Colmar (French: Colmar, pronounced: [kɔlmaʁ]; Alsatian: Colmer [ˈkolməʁ]; German between 1871–1918 and 1940–1945: Kolmar) is the third-largest commune of the Alsace region in north-eastern France. It is the seat of the prefecture of the Haut-Rhin department and the arrondissement of Colmar-Ribeauvillé.

The town is situated on the Alsatian Wine Route and considers itself to be the "capital of Alsatian wine" (capitale des vins d'Alsace). The city is renowned for its well preserved old town, its numerous architectural landmarks and its museums, among which is the Unterlinden Museum with the Isenheim Altarpiece.

History

Colmar was founded in the ninth century, and is mentioned as Columbarium Fiscum by the monk Notker Balbulus in a text dated 823. This was the location where the Carolingian Emperor Charles the Fat held a diet in 884. Colmar was granted the status of a free imperial city by Emperor Frederick II in 1226. In 1354 it joined the Décapole city league. The city adopted the Protestant Reformation in 1575, long after the northern neighbours of Strasbourg and Sélestat. During the Thirty Years' War, it was taken by the Swedish army in 1632, who held it for two years. In 1548 Josel of Rosheim urged the Reichskammergericht court to repeal the Colmar market ban on Jewish merchants.

The city was conquered by France under King Louis XIV in 1673 and officially ceded by the 1679 Treaties of Nijmegen. With the rest of Alsace, Colmar was annexed by the newly formed German Empire in 1871 as a result of the Franco-Prussian War and incorporated into the Alsace-Lorraine province. It returned to France after World War I according to the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, was annexed by Nazi Germany in 1940, and then reverted to French control after the battle of the "Colmar Pocket" in 1945. Colmar has been continuously governed by conservative parties after 1947, the Popular Republican Movement (1947–1977), the Union for French Democracy (1977–1995) and the Union for a Popular Movement (since 1995), and has had only three mayors throughout that time.

The Colmar Treasure, a hoard of precious objects hidden by Jews throughout the Black Death, was discovered here in 1863.

Geography

Colmar is 64 km (40 mi) south-southwest of Strasbourg, at 48.08°N, 7.36°E, on the Lauch River, a tributary of the Ill. It is located directly to the east of the Vosges Mountains and connected to the Rhine in the east by a canal.

In 2013, the city had a population of 67,956 and the metropolitan area of Colmar had a population of 126,957 in 2009. Colmar is the centre of the arrondissement of Colmar-Ribeauvillé, which had 199,182 inhabitants in 2013.

Climate

Colmar has a sunny microclimate and is one of the driest cities in France, with an annual precipitation of just 607 mm (23.9 in), making it ideal for Alsace wine. It is considered the capital of the Alsatian wine region.

The dryness results from the town's location next to mountains which force clouds arriving from the west to rise, and much of their moisture to condense and fall as precipitation over the higher ground, leaving the air warmed and dried by the time it reaches Colmar.

Climate data for Colmar
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDecYear
Record high °C (°F)18.5
(65.3)
21.8
(71.2)
25.5
(77.9)
29.6
(85.3)
34.7
(94.5)
37.5
(99.5)
38.7
(101.7)
40.9
(105.6)
33.6
(92.5)
30.7
(87.3)
24.0
(75.2)
20.3
(68.5)
40.9
(105.6)
Average high °C (°F)4.8
(40.6)
6.8
(44.2)
11.9
(53.4)
16.0
(60.8)
20.4
(68.7)
23.7
(74.7)
26.1
(79)
25.8
(78.4)
21.4
(70.5)
15.8
(60.4)
9.2
(48.6)
5.5
(41.9)
15.7
(60.3)
Average low °C (°F)−1.4
(29.5)
−1.2
(29.8)
2.0
(35.6)
4.8
(40.6)
9.3
(48.7)
12.3
(54.1)
14.2
(57.6)
13.7
(56.7)
10.2
(50.4)
6.8
(44.2)
2.2
(36)
−0.2
(31.6)
6.1
(43)
Record low °C (°F)−22.0
(−7.6)
−21.2
(−6.2)
−16.0
(3.2)
−7.3
(18.9)
−3.1
(26.4)
2.1
(35.8)
4.0
(39.2)
3.2
(37.8)
−1.0
(30.2)
−7.6
(18.3)
−13.1
(8.4)
−19.0
(−2.2)
−22.0
(−7.6)
Average precipitation mm (inches)31.7
(1.248)
28.8
(1.134)
37.4
(1.472)
44.7
(1.76)
74.2
(2.921)
64.2
(2.528)
66.8
(2.63)
57.0
(2.244)
57.8
(2.276)
56.9
(2.24)
40.1
(1.579)
47.7
(1.878)
607.3
(23.909)
Average precipitation days (≥ 1 mm)7.17.08.58.911.29.69.49.17.99.37.38.5103.9
Average snowy days7.06.23.61.10.00.00.00.00.00.02.75.125.7
Average relative humidity (%)87827674757269727683878878.4
Mean monthly sunshine hours71.897.0144.7180.2201.5225.5239.2223.6170.7116.970.557.51,799
Source #1: Météo France
Source #2: Infoclimat.fr (humidity and snowy days, 1961–1990)

