Colmar, France in colorful Alsace

When I was in college, I visited Colmar with a college friend who was studying in nearby Freiburg, Germany. He wanted to see the Isenheim Alterpiece, an amazing creation by Grunewald from the early 16th Century. Our Rhine cruise gave me the opportunity to go back. I did not remember the town, which is considered one of the prettiest in France.

Alsace has been part of France since the end of World War II, but for centuries it has gone back and forth between Germany and France, creating a culture and setting which mixes influences. It was not bombed during the last World War, so many of the half-timbered houses from as far back as the 14th century are still standing. These houses were painted unique colors. Rather than numbers, the address of houses in Colmar were based on their colors. Like Strasbourg, Colmar has canals in the central town.

One place we visited was Colmar’s smallest house (above) which was built into the corner of two other townhouses. Cute, but no private bathroom.

The designer of the Statue of Liberty, Frederic Batholdi, was from Colmar and there is a small museum featuring his sculptures in Colmar. Local artist Hansi created many unique signs for businesses in Colmar.

At the Unterlinden Museum you can see the Isenheim Altarpiece and a fine collection of works by other local artists from the Renaissance and a nice collection of modern paintings. The Altarpiece itself is a dramatic and visceral work which includes many panels painted to commemorate a local “plague” which infected the local population until it was discovered to be caused by a fungus found in local cereals. Below is the main panel and a portion of one of the most horrific of the panels.

If you are in Northeastern France, Colmar is worth going out of your way to see.


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