Luxembourg. What first pops into your mind?
- Money and banking? ✔ Yup. Most important industry, by far.
- A tax haven? Financial secrecy? ✔ It is indeed. Although Luxembourg’s PM claims it isn’t and never was.
- Amazon HQ? ✔Another yup. Can’t imagine why…
- One of the three official capitals of the EU? ✔ Along with Brussels and Strasbourg.
- One of Europe’s smallest countries? ✔ Yup again, only 7 countries have fewer residents
- An international population? ✔ Definitely. About half are foreigners. Add to that cross-border workers, and the number of foreigners rise to 70%!
- Home of the European Court of Justice? ✔ That, and much more.
- A Grand-Duchy? ✔ Yes, the only one in the world.
- First gay PM in the EU to marry? ✔ Yes, Prime Minister Xavier Bettel married his partner in 2015.
- A tiny army? ✔ Less than 1000 soldiers
- A multi-lingual population? ✔ Absolutely. Luxembourg has three official languages. In addition to the local Lëtzebuergesch, there’s French and German. And of course everyone also speaks English.
- A population happy with the status quo? ✔ Presumably, considering the national motto is Mir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sin – we would like to remain what we are.
So, yes, all of that.
The Ducal Palace
But Luxembourg is also fortifications, a millennium of history, and an all-round picturesque and interesting city to amble about in – on two levels, Upper Town and Lower town (Grund). It’s a bit of a climb, but no worries: if that’s too taxing, there’s a lift that quickly whisks you through the cliff.
Where the rivers Alzette and Petrusse meet, that’s where you’ll find Luxembourg’s capital city, also conveniently named Luxembourg. Difficult to imagine perhaps, but present-day little Luxembourg was once one of Europe’s major cities – with one of the continent’s largest fortresses.
Nature has favoured Luxembourg with protection. A practically inaccessible rock, Bock, was the foundation of the settlement 1000 years ago. Then various occupying forces through the centuries added to and fortified Bock. Not for nothing is Luxembourg known as the Gibraltar of the North. Burgundians have been here, as have the Habsburgs, Spaniards, Austrians, Prussians. And let’s not forget our friend Vauban, who firmly left his mark on the city during the reign of Louis XIV. Bock also contains casemates, 21 km of passages underground.
I’ve been in Luxembourg many times and for many reasons: for work, visiting friends, outdoor concerts in summer, on Sunday outings from Brussels, briefly stopping by en route to somewhere else… once I was there for a mere 39 minutes. I’ve walked through the old quarters, the Upper town, Grund, across bridges and along ramparts. But for all that, I’ve never really taken the time to look. The city has been just a backdrop really.
Inside the casemates
View from the casemates
This time, however, I’m here precisely to look – from an historical perspective. And if you’d like to do the same, I recommend taking the circular Wenzel Walk. It is about 5 km long, and takes 2-3 hours, depending on how often you stop to gawk at the panorama and/or snap photos. This round takes you through the city’s history, through Upper Town and Grund, past fortifications along the Alzette valley, past city walls, gates, bastions, and past (or into) the casemates. The Wenzel Walk is well signposted and you can easily do it yourself. However, guided tours are available should you prefer that.
Does walking the length of a country sound like a cool quest to you, but the 2700 km between North Cape and Lindesnes seem just.too.much? Or even the 1400 km between John O’Groats and Land’s End? Well, Luxembourg is very doable: a mere 111.6 km. Go for it!
City of Luxembourg: its Old Quarters and Fortifications is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world.