Tuesday, August 23, 2011

August 24, 2011 -- Luxembourg City

The temperature in Luxembourg City was in the lower to mid-80s yesterday, something that I found quite pleasant, but the local residents were complaining about the heat. I spoke with a woman from Northern Ireland at breakfast this morning, who said she was going to do all of her sightseeing before noon, because the afternoons are far to hot to be outside.

I am learned a bit more about this Luxembourg City yesterday. The old part of the city down here in the canyon where the youth hostel is located is called Pfaffenthal, which I would translate as "Valley of the Priests." It was once defended by a fortress cut into the rock of the cliffs above it. The fortress, according to a brochure I picked up, consisted at its peak of 23 kilometers or more than 14 miles of underground tunnels. The fortress is called the Casemate in English and French and Die Kasematten in German. According to my dictionary, casemate means a vault or chamber, especially in a rampart, with embrasures for artillery. An embrasure is a loophole through which artillery can be fired. There are certainly plenty of those in the fortifications.

The Casement was conquered several times by different nations through the centuries, and each of the conquerors expanded the tunnel system and fortifications.

I toured the Casemate yesterday. Not all 14 miles of tunnels are open to the public, but there is enough to occupy a few hours, if one wants to see them all. There are also narrow winding staircases going up and down and places where one has to crouch to get through. Although there are openings to the outside where cannon were fired when the Casement was attacked, most of the network of tunnels and staircases would be in total darkness if the electric lights were to fail. I thought of that when I was inside. If there had been a power failure, I might not have been able to make my way out, and I would have had to sit in the dark and wait for rescuers.

Here is a picture of one of the canons that faces an opening that commands a view of the canyon below.

The picture below was taken in the same spot and shows the view from the opening in the rock from which the canyon used to be fired.

Above the casement, there still exist some of the old streets that were part of the old city in centuries gone by, although some of those streets are now paved in asphalt (a few are still of cobblestones). The picture below shows how one of the cobblestone streets, now a pedestrian path blocked off to automobiles, passes below an old building.

To the people who live in Pfaffenthal, it is a great source of pride that the great German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe spent some time here and even included a few paragraphs of description in his volume Campagne in Frankreich (Campaign in France) in 1792. The residents of Pfaffenthal erected a plaque in the rear garden of the youth hostel to commemorate Goethe's visit. The plaque quotes Goethe's flattering description of Pfaffenthal with translations of his words into French and English. Here is a picture of that plaque.

The way Blogspot reduces pictures, I doubt if you can zoom in to read the English translation at the right of the plaque, do for those 2 or 3 people who are curious. Here it is, followed by Goethe's original words in German.

The parents of our jovial guide possessed a pretty sloping garden in the Pfaffenthal, which they kindly allowed me to enjoy. The church and the cloister, not far off, truly justify the name of this Elysium, and whereas the spiritual neighborhood would seem to pledge both peace and tranquility to the secular inhabitants, each glance upward towards the heights constantly reminds them of war, violence and destruction.

Nothing could offer a more astonishing vision than the narrow valley serpentining along the river through the midst of all this; the few level places, the heights, whether gently sloping or precipitous, are laid out in gardens, cut into terraces or enlivened with pleasure houses. From there, to the left and right one beholds nothing but the steepest rocks and walls towering high.

Here so much grandeur unites with grace, so much gravity with beauty, that one cannot help but wish that Poussin [ a French classical painter -- JQ] had applied his glorious talent to such places.

The original reads:

 Nun besaßen die Eltern unseres lockeren Führers in dem Pfaffenthal einen artigen abhängigen Garten, dessen Genuß sie mir gern und freundlich überließen. Kirche und Kloster, nicht weit entfernt, rechtfertigen den Namen diese Elysiums, und in dieser geistlichen Nachbarschaft schien auch den weltlichen Bewohnern Ruh und Frieden verheißen, ob sie gleich mit jedem Blick in die Höhe an Krieg, Gewalt und Verderben erinnert wurden.
Nichts kann deßhalb einen wunderlichern Anblick gewähren als das mitten durch dieß alles am Flusse sich hinabziehende enge Thal, dessen wenige Flächen, dessen sanft oder steil aufsteigende Höhen zu Gärten angelegt, in Terrassen abgestuft und mit Lusthäusern belebt sind; von wo aus man auf die steilsten Felsen, auf hochgethürmte Mauern rechts und links hinaufschaut.

Hier findet sich so viel Größe mit Anmuth, so viel Ernst mit Lieblichkeit verbunden, daß wohl zu wünschen wäre, Poussin hätte sein herrliches Talent in solchen Räumen bethätigt….

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