Port of Strasbourg
Review and History

The Port of Strasbourg is the capital of the Bas-Rhin department in the Alsace region of eastern France. Just four kilometers from the Rhine River and France’s border with Germany, it is an important European center for culture, business, and commerce. Several European institutions are located there, among them the European Court of Human Rights, the Council of Europe, and the European Parliament. The Port of Strasbourg is France’s ninth biggest metropolitan area and a hub for rail, road, and river traffic.

The Port of Strasbourg is the second biggest port on the Rhine River. Modern economic development began in the 1950s, although the city was long home to brewing, milling, tanning, and metalworking industries. Today, the Port of Strasbourg enjoys a diverse industrial community that includes engineering, food processing, and manufacturing of plastics, electronics, pharmaceuticals, and automobiles. In 2005, over 272 thousand people lived in the city, and more than 700 thousand lived in the metropolitan area.

Port History

Humans have lived at the site of the Port of Strasbourg since the Bronze Age. It was first a Celtic village. First mentioned by historians in 12 BC, the Romans created there a garrison they called Argentoratum. In 1988, the Port of Strasbourg celebrated 2000 years of continuous settlement. The area was the site of many battles of the Alemanni fighting Rome. Emperor Julian defeated the Alemanni, taking their king prisoner. As Rome weakened in the 5th Century, the town was taken by Alemanni, Huns, and Franks.

In the 5th Century, the Port of Strasbourg was conquered by the Franks who changed its name to Strateburgum. Charles II, king of the West Franks, and Louis I, king of the East Franks, met there to take an oath of allegiance that is the oldest Old French written document. In 923 AD, the Port of Strasbourg was a free city under the Holy Roman Empire.

Visited by conflicts between the citizens and the city’s bishop, citizens finally prevailed, and King Philip of Swabia made the Port of Strasbourg an Imperial Free City in 1262. A 1332 revolution emboldened the city government when the Port of Strasbourg made itself a republic. However, the mid-14th Century brought bubonic plague and a terrible pogrom where hundreds of Jews were burned as others were driven from the city. Until the 18th Century, Jews had to leave the city by 10 pm each day.

In the 12th Century, work began on the Strasbourg Cathedral and, when it was completed in 1439, it was the world’s tallest building. In the middle 15th Century, Johannes Gutenberg produced the first printing press in the Port of Strasbourg, and the first modern newspaper was published there in 1605.

One of the most unusual events happened in 1518, when about 400 residents of the Port of Strasbourg were struck by the Dancing Plague. They danced continuously for weeks until most of them died of exhaustion, stroke, or heart attack.

The Port of Strasbourg played an important role in the Protestant Reformation. As a center for scholarship, it helped Protestantism become acceptable. John Calvin was a political refugee living there for several years.

After the Reformation, the Port of Strasbourg was mostly Protestant, although it largely escaped the Thirty Years’ War’s religious strife in the early 17th Century. King Louis XIV took the city in 1681, bringing it into the French empire, and the town maintained city privileges until the French Revolution of the late 18th Century.

Active industry and commerce during the 19th Century brought rapid growth to the Port of Strasbourg, and its population tripled. During the Franco-Prussian War of the 1870s, Germany captured the Port of Strasbourg and held it until after the end of World War I. As part of the German Empire, the city was largely rebuilt from the heavy damage of the war. The Germans also added a belt of fortifications around the city that remain today. The French Army used those forts as POW camps in 1918 and 1945.

After the German defeat in World War I, the Port of Strasbourg returned to France. In 1918, communists claimed the city, but the insurgency was repressed with brutality that is remembered today in the name of the street where it happened (Rue du 22 Novembre).

Germany again occupied the Port of Strasbourg during World War II. The Nazis quickly acted, razing the city’s main synagogue. Returned to France at the end of the war, the city had been seriously damaged by Allied bombs in 1944.

In 1949, the Port of Strasbourg became the home of the Council of Europe, and the Port of Strasbourg stepped onto the international stage in 1952 when the European Parliament opened there. In 1988, UNESCO recognized the entire city center as a World Heritage Site.

The Port of Strasbourg has long been an important hub for trade. In 1331, this was officially recognized with the formation of the Corporation of the Anchor that continued to operate for centuries with a near-monopoly on the Rhine. In the mid-1800s, the modern port began to appear with the opening of the channels of the Rhone and the Marne. In 1880, a turning basin opened for barges, and the first steamer arrived in 1892.

Commercial and industrial basins were dug in the early 20th Century. The Port Authority of Strasbourg was created in 1926, and it continues to operate today. From 1927 to the 1950s, new basins were dug, the outer harbor was developed, and the new industrial zones were added. In 1955, cargo traffic surpassed six million tons. In the 1960s, new silos appeared, and the southern port was started.

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