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Cities in the Spotlight: Luxembourg City, Luxembourg

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

In today's installment of Cities in the Spotlight we are exploring Luxembourg City, Luxembourg.


Luxembourg City Information

Luxembourg also known as Luxembourg City is the capital city of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and the country's most populous commune. Standing at the confluence of the Alzette and Pétrusse rivers in southern Luxembourg, the city lies at the heart of Western Europe, situated 213 km (132 mi) by road from Brussels, 372 km (231 mi) from Paris, and 209 km (130 mi) from Cologne. The city contains Luxembourg Castle, established by the Franks in the Early Middle Ages, around which a settlement developed. As of 5 February 2021, Luxembourg City has a population of 125,000 inhabitants, which is more than three times the population of the country's second most populous commune (Esch-sur-Alzette). The city's population consists of 160 nationalities. Foreigners represent 70% of the city's population, whilst Luxembourgers represent 30% of the population; the number of foreign-born residents in the city rises steadily each year.

In 2011, Luxembourg was ranked as having the second-highest per capita GDP in the world at $80,119 (PPP), with the city having developed into a banking and administrative centre. In the 2011 Mercer worldwide survey of 221 cities, Luxembourg was placed first for personal safety, while it was ranked 19th for quality of living. Luxembourg is one of the de facto capitals of the European Union (alongside Brussels, Frankfurt and Strasbourg), as it is the seat of several institutions, agencies and bodies, including the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Court of Auditors, the Secretariat of the European Parliament, the European Public Prosecutor's Office, the European Investment Bank, the European Investment Fund, the European Stability Mechanism, as well as amongst other European Commission departments and services, Eurostat. The Council of the European Union meets in the city for three months annually.


Luxembourg Historical Significance

In the Roman era, a fortified tower guarded the crossing of two Roman roads that met at the site of Luxembourg city. Through an exchange treaty with the abbey of Saint Maximin in Trier in 963, Siegfried I of the Ardennes, a close relative of King Louis II of France and Emperor Otto the Great, acquired the feudal lands of Luxembourg. Siegfried built his castle, named Lucilinburhuc ("small castle"), on the Bock Fiels ("rock"), mentioned for the first time in the aforementioned exchange treaty. In 987, Archbishop Egbert of Trier consecrated five altars in the Church of the Redemption (today St. Michael's Church). At a Roman road intersection near the church, a marketplace appeared around which the city developed.

The city, because of its location and natural geography, has through history been a place of strategic military significance. The first fortifications were built as early as the 10th century. By the end of the 12th century, as the city expanded westward around the new St. Nicholas Church (today the Cathedral of Notre Dame), new walls were built that included an area of 5 hectares (12 acres). In about 1340, under the reign of John the Blind, new fortifications were built that stood until 1867. In 1443, the Burgundians under Philip the Good conquered Luxembourg. Luxembourg became part of the Burgundian, and later Spanish and Austrian empires (See Spanish Netherlands and Spanish Road) and under those Habsburg administrations Luxembourg Castle was repeatedly strengthened so that by the 16th century, Luxembourg itself was one of the strongest fortifications in Europe. Subsequently, the Burgundians, the Spanish, the French, the Spanish again, the Austrians, the French again, and the Prussians conquered Luxembourg. In the 17th century, the first casemates were built; initially, Spain built 23 km (14 mi) of tunnels, starting in 1644. These were then enlarged under French rule by Marshal Vauban, and augmented again under Austrian rule in the 1730s and 1740s.

During the French Revolutionary Wars, the city was occupied by France twice: once, briefly, in 1792–93, and, later, after a seven-month siege. Luxembourg held out for so long under the French siege that French politician and military engineer Lazare Carnot called Luxembourg "the best fortress in the world, except Gibraltar", giving rise to the city's nickname: the 'Gibraltar of the North'. Nonetheless, the Austrian garrison eventually surrendered, and as a consequence, Luxembourg was annexed by the French Republic, becoming part of the département of Forêts, with Luxembourg City as its préfecture. Under the 1815 Treaty of Paris, which ended the Napoleonic Wars, Luxembourg City was placed under Prussian military control as a part of the German Confederation, although sovereignty passed to the House of Orange-Nassau, in personal union with the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. After the Luxembourg Crisis, the 1867 Treaty of London required Luxembourg to dismantle the fortifications in Luxembourg City. Their demolition took sixteen years, cost 1.5 million gold francs, and required the destruction of over 24 km (15 mi) of underground defences and 4 hectares (9.9 acres) of casemates, batteries, barracks, etc. Furthermore, the Prussian garrison was to be withdrawn.