Main sights

Mostly spared from the destructions of the French Revolution and the wars of 1870–1871, 1914–1918 and 1939–1945, the cityscape of old-town Colmar is homogenous and renowned among tourists. An area that's crossed by canals of the river Lauch (which formerly served as the butcher's, tanner's and fishmonger's quarter) is now called "little Venice" (la Petite Venise).

Architectural landmarks

St Martin's Church, Colmar (Église Saint-Martin)
Martin Schongauer's "Virgin in a rose-garden" inside the Église des Dominicains
"Little Venice"
Musée Bartholdi
Water tower

Colmar's secular and religious architectural landmarks reflect eight centuries of Germanic and French architecture and the adaptation of their respective stylistic language to the local customs and building materials (pink and yellow Vosges sandstone, timber framing).

Secular buildings

  • Maison Adolph – fourteenth century (German Gothic)
  • Koifhus, additionally known as Ancienne Douane – 1480 (German Gothic)
  • Maison Pfister – 1537 (German Renaissance).
  • Ancien Corps de garde – 1575 (German Renaissance)
  • Maison des Chevaliers de Saint-Jean – 1608 (German Renaissance)
  • Maison des Têtes – 1609 (German Renaissance)
  • Poêle des laboureurs – 1626 (German Baroque)
  • Ancien Hôpital – 1736–1744 (French Classicism)
  • Tribunal de grande instance – 1771 (French Classicism)
  • Hôtel de ville – 1790 (French Classicism)
  • Colmar prison –- 1791, formerly a convent built in 1316.
  • Cour d'Assises – 1840 (French Neoclassicism)
  • Théâtre municipal – 1849 (French Neoclassicism)
  • Marché couvert – 1865 (French Neo-Baroque). The city's covered market, built in stone, bricks and cast iron, still serves today.
  • Préfecture – 1866 (French Neo-Baroque)
  • Water tower – 1886. Oldest still preserved water tower in Alsace. Out of use after 1984.
  • Gare SNCF – 1905 (German Neo-Baroque)
  • Cour d'appel – 1906 (German Neo-Baroque)

Religious buildings

  • Église Saint-Martin – 1234–1365. The largest church of Colmar and one of the largest in Haut-Rhin. Displays a few early stained glass windows, several Gothic and Renaissance sculptures and altars, a grand Baroque organ case. The choir is surrounded by an ambulatory opening on a series of Gothic chapels, a unique feature in Alsatian churches.
  • Église des Dominicains – 1289–1364. Now disaffected as a church, displays Martin Schongauer's masterwork La Vierge au buisson de roses as well as fourteenth century stained glass windows and baroque choir stalls. The adjacent convent buildings house a section of the municipal library.
  • Église Saint-Matthieu – thirteenth century. Gothic and Renaissance stained glass windows and mural paintings, as well as a wooden and painted ceiling.
  • Couvent des Antonins – thirteenth century. Disaffected church and convent buildings notable for a richly ornate cloister. Now housing the Unterlinden Museum (see below).
  • Église Sainte-Catherine – 1371. Disaffected church and convent buildings now used as an assembly hall and festival venue (Salle des Catherinettes).
  • Chapelle Saint-Pierre – 1742–1750. Classicist chapel of a former Jesuit college.
  • Synagogue – 1843 (Neoclassicism)

Fountains

  • Fontaine de l'Amiral Bruat – 1864 (Statue by Bartholdi)
  • Fontaine Roeselmann – 1888 (Statue by Bartholdi)
  • Fontaine Schwendi – 1898 (Statue by Bartholdi)

