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Mulhouse Travel Guide

Town hall and other historical buildings, Mulhouse (© Claudio Giovanni Colombo |
Town hall and other historical buildings, Mulhouse


Mulhouse (Mülhausen in German, Milhüsa in Alsatian ; pop. 110,000, with suburbs 278,000) is the largest city of the Haut-Rhin Department. It is located just 18 km from the German border and 30 km from the Swiss border (Basel). Mulhouse is curtained to the north and west by the Parc Naturel Régional des Ballons des Vosges, one of France's largest nature reserve.

Mulhouse proclaimed its independence from the Holy Roman Empire in 1347, founding the Republic of Mülhausen, then joined the Swiss Confederation as an associate in 1515. It is not until 1798 that Mulhouse citizens voted to be reunified with the young French Republic. Mulhouse was one of the first cities in Central Europe to become industrialised. In the early 1800's, it was nicknamed the "French Manchester". In spite of its industrial heritage, the city managed to preserve a good deal of its historical buildings.

Well known people from Mulhouse include the mathematician and physicist Johann Heinrich Lambert, captain Alfred Dreyfus (of the Dreyfus affair, made famous by Emile Zola's open letter J'accuse…!), and Alfred Werner who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1913. Mulhouse is also the seat of the European Physical Society.



The first written records of Mulhouse date from 803 as Mulinhuson. Around 1223, Mülhausen (as it was then known) obtains city rights, and in 1261 its citizens revolt against the authority of the bishop of Strasbourg. Mülhausen seeks the protection of Rudolph of Habsburg, who would become King of Germany and Duke of Austria, and becomes a Free Imperial City in 1308.

In 1340, 1350 and 1354, the craftsmen rise up against the local aristocracy. In 1354, Mülhausen joins the Décapole, an association of ten Free Imperial Cities in Alsace. Between 1445 and 1449, the burghers expel the nobles and patricians from the city. Supported by the Habsburgs, the nobles returned to attack the city, prompting Mülhausen to seal an alliance with the Swiss cities of Bern and Solothurn in 1466. In 1515, the alliance is extended to the whole of the Swiss confederation. The Protestant Reform begins in 1523 and is completed six years later.

In 1648, the Peace of Westphalia forces Germany to cede Alsace to France, but Mülhausen remains staunchly independent. In 1746, the first textile mill opens, leading the way to the industrial revolution. In 1798, the city votes the unification act with France. At the time, its population did not exceed 6,000, but it would grow exponentially in the 19th century, to 30,000 in 1850, 63,000 en 1880 and 90,000 in 1900.

It is not until 1848 that the Francisised name 'Mulhouse' was officially adopted instead of the German 'Mülhausen'. The new appellation was short lived since in 1871 the city reverts to German control following the defeat of France against Prussia. The locals had to wait until 1919 for Mülhausen to become Mulhouse again.


The historical centre is dominated by the town square, Place de la Réunion, where stands the magnificent Renaissance-style Hôtel de Ville (town hall) and the Temple Saint-Étienne (St. Stephen's Church), one of France's few major Protestant church.

The pink and red town hall, known in Alsatian as the Rothüs (Rathaus in German), was built in 1553. It is famous for its trompe l'œil paintings depicting allegories representing the vices and virtues.

St. Stephen's Church is is the ciyt's main Reformed church and is sometimes referred to as the "Cathedral of Mulhouse". Don't be deceived by its Gothic appearance, the church only dates from 1859, although the 14th century stained glass from the previous edifice were preserved before its demolition in 1858.

Half-timbered houses on the town square, Mulhouse (© simon gurney |
Half-timbered houses on the town square, Mulhouse

The Nessel Tower and Devil's Tower are the only remnants of the medieval palace of the Bishops of Strasbourg, destroyed by the burghers in 1262. They were integrated to the city walls. Nessel Tower became the fifth gate of the city under the name of Nesseltor. It is located on boulevard Charles-Stoessel near the intersection of rue Gay-Lussac.

Another surviving part of the city walls is the so-called Bollwerk ("bastion") in the Nordfeld neighbourhood. Its name changed times and again across the centuries, first called the Neuensteinerturm (after a local family) in the late 14th century, then the Hugh Walch Tower around 1400, the Donkey Tower around 1700, the Pig Tower (being next to a slaughterhouse) in 1850, before eventually settling for its current name in 1900.

In the Nouveau Quartier ('New Quarter'), dating from the 19th century, is the Square de la Bourse (Stock Exchange Square) and the building of the Société Industrielle de Mulhouse.

Museums & other attractions

Mulhouse is home to the Cité de l'Automobile (a.k.a. Collection Schlumpf) that, with 500 vehicles of 98 brands, is the largest automobile museum in the world. The museum also boasts the largest and most comprehensive collection of Bugatti motor vehicles in the world, as well as an important collection of Rolls Royce.

Cité du train (known in French as the Musée français du chemin de fer) is the biggest railway museum in the world. The site covers 15,000 m² and contains over 100 locomotives, wagons and other railway vehicles. Exhibits retrace the golden age of the railway from 1860 to 1940.

Mulhouse Zoological and Botanical Park spreads on 25-hectare (62-acre) and keeps more than 1200 animals representing nearly 200 species, including 94 species that are rare or endangered. Founded in 1868, it is France's oldest zoo outside Paris. The botanical gardens contain 400 kinds of iris in spring and 100 cultivars (varieties) of dahlias in summer. Its collection of rare and endangered plants that includes Catharanthus from Madagascar (7 taxa), Canary Islands (22 taxa), and Madeira (11 taxa).

EDF Electropolis Museum retraces the history of electricity from ancient times to the present through experiments, discovery workshops and explanations on theories and inventions. Exhibits include old collectables as well as special effects such as a generator of static electricity and a Faraday cage.

How to get there

Mulhouse is on the E25 motorway that runs from The Hague to Genoa, via Liège, Luxembourg, Metz, Strasbourg, Basel and Geneva. The E35 from Cologne and Frankfurt runs parallel to it on the other side of the Rhine. On an east-west axis, the E60 from Nantes, Tours, Orléans, Dijon and Besaçon ends at Mulhouse.

There are frequent trains from/to Strasbourg (50min), Colmar (20min) and Basel (25min). The TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon takes 2 hours 40 minutes.

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