The demand for constitutional reforms and democratic governance led to the Revolutions of 1848 throughout Europe (France, Germany, Austrian Empire, Italy, Denmark & elsewhere) that forced the Dutch King William II to approve the formation of a new parliamentary constitution based on the Belgian model. The new constitution was drafted by a newly elected assembly of Luxembourg which used the brand new City Hall ( Hôtel de ville de Luxembourg) as their seat. Gaspard-Théodore-Ignace de la Fontaine a leader of the party advocating the union with Netherlands, became the first Prime Minister of Luxembourg. He would leave his place a few months later for Jean-Jacques Willmar also an Orangist and also born in Luxembourg city. By that time the city had reached a population of 13.000 citizens.
By the end of the 1850’s the first railway station of the city is constructed as part of the network that connected the main cities of the German confederation. The confederation of the Deutscher Bund however would not last for long. The dispute between the two dominant member states of Austria & Prussia over who had the right to rule the German lands led to the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 that resulted in a Prussian victory and the collapse of the German Confederation. The North German Confederation that was created in its place did not include Luxembourg. To make things even more complicated for the city, the Prussian troops were still in control of the Bock. Before the war the Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismark had agreed with the French government of Napoleon III that Prussia would not object to French hegemony over Luxembourg if France stayed out of Prussia’s conflict with Austria. Assuming that Bismark would honor his part of the agreement the French government had offered William III of Netherlands 5 million Dutch guilders which William III had accepted in 1867 due to his dire economic troubles. The French were shocked to learn that Bismark, after a public outcry against the deal by German nationalist newspapers, was not willing to honor his part of the deal. The so called Luxembourg crisis of 1867 led France & Prussia to the brinks of war over the political status of Luxembourg, which was finally resolved by the Treaty of London, signed on 11 May 1867.
The treaty declared Luxembourg to be an independent & perpetually neutral state under the possession of the Dutch King William III, the Prussian garrison to be withdrawn from the city within 3 months & its fortifications dismantled. Nine centuries after Siegfried I, Luxembourg would cease to be a fortress-city. The country would also remain in the Zollverein (until 1919). The treaty’s result was considered to be Bismark’s victory. The demolition of the fortress with its casemates, batteries, and barracks would last 16 years from 1867 to 1883 with the revenues from the sales of the land of the fortress covering the costs of its demolition & the urban development of the city. Although the destruction of a great part of the fortress might be seen today as a destruction of a historic monument, it was at the time seen as an act of liberation. The fortress was for hundreds of years a symbol of foreign occupation & an unsurpassed hurdle in the city’s expansion since its various occupiers through the years forbade the construction of new buildings in its vicinity.
After the demolition of the wall the city could expand for the first time since the 14th century. In the west the Boulevard Royal was built adjacent to the new Municipal Park Parc de la Ville which was also created after the demolition of the fort on the south side of the city. The new Adolphe Bridge opened up the Bourbon Plateau with Avenue de la Liberté for development, while a series of imposing new houses and edifices such as the Banque et Caisse d’Épargne de l’État, the ARBED building & the Gare Lëtzebuerg Central Railway Station & squares such as the Place de Paris were built.
Luxembourg achieved full independence in 1890 after the death of the Dutch King William III. He was succeeded in Netherlands by his daughter Wilhelmina but as the succession laws of Luxembourg allowed only male heirs, the personal union came to an end. Luxembourgers chose the German Duke Adolphe of the House of Nassau-Weilburg as their Grand Duke.
At the outbreak of World War I in 1914 the small duchy had reached the population of about 260.000 inhabitants with the city having more than 20,000 residents. The most notable addition to the city’s map being Nationalmusée fir Naturgeschicht, the National Museum of Natural History built next to the Neumünster Abbey in the Grund district. The country had experienced a 27 year old period of prosperity led by the gifted Prime Minister Paul Eyschen (in office from 1888 – 1915). Eyschen modernized the educational system, he abolished school fees and made school mandatory, he promoted Luxembourgish language (West Germanic language spoken today by about 400,000 people) and essentially formed his country’s social insurance system.
