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From castle to fortress
In Roman times, Luxembourg City sat at the junction of two consular roads that met at Place du Marché-aux-Poissons, which was dominated by a fortified tower. In 963, following an exchange with St Maximin's Abbey in Trier, a small castle at this location passed into the possession of Count Siegfried, a close relative of the Holy Roman Emperors and Kings of France. At the Bock, not far from the castle called Lucilinburhuc, Siegfried built his own castle, considered today to be the birthplace of the city, the country and the nation. In 965, the first defensive wall was erected to protect it from enemy troops.
In 1050, the town needed to expand, so a second wall was built parallel to the first one, near the current Rue du Fossé. In 1244, Countess Ermesinde granted the charter that made the town a city. Work on building new fortifications around the upper city began in 1320, under the reign of John of Bohemia, also known as John the Blind, and was completed in 1398. The lower city (the Grund) was fortified between 1387 and 1395. In 1354, Luxembourg became a Duchy.
After the fortress was captured in 1443 by Burgundian troops under Philip the Good, the City of Luxembourg – one of the strongest fortresses on the continent – became a prominent piece in Europe's geopolitical games due to its tremendous strategic value and was coveted by all the major powers of the time. In 1447, it passed, along with all the other Burgundian possessions, to the Austrian Habsburgs through marriage. In 1542, French troops under Francis I seized the fortress, which was reconquered in 1554 by Austrian imperial troops. Following the siege by Louis XIV in 1683–84, French troops under the command of Vauban reconquered the fortress. Between 1684 and 1688, Vauban erected a series of large fortifications, employing more than 3,000 labourers. After the Peace of Ryswick, the Spanish took over in 1698, only to be ousted again by France in 1701. After the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, the Dutch replaced the French for two years before Austrian troops regained possession of the fortress in 1715 and occupied it for a period of 80 years.
The Fortress of Luxembourg was now one of the Austrian Netherlands' main strategic defences against possible French invasion: the fortifications erected by Marshal Vauban were therefore expanded and strengthened. The outer forts were enhanced and a network of casemates nearly 25 km long was dug into the bedrock of the fortress.
In 1795, the Fortress of Luxembourg – nicknamed the "Gibraltar of the North" – surrendered to the armies of the French Republic after an eleven-month siege and blockade. The Duchy of Luxembourg was incorporated into the French Republic under the name of Département des Forêts, later becoming part of the French Empire.
Sovereignty, neutrality, independence
Three key dates marked the course of history in the 19th century:
At the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Luxembourg became its own sovereign nation in the form of a Grand Duchy. It also became the personal property of the Dutch Crown, with the King of the Netherlands taking on the title of Grand Duke of Luxembourg. At the same time, Luxembourg City became a federal fortress of the German Confederation, with a Prussian garrison stationed within its walls.
After the Belgian Revolution, the Walloon part of the Grand Duchy split away to become the Belgian Province of Luxembourg in 1839. The Grand Duchy thus found its present-day form, and was granted independence.
At the London Conference of 1867, Luxembourg was declared neutral: the Prussian garrison left the city and work began on tearing down the fortress. Luxembourg's fortifications stretched over more than 180 hectares, while the area of the city itself was only 120 hectares. The total length of the underground fortifications was 23 km, of which 10 km are still accessible today.
It took 16 years for the fortress to be dismantled and cost more than 1.5 million gold francs. The demolition of the Ville-Haute fortifications (in particular the ones where Boulevard Royal and Boulevard du Prince Henri are today, as well as in the present-day Gare district) made room for the growth of new districts and the development of parks and promenades.
A decade earlier, the country's railways had made a first crack in the wall. At the request of the military authorities, the central train station had been built outside the city. But the tracks that led to it crossed the city's borders, within range of the garrison's cannons. The tracks spanned the ravines with the help of viaducts that, to this day, give the City of Luxembourg its unique setting.
The construction of the Pont Adolphe began in 1903, which allowed an ambitious, centuries-old project to be realised: the extension of the city to the fields of the Bourbon Plateau, which underwent rapid urban development once unfettered access was available. At the same time, the new districts of Belair and Limpertsberg began to flourish. At this point, Luxembourg began to build its first modern public infrastructure, such as tram lines, gasworks, power plant, slaughterhouse, water department, underground pipes and sewage.
Twice, the development of Luxembourg City suffered terrible setbacks. From 1914 to 1918 and 1940 to 1944, German troops occupied the country and seized its capital. In 1945, the city finally managed to turn its back on its war-torn history, and began a completely new chapter.
The present day
Today, Luxembourg City is a modern, cosmopolitan hub. Its friendly vibe and wide range of cultural offerings put it on equal footing with Europe's other major capitals. It is a city that has its finger on the pulse of modern life, all while managing to retain its human scale.
In December 1994, the city's fortifications and Old Town were added to the UNESCO list of world cultural heritage sites.
Last but not least, Luxembourg City has long been entwined with the development of the EU. It is no small point of pride to Luxembourgers that their city is the birthplace of one of the founding fathers of Europe. Born in 1886 to a Luxembourgish mother, Robert Schuman, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, received his education in the schools of the city.