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Alsace (French: Alsace; Alsatian/German: Elsaß) is a région of France. It is located on the eastern border of France, adjacent to Germany and Switzerland. Its capital and largest city is Strasbourg (German: Straßburg).
Alsace has an area of 8280 km,2 making it the smallest région of metropolitan France. It is almost four times longer than it is wide, corresponding to a plain between the Rhine in the east and the Vosges mountains in the west.
It contains many forests, primarily in the Vosges and in Bas-Rhin (Haguenau Forest ). Several valleys are also found in the région. Its highest point is the ballon de Guebwiller in Haut-Rhin, which reaches a height of 1,426 m.
Alsace has a semi-continental climate with cold and dry winters and hot summers. There is little precipitation because the Vosges protect it from the west. The city of Colmar has a sunny microclimate; it is the driest city in France, with an annual precipitation of just 550 mm, making it ideal for vin d'Alsace (Alsatian wine).
In prehistoric times, Alsace was inhabited by nomadic hunters, but by 1500 B.C. Celts began to settle in Alsace, clearing and cultivating the land. By 58 B.C., the Romans had invaded and established Alsace as a center of viticulture. To protect this highly valued industry, the Romans built fortifications and military camps that evolved into various communities which have been inhabited continuously to the present day.
With the decline of the Roman Empire, Alsace became the territory of the Alamanni. The Alamanni were agricultural people, and their language formed the basis of the modern-day Alsatian dialect. The Franks drove the Alamanni out of Alsace during the 5th century, and Alsace then became part of the Kingdom of Austrasia. Alsace remained under Frankish control until the Frankish realm was formally dissolved in 843 at the Treaty of Verdun.
In time, Alsace became part of the Holy Roman Empire and was under the administration of the Austrian House of Habsburg. Alsace, along with Lorraine has long been contested territory between France and Germany, and most of Alsace was ceded to France at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the conclusion of the Thirty Years War. Meanwhile, Alsace experienced great prosperity during the 12th and 13th centuries under the Hohenstaufen Emperors, but this prosperity was terminated in the 14th century by a series of harsh winters, bad harvests, and the bubonic plague. These hardships were blamed on Jews, leading to the vicious pogroms of 1336 and 1339. During the Renaissance, prosperity returned to Alsace under Habsburg administration.
The City of Strasbourg was annexed by France during the reign of Louis XIV of France. Since 500, the area had been predominantly populated by Germans and they fought efforts to have French language and customs imposed upon them. Both Alsace and Lorraine were ceded to the new German Empire after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 causing an estimated 50,000 people (of a total population of about a million) to emigrate to France. Alsace remained a part of Germany until the end of World War I, when Germany ceded it back to France under the Treaty of Versailles. Unlike the some eastern German territories ceded to Poland at this time, Alsace was not given the opportunity of a plebiscite. The President of the United States Woodrow Wilson, believed that the region legally should have been self-ruling, as its Constitution had stated it was bound to the sole authority of the Kaiser and not to the German State.
After World War I the re-establishment of German identity in Alsace was reversed, as Germans who had settled in Alsace since 1871 were expelled. Policies forbidding the use of German and requiring that of French were then intoroduced. Curiously, the region was not considered to be subject to some changes in French law from 1871 to 1919, such as the Law of Separation of the Church and the State.
The region was annexed by Germany in 1940 during World War II and reincorporated into the Greater German Reich. Alsace was merged with Baden and Lorraine with the Saarland. The annexation, while putting a halt to the anti-German discrimination, subjected the region to the Nazi dictatorship, which was loathed by most or all of the people. The war-torn area was given again in 1944 to France, which restored its policy of promoting the French language. For instance, from 1945 to 1984 the use of the German in newspapers was restricted to a maximum of 25%. In more recent years, as national consciousness has become diluted, cultural freedom has been gradually restored.