When, in 1890, Grand Duke William III died without any male heirs, the Grand Duchy passed out of Dutch hands, and into an independent line under Grand Duke Adolphe. Thus, Luxembourg, which had hitherto been independent in theory only, became a truly independent country, and Luxembourg City regained some of the importance that it had lost in 1867 by becoming the capital of a fully independent state. Despite Luxembourg's best efforts to remain neutral in the First World War, it was occupied by Germany on 2 August 1914. On 30 August, Helmuth von Moltke moved his headquarters to Luxembourg City, closer to his armies in France in preparation for a swift victory. However, the victory never came, and Luxembourg would play host to the German high command for another four years. At the end of the occupation, Luxembourg City was the scene of an attempted communist revolution; on 9 November 1918, communists declared a socialist republic, but it lasted only a few hours.

In 1921, the city limits were greatly expanded. The communes of Eich, Hamm, Hollerich, and Rollingergrund were incorporated into Luxembourg City, making the city the largest commune in the country (a position that it would hold until 1978). In 1940, Germany occupied Luxembourg again. The Nazis were not prepared to allow Luxembourgers self-government, and gradually integrated Luxembourg into the Third Reich by informally attaching the country administratively to a neighbouring German province. Under the occupation, the capital city's streets all received new, German names, which was announced on 4 October 1940. The Avenue de la Liberté for example, a major road leading to the railway station, was renamed "Adolf-Hitlerstraße". Luxembourg City was liberated on 10 September 1944. The city was under long-range bombardment by the German V-3 cannon in December 1944 and January 1945.

After the war, Luxembourg ended its neutrality, and became a founding member of several inter-governmental and supra-governmental institutions. In 1952, the city became the headquarters of the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community. In 1967, the High Authority was merged with the commissions of the other European institutions; although Luxembourg City was no longer the seat of the ECSC, it hosted some part-sessions of the European Parliament until 1981. Luxembourg remains the seat of the European Parliament's secretariat, as well as the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Court of Auditors, and the European Investment Bank. Several departments of the European Commission are also based in Luxembourg. The Council of the EU meets in the city for the months of April, June and October annually.


Travel to Luxembourg

*taken from Lonely Planet*

Majestically set across the deep gorges of the Alzette and Pétrusse rivers, Luxembourg City is one of Europe's most scenic capitals. Its Unesco-listed Old Town is a warren of tunnels, nooks and crannies sheltering some outstanding museums, as well as lively drinking and dining scenes. The city is famed for its financial and EU centres, making weekends an ideal time to visit, as hotel prices drop dramatically.


Must See Sites

Musée d'Histoire de la Ville de Luxembourg; Hidden within a series of 17th- to 19th-century houses, including a former ‘holiday home’ of the Bishop of Orval, the city's history museum is engrossing. Permanent collections on its lower levels cover the city's industrial, handicraft and commercial heritage, with models, plans and engravings, textiles, ceramics, posters, photographs and household items. Upper floors host temporary exhibitions. Its enormous glass elevator provides views of the rock foundations, the Grund valley and Rham plateau; there's also a lovely garden and panoramic terrace.

Chemin de la Corniche; Hailed as 'Europe's most beautiful balcony', this pedestrian promenade winds along the course of the 17th-century city ramparts with views across the river canyon towards the hefty fortifications of the Wenzelsmauer (Wenceslas Wall). The rampart-top walk continues along Blvd Victor Thorn to the Dräi Tier (Triple Gate) tower, stretching 600m in total.

Palais Grand-Ducal; Luxembourg's turreted palace was built in 1572 and has been greatly extended over the years. It now houses the Grand Duke’s office, with parliament using its 1860 Chamber of Deputies. In summer the palace opens for 50-minute guided tours (English available), mostly concentrating on family history. From the medieval-Gothic dining room, the palace’s interior style morphs into sumptuous gilded romanticism upstairs.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame; Built between 1613 and 1621, and enlarged between 1935 and 1938, Luxembourg's cathedral is most memorable for its distinctively elongated black spires, ornately carved Renaissance portal inside the main doorway, and 19th- and 20th-century stained glass. Interior highlights include a tiny but highly revered Madonna-and-child idol above the altar and the graves of the royal family in the crypt.