Despite the strong ethnic & cultural ties with Germany, Luxembourg did not need another round of foreign rulers. Although the government tried to secure the country’s sovereignty by affirming Luxembourg’s neutrality in the war, its position on the map was far too important for the Germans. A full-scale invasion was launched with tens of thousands of men reaching Luxembourg City just one day after the German declaration of war against Russia on August 1914. Marie-Adélaïde, the first Grand Duchess Regnant of Luxembourg, first female monarch since Maria Theresa (1740–1780) and first Luxembourgian monarch to be born within the country since John the Blind (r. 1313-1346) ordered her small army of only 400 men not to put up a resistance. In a meeting with the German commander on the second of August right on the Adolphe Bridge, the city’s symbol of modernization, she & her aging Prime Minister accepted German military rule as inevitable.
Marie-Adélaïde remained in office throughout the years of occupation, a period in which she effectively pursued the unwavering support of the occupiers. That would lead to her unpopularity in Luxembourg (nearly 4.000 Luxembourg nationals had served in the French army during the war. More than 2000 of them had died) as well as in neighboring France (main rival of the Germans in the war) and Belgium that was also occupied by the Germans. Eventually she would be forced to abdicate in favor of her younger sister Charlotte in 1919.
A double referendum on September 1919 re-confirmed the monarchic principle in the face of Grand Duchess Charlotte, against that of a republic or another ruler and in the same time gave approval for an economic union with France.
Despite the result of the referendum the negotiations with the French government collapsed the next year, resulting in a treaty in 1921 which created the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union (Benelux ), the precursor of the European Union that would last until 1972. The introduction of universal suffrage for men and women favored the Rechtspartei (party of the right) which played a dominant role in the government of the 20th century mainly due to the support of the Catholic church which had remained a pillar of Luxembourg’s society with about 90% of the people being Catholic. Upon the outbreak of the World War II on September of 1939 the clear & immediate re-proclamation of neutrality from the government was once more ignored by the Germans who invaded the country in May of 1940. The grand ducal family and its leading ministers fled shortly before the arrival of the Nazi troops with the Grand Duchess making supportive broadcasts from London to her homeland through the BBC. The Volksdeutsche Bewegung, the German Ethnic Movement, formed in Luxembourg city by Damian Kratzenberg, a high-school teacher with German background became the only political party in Luxembourg with an aim to support the people’s natural inclination towards the Germanic nation. The Nazis considered the people of Luxembourg as German, a reality they sought to validate with a sham referendum in October of 1940. When it became obvious that Luxembourgers wouldn’t vote according to their wishes the referendum was cancelled and Luxembourg was annexed to the 3rd Reich.
After World War II Luxembourg abandoned its politics of neutrality, becoming a founding member of the North Atlantic Organization in 1949, while it also became member of the United Nations, renewed the monetary union with Belgium & established an economic union with Netherlands in the the so-called BeNeLux. The city became the headquarters of the European Coal and Steel Community, of the European Commission, and the European Court of Justice. The Grand Théâtre de Luxembourg and the Grand Duchess Charlotte Bridge were built and the population moved past the point of 77,000 residents by 1966. (source:Basic Data on the Economy of Luxembourg By Robert H. Walker)
In 1999, Luxembourg joined the euro currency area. Grand Duke Jean abdicated the throne on October 7, 2000 after a reign of 36 years , in favor of his son Prince Henri, who assumed the title and constitutional duties of the Grand Duke. During that term the small duchy had managed to transform itself into a prosperous international financial center. On September 10, 2004 Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, became the semi-permanent president of the group of finance ministers from the 12 countries that share the euro, a role that would often be referred to as “Mr Euro” . On July 10, 2005, after threats of resignation by Prime Minister Juncker, the proposed European Constitution was approved by 56,52 % of the voters. In November 2014 Jean Claude Junker became the 12th President of the European Commission and played a crucial role in the resolving of the Greek debt crisis.
Today Luxembourg city is a capital with more than 122.000 residents, in their majority foreign nationals (about 70%). The majority of expats are Portuguese, French, Belgian and Italian. The capital enjoys one of the highest average incomes in the world and is constantly in the top 20 cities according to the quality of life. The focal point of all visitors is of course the fortress and old city center, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the merit of their historic and architectural significance. The key position on the European map, a leading cause of many of its troubles in the past, has proved to be most fortunate in the times of the European Union. In fact modern day Luxembourg has come to symbolize everything Europe is trying to achieve. Its capital city, one of the true epitomes of contemporary Europeanism.
