Luxembourg City, the host to the 6th European Congress of ACI – The Financial Markets Association, presents a pleasant mix of the new and old in its architecture. It is a city that contrasts sweeping boulevards with picturesque squares and tiny lanes.
Possibly the most dramatic feature of the city is the Petrusse Valley which splits what locals call the Upper Town and the Plateau Bourbon. Spanning the Petrusse Valley, are the Passerelle and Adolphe bridges, known by the locals as the Old and New bridges respectively. The Old Bridge was built around 1860, and is a viaduct of 24 arches, the New Bridge was built at the start of the twentieth century during the rule of Grand Duke Adolpe. The latter is a double arched bridge, and at time of construction was the biggest stone arch in the world.
The heart of the Old Town is the Fish Market, which stands at a crossroads between two Roman roads. Running off from the Fish Market are a series of narrow lanes housing cafes, specialty restaurants and artists studios.
As well as several museums, the Old Town also boasts the Palace of the Grand Dukes, which as the name would suggest, acts as the city residence for the Grand Ducal family. When first constructed in the sixteenth century, the building served as the city’s first town hall, it also had an annex built to house the Chamber of Deputies in 1859. It became the Grand Ducal Palace in 1890 and underwent complete restoration in the early 1990’s.
On the edge of the Old Town stands Place Guillaume II, named after William II, King of the Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxembourg. Since the thirteenth century, the square accommodated the church and monestary of the order of St Francis, however the buildings have since been pulled down and replaced. The current Town Hall was built in the mid 1830’s on the site of the Franciscan monastery, using stones from the building.
The Town Hall, which is recognisable by the two golden lions flanking the stairs to the building, houses the city administration and plenary of the Municipal Council. The Cercle Municipal combines administrative offices and festival halls, and also faces onto Place Guillaume II.
At the other end of the square stands the Cathedral to the Blessed Virgin, an imposing Gothic building dating back to 1613. Just beyond the cathedral stand many of the city’s government buildings. The House of Burgundy has been the Prime Minister’s office since 1975. Attached to the building is a brick built tower, thought to be the oldest construction dating back to the medieval city.
Two other government offices are housed in buildings of architectural interest. The Ministry of Finance is situated in the Refuge of the Holy Ghost Monastery, which was built in 1740. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in a slightly younger building – but only just – the Refuge of the St Maximin Abbey of Trier, which was built in 1751.
A short walk from Place Guillaume II is the Place D’Armes, which lies at the heart of the pedestrian zone of the city. The zone is also home to the shopping district of City, including the Grand Rue, the main shopping street.
The Place D’Armes is a popular meeting place in the city centre, and was completed in 1671. Troops of Louis XIV of France paved the square, planted lime trees and used the area for parades, hence its name.
A short distance away from the Place D’Armes is the Boulevard Royal, the modern heart of the city and home to many of the country’s international banks and financial institutions. Other banks have chosen to site themselves on the Kirchberg plateau, home to several EU institutions as well as the FIL Convention Centre, which hosts the ACI Congress this month.
A city over 1,000 years old, Luxembourg has many attractions and sights of interest for the short break visitor, and is a good walking city. The old fortress on the Bock Promontory was dismantled as a result of the Treaty of London in 1867, but vestiges of the bulwarks are still in evidence around the city. Part of the original fortress was transformed into the city park at the western edge of the Old Town.
In terms of night life, there is much to do and see around the Place D’Armes, and around the Old Town, however it is also worth visiting the Lower Towns which lay along the banks of the Alzette river, and have a wide range of restaurants. In one of these towns, Pfaffenthal, can also be found the birthplace of Robert Schuman, said to be the father of European integration – a fitting place to end a tour of the city so often said to be the Capital of Europe.