritage by UNESCO in 1988.

Mulhouse is Alsace’s second largest city

The Rhine Valley has a continental climate.

However, it is subject to wide variations in temperatures between summer and winter, while rainfall are more frequent over summer.

The foehn, a dry and warm wind that blows down from the mountains, triggers oceanic influences in Southern Alsace.

The sunny and warm summers are thus conducive to the cultivation of vines and fruit trees.

The presence of water, extensive water table and river Rhine, protects the region from droughts.

The Swiss and the Germans still refer to the region as Haute and Basse Alsace (Oberelsass and Unterelsass).

Timber framed houses and flowers in Eguisheim - Alsace
Timber framed houses and flowers

Unterelsass, in the north, corresponds to the Bas-Rhin; Oberelsass corresponds to the Haut-Rhin and the Territoire de Belfort in the south.

These denominations date from the 10th century, when eastern France became part of the newly founded Holy Roman Empire.

They were in use until 1648, and then again under the Monarchy and finally between 1897 and 1918, when Alsace was re-integrated in the German Empire.

They are not used in France, where people refer to Sud and Centre Alsace.


Archaeological excavations show that the area has been inhabited without interruption since the Paleolithic.

The Celtic Sequanes and Mediomatrici respectively settled in the south and the north during the 2nd millennium BP.

The Germanic Swabians and Triboques invaded the area in 72BC.

The Romans conquered the region in 58BC at the Battle of Ochsenfeld.

Alsace traditional architecture in La Petite France
Alsace traditional architecture in La Petite France

The Alemanni crossed the Rhine on numerous occasions between 298AD and 406AD.

They eventually managed to expel the Romans in the mid-5th century AD and settled in the region.

They set up a confederation of small kingdoms, all part of their Kingdom of Alemannia, and imposed their language.

In 496AD Clovis, the King of the Franks, defeated the Alemanni at Tolbiac.

The Alemanni accepted the Franks’s domination and stayed in the region.

Clovis died in 511AD, and each of his 4 sons, according to the Frank rules, inherited a part of the large kingdom.

Alsace therefore became part of the Kingdom of Austrasia (the Eastern Kingdom).

However, antagonism between Franks and Alemanni resurfaced.

It lasted until the 8th century, when the entire Kingdom of Alemannia was eventually attached to Austrasia.

The Alemanni’s political and military identity ceased to exist, however their language survived and gave birth to the modern day Alsatian.

Emperor Charlemagne then integrated Austrasia to the Carolingian Kingdom in the 9th century.

Alsace became part of East Francia when Louis the German inherited in 1870, then was integrated to the newly founded Holy Roman Empire in the 10th century.

A few historic facts

The Emperor Frederick Barbarossa raised the city of Mulhouse to the status of free city of the Holy Roman Empire.

Mulhouse became a city-state in the 14th century.

It broke away from Alsace a century later and struck up militarily with the Swiss cantons of Bern and Solothurn.

High place of Protestantism in the 16th century, prosperous independent Mulhouse became also a powerful industrial city which played a key role in the European industrial revolution.

Alsace traditional architecture in La Petite France
Alsace traditional architecture in La Petite France

Mulhouse was unwillingly integrated to France after the French Revolution, in 1798.

In 1354 Alsace is organized into a confederation of 10 free cities of the Empire, the Decapolis.

These cities enjoyed an economic, military and financial unity until 1679.

German emperors and French kings constantly eyed the independent and prosperous Alsace.

This triggered many conflicts and incursions which lasted until the 17th century when part of Alsace was integrated to the Kingdom of France.

Strasbourg surrendered, however, Mulhouse retained its status of city-state.

Many small kingdoms were integrated in France during the revolution; Mulhouse, then allied with the confederation Swiss, voted its reunification to France in 1798.

Germany annexed Alsace with the Treaty of Frankfurt in 1871, after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.

Alsace became French in 1919 following the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles.

It was once more annexed during the Nazi occupation between 1940-1944.

This cultural duality, French and German, gives the region its unique identity.

French is of course the official language, however, most families speak Alsatian at home.

Finally, did you know that Guntram the Rich, the founder of the Habsburg dynasty, was born in Alsace in 917?

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