Vauban, one of the most competent fortification engineers in history (between 1667 and 1707 he upgraded the fortifications of around 300 cities & built 37 new, of which 12 belong in the UNESCO World Heritage list of monumental fortifications today) immediately started a massive re-building and expansion project emphasizing in the already existing web of underground tunnels and system of case-mates which he extended even further. It was during that time that Luxembourg acquired the nickname “Gibraltar of the North”. Louis XIV’s aggressive policy would not go on unanswered. In 1686 the alarmed French neighbors would form The Grand Alliance that would lead to the Nine Years’ War and finally the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697 which forced France to return Luxembourg to the Habsburgs.
Four years later, at the outbreak of the sequel war between the two sides known as the War of the Spanish succession, the French would return to Luxembourg where they stayed for more than a decade (1701-1713), during which there was considerable conflict in the area between them & their faithful allies the Bavarians on one hand and the Grand Alliance of the Holy Roman Empire, Great Britain, the Dutch Republic and Portugal among others, on the other.
After 1713 the treaties of Utrecht & Rastatt stated that the Spanish Netherlands (Belgium and Luxembourg) would pass from the Spanish to the Austrian Habsburgs who would remain in the country until the end of the 18th century.
The fortress of Luxembourg would now be one of the main strategic pillars in the defence of Austrian Netherlands against any attempt of a French expansion. That was the reason behind the extensive expansions of the casemate system that took place after 1737 at the Bock. By significantly enlarging the already existing complex the Austrians managed to construct an extraordinary underground maze which would reach 40m (130ft) in depth & 23km (14ml) length with enough space to fit a garrison of 1200 men, housing equipment & horses, workshops, kitchens, bakeries & slaughterhouses.
The narrow openings for artillery carved into the Bock along with the structure on top of the rock could now accommodate firepower of more than 50 cannons. In the same time the building of several exterior forts like Fort Thüngen created a triple line of defenses on all sides that would make the Bock impregnable.
The Austrian fears of a French attack brought an exponential increase of the troops that were stationed in the fortress, reaching 10.000 soldiers between 1727 and 1732, while the civilian population of the city did not exceed 8,000. In 1787 the citizens of Luxembourg stated in a petition that they had “the sad privilege of living in a fortress, a privilege that is inseparable from the lodging of soldiers”, a problem that tormented its inhabitants, especially those (usually of lower social status) who were assigned with the obligation of housing a soldier but received no compensation from the Austrians or the Spaniards before them. The new defenses were finally put to a test in 1794, five years after the French Revolution and two after the declaration of war by Revolutionary France on the Habsburg monarchy. The French Revolutionary army laid a siege on the city that lasted more than seven months. The city surrendered only due to the lack of supplies, confirming the titles of “the best fortress in the world, except Gibraltar” and “Gibraltar of the north”.
The capture of the fortress allowed the French Republic’s annexation of Austrian Netherlands with the biggest part of the country of Luxembourg becoming part of the Département des Forêts (department of the forests, from the neighboring Ardennes forests) of the First French Republic in 1795.
The constitution of Revolutionary France and a modern state bureaucracy were introduced as soon as the annexation became official with the Treaty of Campio Formio between Napoleon Bonaparte as representative of Revolutionary France & the Austrian monarchy in 1797.
The introduction of compulsory military service for all French subjects between the age of 20 and 25 triggered a rebellion known as Klëppelkrich or the Peasants War in the late September of 1798. The rebellion wasn’t as popular in the middle classes (hence its name) for whom the spirit of anti-clericalism & modernization of the French Revolution were especially inspiring and so it was easily put down by the occupiers. As a département of Napoleon’s Empire Luxembourg was controlled by a central commissioner of French origin throughout the four restructures of the Napoleonic Empire.
