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Historical treasures in the city

Historical treasures in the city

by Sarita Rao 8 min. 13.10.2022
Autumn in the city doesn't have to be boring, as there are several unusual historical treasures to discover
The Godchaux family built a textile empire on the waterside area between Bonnevoie and Hamm
The Godchaux family built a textile empire on the waterside area between Bonnevoie and Hamm
Photo credit: Photo: Guy Jallay

If you miss the sunshine and terraces, why not explore some of the city's fascinating historical treasures instead, from a 19th century wash house, to the cemetery that houses the grave of the loveable scoundrel known as Captain Köpenick, and a bronze accordion player raising his middle finger to passersby.

The VdL has launched the Luxembourg Time Traveller app, which allows you to travel back in time to see the city in the 19th century, using augmented reality, which superimposes digital information. Using geolocation, the app will recognise if you're near a sight or historic building and give you a before and after view. 

Mills and wash house – Bonnevoie/Hamm

The Polvermillen quarter literally means gunpowder (Polver) mill (millen/mühl). This is where the gunpowder was produced for the city fortress, although later it was used to mill corn and then produce cloth.

Samson and Guetschlique Godchaux, Jewish brothers originally from Lorraine, moved to the Fohlmillen with two handlooms in 1825. Their descendants, Paul and Jules, became Luxembourg's textile barons, and mayors of Hamm from the 1870s to 1917. In 1872 the family bought the former grinding mill Schläifmillen to extend their business.

The wash house for textile workers who were mostly women Photo: Guy Jallay
The wash house for textile workers who were mostly women Photo: Guy Jallay

To keep a reliable workforce close by, the brothers built housing known as barracks. Since many of the textile workers were women, they installed a wash house (which is still intact today) and ran a crèche. They even had a café, a sports association, and a choir.

Hamm grew quickly, and at its peak before World War One, the company employed 800 people at Schläifmillen. You can also see the remains of the steam and hydraulic power system they used (the first in Luxembourg). 

The Godchaux's received international acclaim and produced most of the fabric for the national army. Following the First World War, they lost many of their markets in Germany and during Nazi occupation, Emile Godchaux was sent to a concentration camp where he died in 1942.

To see what remains of the history left behind by the Godchaux family, you can take a circular walk of the area, where industrial heritage has once again been partially reclaimed by nature.

Notre Dame Cemetery – Limpertsberg

Oft-overlooked, the fascinating funerary architecture and sculpture on display at this cemetery is complemented by the numerous graveside flowers, making it well worth a visit.

The monument to Jean-Antoine Zinnen, who wrote '"Ons Heemecht"
The monument to Jean-Antoine Zinnen, who wrote '"Ons Heemecht"
Photo: Anouk Antony

The Notre Dame Cemetery was consecrated in 1691, outside the former city walls, and preserves the memory of a number of important figures in Luxembourg's cultural, political and economic life, including the composer Jean-Antoine Zinnen, who wrote the music to the country's national anthem Ons Heemecht (our home country).

The most unusual person buried in the cemetery is William Voigt, better known as the folk hero, Hauptmann von Köpenick. Voigt was a shoemaker from Prussia, who in 1908 dressed up as an army captain, commandeered some soldiers and occupied the city hall of the town of Köpenick, east of Berlin, where he absconded with 4,000 marks from the treasury.

Although he was caught, he had already captured the affections of the German public as a loveable scoundrel, and was pardoned by Kaiser Wilhelm II. His fame led to a book and several waxwork statues (including one that was displayed at Madame Tussaud's in London), but in 1910 he moved to Luxembourg, took up shoemaking, and died in relative obscurity in 1922.

The Hinzert Cross, also known as the National Monument of Resistance and Deportation, commemorates the 82 resistance fighters who were executed at the Hinzert concentration camp and in prisons in the Cologne/Frankfurt regions. It was created by Jos Colabianchi, himself a Hinzert survivor, and in 1969 a Lucien Wercollier statue representing the "political prisoner" was added.

Limpertsberg was the rose growing district of Luxembourg City. In particular the partnership between rose cultivators Jean Soupert and Pierre Notting in 1855, resulted in the first of what would become three large rose-growing businesses located in the area.

In total more than 260 new varieties of roses were cultivated, many winning international awards, and Soupert and Notting supplied roses to the King of Sweden, the King of the Netherlands, the Grand Ducal family, and even the Imperial household of Brazil. You can visit the family graves adorned with stone roses, at the cemetery.

