When I first tweeted “I think I’ve left the best till last. Colmar is absolutely stunning, surely the prettiest town in Alsace” I immediately received several tweets back agreeing with me. It seems no one who has been there can forget the experience. I mean, no city that has a neighbourhood called Little Venice can fail to amaze (and yes, I have been to London’s version in Maida Vale). Romantic when strolling through the painted houses and quiet canals, thought-provoking when visiting its museums and sensuous when sampling its restaurants, Colmar is truly the prettiest town in Alsace. I should know; I visited them all.
There are some impressive buildings in Colmar but none more so than the Pfister House that dates from 1537 (Pfister was its 19C owner). Although the structure with the hanging balcony and tower is medieval, its grisaille decor is definitively Renaissance. You can try to figure out the intricate symbolism for hours; there is a Hapsburg prince in there as well as St John the Evangelist. Connection? Ahem..
The Pride and Joy of intellectual Colmar is the Unterlinden Museum. A former Dominican cloistered convent it exhibits some fantastic Late Medieval and Early Renaissance art.
The highlight of the visit is the Issenheim Altar (1512-1516), a monumental set of 14 painted panels (reredos) by Grünewald and wood carvings by Nicolas of Haguenau. It was commissioned for the Antonine monastery of Issenheim (which is why St Anthony appears a lot). The panels are all stunning, but the Temptation of St Anthony is my favourite. Note the zombie-like figure on the bottom right which is a depiction of a man suffering from ergotism (St Anthony’s Fire).
Colmar is the birthplace of sculptor Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904) whose house is now a museum devoted to the man. You may not have heard of him, but you all know his major work: the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour; a French gift to the US upon theg latter’s centenary. the museum has a room devoted to this including some rare photographs showing its development in Bartholdi’s Atelier and a gigantic discarded left ear is also on display. Yet, out of Bartholdi’s oeuvre, the most poignant for me is a simple bronze statue in Colmar itself, depicting a young wine grower trying to extract a last drop of wine from a flask. Small-scale and human it, erm, dwarfs his monumental sculptures by some distance.
To finish, some oddities; Every town is unique and Colmar even more so.