Under the Napoleonic umbrella all the administrative, institutional, economic, social & political institutions of Luxembourg were discarded without restraint while religious persecutions and the suppression of the religious orders generated even more discontent. The Napoleonic Empire crumbled after 1814. The French were forced to leave Luxembourg to the allies (Prussia, Austria, and the Netherlands) who established a provisional administration and moved the final status to be determined at the Congress of Vienna the following year. The Congress of Vienna in 1815 raised Luxembourg to the status of a Grand Duchy, in essence a sovereign state with the eastern parts of the country going to Prussia (now Germany) and in the same time complicated things even more by placing the country within the German Confederation while appointing King William I of Netherlands (1772-1843) as its ruler.
As a result Prussia received the right to appoint the fortress governor and the garrison would be made up by 1/4 Dutch troops and 3/4 Prussian troops. King William I treated the former Austrian Netherlands as a conquered country and taxed it heavily when in the same time he tried to impose a linguistic reform after 1823 which intended to make Dutch the official language. The upper & middle class in Luxembourg however was mostly French-speaking. Religious differences between south and north became the straw that broke the camel’s back with much of the population of Luxembourg joining the Belgian revolution in 1830 against the Dutch rule. Except for the fortress and the main parts of the city of Luxembourg which were still held by Prussian-Dutch troops and were considered loyal to the Dutch King , the rest of the country was under the control of the new Belgian state from 1830 to 1839. William I wasn’t willing to step aside peacefully.
The dispute was resolved by the Great Powers (France, Netherlands, Russia, United Kingdom, German Confederation) and the Treaty of London in 1839 which recognized the independence of Belgium splitting in the same time the territories of Luxembourg in half (3rd Partition) with the western Walloon (French speaking) part going to Belgium, while the rest (including the city of Luxembourg) remained under King William I’s control in the same status as before (autonomous Grand Duchy in the German Confederation, in essence controlled by the Prussians).
The loss of such a great part of its region caused major economic problems for the state of Luxembourg which still relied on agriculture to a great extent. As a counter-measure King William II of Netherlands (r. 1840 to 1849) introduces Luxembourg to the German Customs Union (Zollverein/ the first economic union without a simultaneous political union in history), a measure which proved to be insufficient judging from the large number of people who left Luxembourg during that same period.
Upon Mary’s death in 1482 Luxembourg and the rest of the Burgundian lands, were officially admitted as an inexorable part of the domains of the House of Habsburgs. They were ruled initially by Philip the Handsome (Mary’s son) until his death in 1506, when his father Emperor Maximilian I took over again until Philip’s son, Charles V came of age. In 1542 during one of the many military conflicts between the Habsburgs and the French, the troops of the Duke of Orleans Charles II de Valois invaded Luxembourg and conquered the fortress which remained under French control for a short period of time before it was reconquered by the Habsburgs later that year. Around 1545 Italian and Dutch engineers under the orders of Charles V, built the first bastions linked by curtain walls, on the site of the current Boulevard Roosevelt & Boulevard Royal, enlarged the fortress’s moat from 13 to 31 meters and added new defensive ravelins that made Luxembourg one of the strongest forts in Europe.
In 1549 Emperor Charles V issued a Pragmatic Sanction which determined that the Seventeen Provinces of the Low Countries, (a large part of the Burgundian lands of which Luxembourg was also a part of) would remain united in the future and inherited by the same monarch.
After Charles V’s abdication in 1555 his realms were divided between his sons Philip II, King of Spain and Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor with the 17 Provinces going to the King of Spain Philip II.
Conflicts between Philip II and his Dutch subjects led to the Eighty Years’ War which started in 1568.The seven Northern provinces gained their independence as a Republic called the Seven United Provinces (later the Dutch Republic) while the Southern Provinces among them the Duchy of Luxembourg were restored to Spanish rule and became known as the Spanish Netherlands.
With the religious war between Catholics and Protestants raging, the Spaniards tried vehemently to strengthen the Catholic faith in the city with the establishment of new religious institutions, such as the Collège des Jésuites in 1603, the Neumünster Abbey in 1606, the Church of Notre Dame in 1613 and the Capuchin monastery in 1623. In 1644 the first tunnels below the old castle were constructed, while after 1672 under the threat of an imminent French attack, several fortified towers were added above the Glacis.