US Military Cemetery; In a beautifully maintained graveyard 6km east of the city near the airport, lie 5075 US WWII war dead, including the general of the US Third Army George Patton, who played a key role in Luxembourg's 1944 liberation. It's a humbling sight, with long rows of white crosses and Stars of David. At the entrance, a white-stone chapel has a stained-glass window with the insignia of US commands that operated in Luxembourg.


Must Try Food & Drink

Huesenziwwi; Huesenziwwi is a popular dish from Luxembourg consisting of marinated pieces of hare cooked with wine and onions in a sauce thickened with hare's blood. Some cooks like to add sour cream, carrots, mushrooms, and herbs such as thyme, sage, and bay leaves to the dish. The dish is characterized by being heavily seasoned with pepper, and it is often flambéed with cognac. For serving, it is recommended to pair huesenziwwi with noodles, cabbage, and a glass of local wine.

Pâté Gaumais; Pâté gaumais is a type of pie consisting of yeast dough filled with pork. Prime cuts of pork used in this traditional recipe are marinated for 48 hours in wine or vinegar with different spices and herbs such as garlic, shallots, bay leaves, thyme, and parsley. The pie got its name after Gaume, a part of the Belgian region of Lorraine, south of the Province of Luxembourg, where bakers and butchers traditionally prepare this hearty dish all year round. It can be eaten either hot or cold and is thought to taste even better after a few days.

Quetschentaart; Quetschentaart (also known as quetscheflued) is a Luxembourgish damson plum tart that is traditionally prepared during autumn, when damson plums are in season. To make the tart base, flour, sugar, butter, salt, and eggs are combined into a firm dough that is then rolled out and tucked snugly into a buttered tart tin before it is finished with slices of fresh damson plums and baked to perfection. The tart can optionally be dusted with powdered vanilla sugar for extra flavor and a pleasant aroma. A dollop of whipped cream, crème fraîche, or even a scoop of ice cream go perfectly with this sweet fruit tart. Quetschentaart can be bought at almost any pastry shop, bakery, and restaurant in the country, especially during the damson plum season.

Verwurelter; Verwurelter are traditional Luxembourgish donuts that are made with a combination of flour, butter, yeast, warm milk, sugar, eggs, and salt. The dough mixture is shaped into knots and then deep-fried until golden brown. Light and fluffy, these donuts are typically dusted with powdered or granulated sugar, and they can be enjoyed warm or chilled. In Luxembourg, verwurelter is a festival staple that is traditionally prepared for Fuesecht, the Luxembourgish equivalent of the German Fasching or Karnival.

Crémant de Luxembourg; Crémant de Luxembourg is a sparkling wine from the Moselle valley in Luxembourg. The wines are produced with méthode traditionnelle—in which the second fermentation takes place in the bottle. Various grape varieties grown in Luxembourg can be used in their production, but they must be of the highest quality and only hand-picked. Crémant de Luxembourg has fine and delicate effervescence and a fruity character that is complemented by subtle buttery nuances. The wines make a great aperitif, but they can also pair well with appetizers or fish-based dishes.

Äppelklatzen; Äppelklatzen is a comforting Luxembourgish dessert. It consists of apples that are lightly cooked with cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar. Once done, the apples are wrapped in pastry, then baked until golden-brown. This delicious dessert is especially popular during the festive Christmas season.

Éisleker Ham; Éisleker ham is a variety of smoked, uncooked ham originating in the region of Oesling. The ham is typically made with pork meat from the hind legs of a pig which was soaked in brine before it's been smoked. Paper-thin slices of this Luxembourgish delicacy are usually consumed chilled, paired with a glass of fine local wine and served with sides such as chipped potatoes, fresh bread, and salads.

Luxembourgish Esaü Soup; Luxembourgish Esaü soup is a hearty lentil stew made by cooking lentils with herbs and vegetables such as onions, carrots, celery, and leeks. The dish is typically seasoned with salt and pepper, and it can optionally be enhanced with ingredients such as various spices, smoked bacon, butter, and cream or milk. This simple stew derives its name from Esau, a character mentioned in the Old Testament who was the son of Isaac and Rebecca, and the one who sold his birthright to his younger brother, Jacob, for a bowl of stewed lentils (a "mess of pottage"). The dish is also commonly referred to as Jacob's lentil stew or Esau's pottage.


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Lonely Planet

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