Alsace is one of the most conservative régions of France. It is one of just two régions in metropolitan France where the right won the 2004 regional elections and thus controls the conseil régional . The president of the conseil régional is Adrien Zeller, a member of the Union for a Popular Movement.
According to INSEE, Alsace had a gross domestic product of 44.3 billion euros in 2002. With a GDP per capita of 24,804 €, it was the second-place région of France, losing only to Île-de-France. 68% of its jobs are in the services; 25% are in industry, making Alsace one of France's most industrialized régions.
Alsace's population increased to 1,734,145 in 1999. It has regularly increased over time, except in wartime, by both natural growth and migration. This growth has even accelerated at the end of the 20th century. INSEE estimates that its population will grow 12.9% to 19.5% between 1999 and 2030.
Most of the Alsatian population are Roman Catholic, but there is a significant Protestant community. Unlike the rest of the country, the Alsace-Moselle region continues to follow the Napoleonic Concordat of 1801, under which public subsidies are granted to Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Calvinist churches, and to Jewish synogogues, and public education in those faiths is offered. This discrepancy with the rest of the country is due to the fact that the region was administered by Germany at the time of the 1905 law separating the French church and state. Controversy erupts periodically on the appropriateness of this legal disposition, as well as on the exclusion of other religions from this arrangement.
Historically part of the Holy Roman Empire, the region has passed between French and German control numerous times, resulting in a rich cultural blend. It traditionally belongs, however, to the German Kulturkreis, as any glance at traditional buildings in the towns and villages and at placenames will confirm.
The traditional language of the region is Alsatian, an Alemannic dialect of Upper German. Alsatian is closest to Swiss German. Some Frankish dialects of West Middle German are also spoken in the extreme north of Alsace. Neither Alsatian nor the Frankish dialects have any form of official status, as is customary for regional languages in France, although both are now recognized as languages of France and can be chosen as subject in French high schools.
It is important to understand that since 1945 the influence of standard French has been ever increasing in Alsace, and today Alsace is largely a French-speaking area. More often assumed to be a bilingual area (French/Alsatian), Alsace is actually evolving fast toward a situation of total French monolingualism. People above 70 still speak Alsatian at home, but the younger generations use French even at home, and the vast majority of people below 30 do not understand Alsatian anymore. This situation has provoked a sort of desire to preserve the traditional Alsatian language, which is perceived as in danger in front of French, a situation paralleled in other regions of France with regional languages such as Brittany or Occitania. Alsatian is now taught in French high schools, but the overwhelming presence of French media make the survival of Alsatian uncertain among younger generations.
The linguistic situation of Alsace can be summed up like this: the region is fast evolving toward a situation where standard French is the only language used at home and at work, whereas an increasing number of people have a good knowledge of standard German as a foreign language learnt in school.
Alsatian cuisine, strongly influenced by the Germanic culinary traditions, is marked by the use of pork in various forms. Traditional dishes include baeckeoffe , tartes flambées (flammekueche), choucroute, and fleischnackas . The south of Alsace, also called Sundgau , is characterized by carpe frite .
The festivities of the year's end involve the production of a great variety of biscuits and small cakes called brédalas as well as pain d'épice (gingerbread), which are given to children starting on Saint Nicholas Day.
A wine-producing region, Alsace wines are primarily white. Its wines, which have a strong Germanic influence, are called vins d'Alsace. It produces some of the world's most noted dry rieslings and is the only région in France to produce mostly varietal wines, typically from grapes also used in Germany.
Alsace is also the main beer-producing région of France, thanks primarily to breweries in and near Strasbourg. These include those of Kronenbourg, Fischer , Heineken, Météor , and Kanterbräu . Hops are grown in Kochersberg and in northern Alsace. Schnapps is also traditionally made in Alsace, but it is in decline because home distillers are becoming less common and the consumption of traditional, strong, alcoholic beverages is decreasing.
See also: List of Alsatians and Lorrainians
- Official website of Alsace (in English, French, and German)
- Alsace.net: Directory of Alsatian Websites (in French)
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