The defensive constructions of the Spanish did not prove to be sufficient when in 1683 the troops of the French King Louis XIV under the orders of the renowned commander and military engineer Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban invaded Luxembourg and captured the Bock after a month-long siege that left the fortifications completely flattened.
The ascent of the reigning family of Luxembourg to the Imperial throne, brought great prestige and honor to the city but little more besides that. The counts wandered farther and farther from home and concerned themselves almost exclusively with the affairs of the Empire. Henry VII‘s son John the Blind took over as count of Luxembourg in 1309 and as King of Bohemia a year later. Although he moved the dynasty’s official seat to Prague Castle he compensated the city with the reinforcement of its fortifications a few years later. After John died in 1346 in the Battle of Crécy against the English he was buried in the Altmünster Kloster in Luxembourg. His greatest legacy to the city the local feast of the Schueberfouer, starts in the eve of St Bartholomew’s feast and lasts for a full eight days.
Luxembourg remained an independent fief of the Holy Roman Empire until 1353 when the next Emperor from the House of Luxembourg, Charles IV, raised its status to that of a duchy for his half-brother Wenceslaus I. The duchy kept its status for almost a hundred years until in 1443, Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy of the French House of Valois, launched a surprise night attack and took hold of the city and the state from Elisabeth of Görlitz, (Duchess of Luxembourg from 1411). Two years earlier he had signed a treaty with her, that secured his right to her title and lands upon her death. He couldn’t wait that long. Elisabeth of Görlitz was expelled from Luxembourg and the Duchy became a Valois fief.
The early death of Philip’s son and successor Charles the Bold at the Battle of Nancy without a previous procurement of a male heir , reshaped the European map with the Valois (or Burgundian ) territories divided between the Kingdom of France and the Habsburg Empire. Luxembourg went to the Habsburgs after the marriage between Maximilian of Austria (the Emperor’s son) & Mary of Burgundy (the daughter of Charles the Bold).
Henry the Blind’s only daughter Ermesinde took over after 1196 and ruled until 1247 with her reign characterized by her effective administration, her efforts to promote religious life through the foundation of monasteries and her wise decision to grant several charters of freedom to a number of towns that eventually increased her country’s prosperity.
Ermesinda’s wedding with Waleran III from the House of Limburg-Arlon in 1214 laid the foundations of the rise of the Luxembourg dynasty and the transformation of Luxembourg City into an epicenter of a state with strategic importance in central Europe.
Ermesinde’s grandson Henry VII, born in 1273, had been raised at the French court and although he had agreed to become a French vassal under the protection of Phillip IV of France, he later antagonized with the French contender for the Crown of the Holy Roman Empire which he finally managed to acquire in 1312, 4 years after his crowning as a German King.
Conrad I (1040-1086) was the first to call himself Count of Luxembourg which until 1083 had grown to be a city with two churches and two bridges over the Alzette and Pétrusse Rivers while the Benedictine Altmünster Abbey was founded on the Bock hill behind the castle.
Conrad I’s son Henry III was the first of the counts to establish his permanent residence in the city which he ruled until 1096 when he was succeeded by his brother William (r. 1096-1131) who in his turn was succeeded by the last male descendant of Siegfried I, Conrad II. Conrad II died in 1136 without a male heir so the County of Luxembourg came under the direct control of the Holy Roman Emperor Lothair III who was not willing to let it be ruled by Conrad II’s closest relative Henri de Grandpré. Henri was a French lord and that meant there was a great chance he would put the county of Luxembourg under the umbrella of the Kingdom of France. So the Emperor granted Luxembourg to Henry the Blind from the house of Namur, Conrad II’s maternal cousin.
By the time of Henry the Blind’s death in 1196 the city had expanded up to the point where the Cathedral of Notre Dame stands today, with a new city wall built adjacent to the current Rue du Fossé to protect the whole area.