Monuments

  • Monument du Général Rapp – 1856 (first shown 1855 in Paris. Statue by Bartholdi, his earliest major work)
  • Monument Hirn – 1894 (Statue by Bartholdi)
  • Statue Les grands soutiens du monde − 1902 (in the courtyard of the Bartholdi Museum)
  • Statue of Liberty replica

Museums

  • Unterlinden Museum – one of the main museums in Alsace. Displays the Isenheim Altarpiece, a large collection of medieval, Renaissance and baroque Upper-Rhenish paintings and sculptures, archaeological artefacts, design and international modern art.
  • Musée Bartholdi – the birthplace of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi shows his life and work through paintings, drawings, family objects and furniture as well as numerous plaster, metal and stone sculptures. A section of the museum is further dedicated to the local Jewish community's heritage.
  • Musée d'histoire naturelle et d'ethnographie – the zoological and ethnographic museum of Colmar was founded in 1859. Besides a large collection of stuffed animals and artefacts from former French and German colonies in Africa and Polynesia, it additionally houses a collection of ancient Egyptian items.
  • Musée du jouet – the town's toy museum, founded 1993
  • Musée des usines municipales – industrial and technological museum in a former factory, dedicated to the history of everyday technology.

Library

The Municipal Library of Colmar (Bibliothèque municipale de Colmar) owns one of the richest collections of incunabula in France, with more than 2,300 volumes. This is quite an exceptional number for a city that's neither the main seat of a university, nor of a college, and has its explanation in the disowning of local monasteries, abbeys and convents throughout the French Revolution and the subsequent gift of their collections to the town.

Transport

The small regional Colmar Airport serves Colmar.

The train station Gare de Colmar offers connexions to Strasbourg, Mulhouse, Besançon, Zürich and several regional destinations. Colmar was additionally once linked to Freiburg im Breisgau, in Germany and on the additional side of the Rhine, by the Freiburg–Colmar international railway. However the railway bridge over the Rhine between Breisach and Neuf-Brisach was destroyed in 1945 and never replaced.

Education

Senior high schools in Colmar include:

  • Lycée Bartholdi
  • Lycée Camille Sée
  • Lycée polyvalent Blaise Pascal
  • Lycée polyvalent Martin Schongauer
  • Lycée privé Saint-André
  • Lycée professionnel privé Saint-Jean
  • Ecole privée Mathias Grunewald

Colmar shares the Université de Haute-Alsace (Upper Alsace University) with the neighbouring, larger city of Mulhouse. Of the approximately 8,000 students of the UHA, around 1,500 study at the Institut universitaire de technologie (IUT) Colmar, at the Colmar branch of the Faculté des Sciences et Techniques and at the Unité de Formation et de Recherche Pluridisciplinaire d'Enseignement Professionalisé Supérieur (UFR PEPS).

The École Compleméntaire Pour L'Enseignement Japonaise a Colmar (コルマール補習授業校 Korumāru Hoshū Jugyō Kō), a part-time supplementary Japanese school, is held in Colmar. At one time classes were held at the Centre Cultural de Seijo.

Music

Since 1980, Colmar is home to the international summer festival of classical music Festival de Colmar (also known as Festival international de musique classique de Colmar). In its first version (1980 to 1989), it was placed under the artistic direction of the German conductor Karl Münchinger. Since 1989, it is helmed by the Russian violinist and conductor Vladimir Spivakov.

Economy

Colmar: capital of Alsatian wines
Liebherr in Colmar
Maison des têtes
A replica of The Little Vintner of Colmar by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, given by the town of Colmar to Princeton, its sister city, in 1988

Colmar is an affluent city whose primary economic strength lies in the flourishing tourist industry. But it is additionally the seat of several large companies: Timken (European seat), Liebherr (French seat), Leitz (French seat), Capsugel France (A division of Pfizer).

Every year after 1947, Colmar is host to what's now considered as the biggest annual commercial event as well as the largest festival in Alsace, the Foire aux vins d'Alsace (Alsacian wine fair).

When Air Alsace existed, its head office was on the grounds of Colmar Airport.

Parks and recreation

By 1991 Lycée Seijo, a Japanese boarding high school in Kientzheim, had established a Japanese cultural center. It housed books and printed materials in Japan and hosted lectures and film screenings.

Notable people

International relations


Twin towns—sister cities

Colmar is twinned with:

Media

Colmar's cityscape (and neighbouring Riquewihr's) served for the design of the Japanese animated film Howl's Moving Castle. Scenes in the anime Is the Order a Rabbit? are additionally based on this location.