Architectural Heritage in the Valley of Munster in Alsace

Munster’s architecture

Munster’s architecture

town of Munster
town of Munster

A fortified town until the early 19th century, Munster was severely damaged by shelling in the First World War, which destroyed almost all of the former architectural heritage, of which few examples remain today (Grand Rue, rue de Luttenbach, the Elm district). The main public buildings nevertheless survived, including the town hall built in 1550, the Laube (market hall) built in 1503 in place du Marché (moved around 1867 to rue Saint-Grégoire) and the schools financed by the Hartmanns, a family of industrialists. The urban landscape is also marked by the presence of the buildings belonging to the Benedictine abbey of Saint-Grégoire, including the abbot’s residence (late 18th century) overlooking place du Marché, a section of the cloister with its archways and the so-called prelate’s building (late 17th century, the current headquarters of the PNRBV). The town centre was subsequently joined by suburban districts in the 1930s and 1950s, including elegant villas (in the Graben, Dubach and Moenchberg districts). Finally, standing on the edge of town, the former property belonging to Albert Hartmann, today converted into a public park, includes numerous sculpted features from the early 19th century (the Pont aux griffons and Pont aux sphinges bridges, Neptune’s statue).

 

Civil architecture in the villages: town halls and schools

Stosswihr town hall
Stosswihr town hall

With the exception of Gunsbach whose town hall dates from 1570, a few villages still have town halls and schools built in the 19th century, characterised by their classical sobriety inspired by the training undertaken by their architects (Eschbach-au-Val: 1862, architect V. Heilmann; Griesbach-au-Val: school dating from 1868, architect Ch. Geiger Jr, town hall from 1842, architect J.-B. Kühlmann; Luttenbach-près-Munster: 1851-52, architect V. Peigney). However, this type of architecture was widely replaced during the post-World War I Reconstruction period. The architects produced buildings with a historical theme: the Middle Ages served as inspiration for Stosswihr’s town hall, with timber-framed gables (1923, architect Ch. Schoffit), the Renaissance for Metzeral’s town hall-school with its turreted staircase (1923-24, architects Ch. Wolff-R. Voelckel) and the baroque for Muhlbach-sur-Munster’s town hall, with its rocaille shell pediment (1927-28, architect Ch. Schoffit). The architectural styles of the interwar years can be seen at Soultzeren, in the town hall (1930-31, architect E. Schneider) and the school (1926, architect Ch. Schoffit).

 

Rural architecture

The type of farm, which is partly dependent on the agricultural activities carried out, varies depending on whether we are in the forward part of the valley or in the two valleys located just before Munster. Grown here since the Middle Ages, vineyards can still be seen on the well exposed hillsides of Wihr-au-Val and the edges of Gunsbach and Soultzbach-les-Bains. Winegrowing involved using the ground floor of the accommodation as a cellar with cellar windows to allow in air, and using the adjoining rooms for the processing of the grapes. The living areas were moved upstairs, accessible by means of an outdoor wooden or stone staircase or an indoor one. Gunsbach has a number of fine examples of these farms, chiefly stone-built, which are among the oldest in the district (dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries). In Soultzbach-les-Bains, the impressive winegrowers’ houses feature stone and timber-framed architecture (sometimes highly decorative) from the 1700s. In both the large and small valleys, stock rearing was predominent, along with a little crop farming. The farms here are of another type: the gable end of the accommodation, which includes a vaulted cellar for the storage of cheeses, faces the street. The barn, stable and outbuildings (shed, workshop, laundry room-still) are to be found at the rear (whether under the same roof or otherwise) or located around an open courtyard. Decorative features can sometimes be found on the gables of the wood-clad homes, featuring geometric cut-out patterns (stars) or religious themes (chalices, ciborium). These mid-mountain farms, of which very few old ones remain (Breitenbach, Hohrod, Luttenbach-près-Munster, Mittlach, Soultzeren), mostly date from the late 18th century and the first half of the 19th century. Many of the farms rebuilt during the Reconstruction period were inspired by historical architecture without however ever copying it directly. Their construction included the (re)use of pink sandstone, but also introduced that of grey granite and made extensive use of the cast iron decor fashionable at the time of Louis XVI. As the only village severely damaged during the Second World War (on 18 June 1940), Wihr-au-Val was rebuilt around a decade later.

 

Mountain pasture architecture

Practised since the Middle Ages, the mountain pasture migration involves a temporary migration of dairy cattle herds from May to September from the village farms to the high pastures on the peaks of the Vosges range, known as "First" or "gazons". Although the herders or marcaires (derived from the German word "Melker") originally stayed in wooden buildings, stone built structures predominated during the 18th and 19th centuries. The shape of the buildings used for the marcairies differs according to the altitude. In the mid-mountain pastures (500-900 m), these chiefly take the form of separate buildings, with the accommodation and cheese works in one part and the stable and hayloft in the other. Above 900 m, up in the high mountain pastures, we find the areas reserved for man and beast under the same roof in the marcairie. The growth of mountain tourism after 1870 led the marcaires to propose food and drink for the public, thereby creating the concept of the farm-inn, which continued the original cheese-making traditions (Munster, "Barikas").

 

Sources: "Alsace Region - Inventory and Heritage Department"

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