Siegfried I acquired the lands of Lucilinburhuc with the approval of Bruno the Great, Duke of Lotharingia from 954, of the Archbishop of Trier and his brother Frederick I, Duke of Upper Lorraine. Siegfried I then fortified and enlarged the castle on the Bock and protected it with additional walls & defensive towers. A small town & market started to grow around the new castle which was connected to the plateau with a drawbridge. The first settlers were knights and soldiers who lived on the rocky fortress, with craftsmen and traders settling in the surrounding area beneath it. Siegfried I gradually extended his territory without ever arousing the discontent of Emperor Otto II, to whom he proved to be a faithful ally even after the latter’s death in 983 when Siegfried I stood by his widowed Empress Theophanu in her fight against the ambitions of Lothair of France.
In 987 the castle chapel, the Church of the Redemption (St. Michael’s Church today) is consecrated by the Archbishop of Trier and a fish-market (later of various agricultural products) was created nearby at the junction of the two Roman roads that would later become the center of the city. In addition to the small town on the Bock, another settlement was established in the Alzette Valley (Grund quarter today), while Siegfried I’s descendants continued with the expansion & strengthening of the town’s fortress.
The lands that constitute the country of Luxembourg today, have traces of human presence that date back to the Paleolithic era (35.000 ago) with the first archaeological evidence of civilization, mainly pottery, appearing around the 5th millennium BC to the west and north of the country.
The Bronze Age (13th c.- 8th c. BC) provides some scarce evidence of human activity, mainly knives & jewelry in the southeastern parts of the country. The people inhabiting the area during the Iron Age (600 BC – 100AD) were of Celtic origin, with the Treveri or Treviri being the dominant tribe centered in what is now southern Luxembourg, in the Lower Moselle River Valley. Titelberg in the southwest outskirts of today’s Luxembourg was most probably the capital of the tribe.
In Julius Caesar’s fifth book of Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Commentaries on the Gallic War) the conquest of the region and the resistance by the Treveri leader Indutiomarus & his allies Eburones to the north are mentioned for the first time in history, while the historian Cassius Dio (164 AD) describes the hostilities that led to the establishment of the Roman rule in one of his many volumes of Roman history. Initially part of Gallia Celtica the lands of the Treveri were later assigned to the Roman province of Gallia Belgica (90 AD). Around 300 AD Emperor Diocletian included them in the new province of Belgica Prima.
Under Emperor Constantine the Great (323-337 AD) Augusta Treverorum (City of Trier today approx. 50km southwest of Luxembourg City) became the capital of Belgica Prima. A few years earlier Treverorum had become the official seat of the first Christian bishop in the area. Some years later the Germanic Franks managed to take the control from the Romans who were starting to lose their ground. The Franks would be followed by the Vandals & the Burgundians respectively.
Part of Middle Francia after 843 with the Treaty of Verdun, of Lotharingia in 855 and of the Duchy of Upper Lorraine in 959, Luxembourg is mentioned for the first time as Lucilinburhuc in an exchange treaty of 963 between the Abbey of Saint Maximin of Trier and Siegfried I, a feudal lord with rich possessions in the forest of Ardennes.
Before the formation of the town, Lucilinburhuc (meaning small castle in the local dialect) was actually a fort first built by the Romans on the Bock cliff in order to guard the crossing of two Roman roads, one from Reims to Trier and the other from Metz to Liege. The fort was expanded between the 4th and 6th centuries in order to house a larger garrison and wad probably dependent on Trier. It had been ceded in 723 by Charles Martel, Duke of the Franks to the Abbey of Saint Maximin of Trier.
Adjacent to the History and Art museum, in the heart of the historic UNESCO listed center of Luxembourg, the Hotel Parc Beaux-Arts is an architectural gem. History and Art are perfectly harmonized with original stone features, wooden panels, Murano lighting, Italian design elements and medieval architectural details. The hotel features 11 suites, which are decorated and equipped in such a way as to guarantee an unforgettable stay. They are equipped with wireless high-speed Internet and overlooking views of Luxembourg city.
A striking design hotel in Luxembourg’s historic center Sofitel Luxembourg Le Grand Ducal gazes magnificently over the picturesque Alzette and Pétrusse valleys and Luxembourgs UNESCO Old Town. A grand modern glass structure of dramatic lines and curves this 5-star hotel in Luxembourg is a landmark amid a tapestry of cultural historical and natural sites. Sleek contemporary design by Philippe Capron pays tribute to Luxembourg’s blend of business and creativity.