You can download a guide to the Roses of Limpertsberg walk from the LCTO here, which also takes in the Notre Dame cemetery. 

The Ville de Luxembourg recently added QR codes to certain graves and tombs in the cemetery, enabling visitors to scan and find out more about the symbolic and historic meaning of these sites, and the noteworthy folk laid to rest in them. 

Villa Pauly – Bourbon Plateau

Built in 1923 at 57 Boulevard de la Pétrusse by the surgeon Dr Norbert Pauly, this beautiful building has a sad and terrifying history.

Originally built as a mock-Renaissance castle the original owner was a doctor who treated patients in the basement
Originally built as a mock-Renaissance castle the original owner was a doctor who treated patients in the basement
Photo: LW Archives

It was originally built with four towers and a bridge to the entrance, to resemble a miniature Renaissance castle from the Middle Ages, and the doctor used the basement to treat patients. However the cellar soon became home to something very different.

During the Second World War, the villa was occupied by the Gestapo in Luxembourg as the place for forced conscription into the German army, the deportation of Luxembourgish Jews to concentration camps, and for the torture and interrogation of some 2,000 resistance fighters in Luxembourg.

The cellars and vaults were used for this purpose, and so frightened were Luxembourgers of the building, that no photos were taken of it during the war. For a short period from September 1944 to May 1945 it was home to the American Army Counter Intelligence Corps.

After the war, Pauly did not return to the building, and it was used by the government as offices for the Ministry of Health and later Labour and Social Security. It became a historic monument in 1989, and today is the documentation centre for the resistance movement in Luxembourg.

You can download a circular walk of the Gare district that takes in Villa Pauly here or you can take the World War Two circular walk of the city (PDF at the bottom of the page).

Saint Quirin Chapel

Tucked under the Passerelle viaduct, you'll find this very old and small chapel, on the site of a natural spring said to contain healing waters (particularly good for skin and eye ailments).

The Celts probably worshipped the three Nornes there (female deities responsible for human destiny).

Built into the rock Photo: Marc Wilwert
Built into the rock Photo: Marc Wilwert

Christianity under the Romans replaced them with the three virgins, Faith, Hope and Charity, daughters of Wisdom. Women visiting the chapel would often pray to the virgins to protect their children from diseases.

The Gothic chapel incorporates a natural cave and was built in 1355 (although the roof and small bell tower were added at the end of the 19th century). It is thought that the Teutonic order of knights probably wanted to create a sanctuary reminiscent of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

The chapel is named after Saint Quirin of Neuss, who was the patron saint of Luxembourg City from 1544 to 1666, and for centuries it was a pilgrimage site. The chapel became too small and inconveniently located for regular services, but you can still catch a glimpse of the dusty pews and statues inside.

The chapel is still occasionally used for special services and opened for religious tourists making pilgrimages. Outside, the pile of dark rocks is in fact an old shrine built on the water source.

From the outside, you’ll also see windows in the roof, used to allow air into the upstairs attic where the priest would have lived. You can also see a pulpit extending from the rock that was used to deliver sermons outside the chapel.

The old wooden staircase to the pulpit door still stands inside. If you peek inside you might also be able to see several simple wooden pews and replicas of the original 17th century statues of Saints Quirin, Ferreol and Firmin. The originals are now in the National History and Art Museum, together with a replica statue of the three virgins riding a mule.

Hämmelsmarsch Fountain – Luxembourg City

Roude Pëtz celebrating Schueberfouer traditions Photo: Anouk Antony
Roude Pëtz celebrating Schueberfouer traditions Photo: Anouk Antony

Head to the end of Grand Rue by Rue du Fossé to see the Hämmelsmarsch fountain, also known as Roude Pëtz. The 2.8 metre sculpted fountain represents the Luxembourg sheep run, celebrated in late summer as part of the official opening of the Schueberfouer fair, when sheep would be herded through the streets to invite people to what was once Luxembourg's biggest cattle market.

The bronze fountain was made by the late Luxembourg sculptor Wil Lofy in 1982, and depicts a band – accordion, tuba, horn and drummer. The accordion player is apparently in the image of Lofy, with the middle finger of his left hand raised, providing a social commentary on the politics of the time. The band is joined by sheep and two children holding an umbrella.

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