Imagine a brand new modern museum, the front mostly glass, with a nifty logo, the interior a beautiful blend of blonde hardwoods, glass, and pink marble. Imagine the museum broken up architecturally not into regular rooms, but with little crossings and side rooms. Imagine beautiful cases, hanging exhibits and floor exhibits, all with easy-to-read captions. Imagine touch-screen video consoles everywhere that allow the visitor to explore the museum, make inquiries, ask research questions, and be answered with computer-selected film clips of museum information. Imagine great curatorship, that displays not a huge glut of articles, but those items that are replete with significance, that teach and inform. An old passage
Now imagine this entire museum, three floors underground and five or six above ground, slid inside the stone remains of ancient castles and fortifications, so that when you look through the windows you see the old stone walls, arches, stairways, and niches. How the architect did it we just don't know. This museum, built in 1995, won honorable mention in the competition for best museum in Europe in 1998. Probably the only reason it didn't walk away with the grand prize was that it doesn't have a lot of Great Treasures of Europe to display.
But we thought that this is right near the top of our list, and we've seen a lot of museums.
We began at Level 0, deep in the basement, with two videos showing the history of Luxembourg up until the year 963. The first shows the geological history of the region, including the formation of the rivers that have so much to do with this city -- the Petrusse and the Alzette. The city of Luxembourg is like a two-fingered hand, with one finger extending into the junction of the two rivers, and the other into a deep meander of the Alzette. The rivers have cut deep gorges over millions of years, so the city has tremendous natural protection on the heights. There was a minor Roman road through here, and the settlement developed slowly.
The next exhibit blew our minds. It was the original parchment, from the year 963, whereby Abbey St-Maximin, Bishop of Trier swapped Luxembourg to the Merovingian Count Sigefroi in return for some land further north. There were stains and crease marks, but the parchment is clearly legible, in church Latin. Guards at the Ducal Palace
Count Sigefroi immediately started fortifying the heights and building a nice castle there, on the finger in the meander of the Alzette. From 963 onward, Luxembourg has grown steadily. Politically, it changed hands quite often, being besieged more than twenty times. It was part of the Habsburg possessions, and Emperor Charles V was also the Grand Duke of Luxembourg. The title passed to the Spanish Habsburgs, but the city was successfully besieged in 1684, when the Habsburgs were too busy with the Ottomans to pay attention. Luxembourg was also owned by the Burgundians, the Prussians, and the Dutch. The present Grand Duke is of the House of Nassau, and is considered a separate dynasty.
The fortifications grew stronger and stronger, occupying most of the present city area with bastions and bulwarks and tunnels, tunnels, tunnels. It was called the Gibraltar of the North. The Treaty of London in 1867 gave Luxembourg its independence, so the last occupiers -- the Prussian troops of the German Confederation -- departed. Much of the fortifications were then razed, which is a good thing, because there was hardly any room for houses.
Luxembourg industrialized early in the nineteenth century, and became quite prosperous. After WW II, Luxembourg became a major banking center. The current push is for the country to become a world leader in audio-visual technology. If the City Museum is any indicator, Luxembourg is already a world leader in this field.