Monday, March 15, 2010

328 Steps

During our weekend in Strasbourg, I climbed all 328 steps that took me 66 meters--about 21 stories--up to the top of the front of the cathedral, which is the flat level from where the upper tower rises.

The climb up runs primarily through two narrow circular staircases, connected by a brief horizontal passage.

The first staircase takes you to the level of the bottom of the great rose window, but on the far side of the front of the cathedral, not visible in this picture. At the start, views are limited to glimpses through smallish windows. In this view, you can see the top of one of the cathedral's lower spires.

At the end of the first tower's climb, you walk along a well-protected ledge to the second tower, which takes you all the way to the main platform at the top.

On your way up, you reach and the surmount the flying buttresses along the nave.

The second tower is lot more open--it's more window than stone at this point, and the cathedral's keepers have inserted extra bars to keep visitors from falling through the openings. It was at this point where I really began to feel the height.

I could look across and see people coming down a tower on the other side of the cathedral. They all--like the person in the picture--seemed to have their arms out. More on this in a moment.

Eventually I made it to the top. Visitors first see the works for the cathedral's clock then step out onto the main platform from which the upper tower rises. The views are, of course, amazing. The edges of the platform have tall fences that help keep you from feeling like you could fall over the edge. So here I am at the top, in front of the upper tower and with a little bit of the view and fence on the right of the picture.

The view to the west looks out on the oldest parts of Strasbourg such as la Petite France.

The area under the upper tower, which is where you start your descent, is largely open to the weather. There was a fair amount of snow there, which even had bird tracks.

The snow in under the upper tower was a signal of things to come. The steps on the north side--the descent side--were much snowier and icier than the steps on the south side. All those airy openings in the tower walls which let in so much light also let it a huge amount of snow, which rather than melting had compressed and congealed into slick coverings on pretty much every step. One slip and you'd skid round and down the staircase for quite a long ways. So I started down, one ginger footstep after another, holding onto the outside bannister with my left hand and onto the central stone pillar with my right hand. I quickly realized that I understood what I had been seeing in that other tower as I had climbed.

The slow pace heading down gave me extra time to spot interesting details in the cathedral's stonework, at least when I wasn't fixated on the ice covering the steps. Above the flying buttresses there's a railing running along the roof of the nave. And on that railing, under arch of the straight staircase, is one detail that stands out: there's a small dog, carved in stone with the railing, looking out and down at the passing scene.

This little sculpture doesn't have any religious significance that I know of. But one of the cathedral's builders took the time to add this permanent pet who always has a great view of the people below.

Back on the ground, I could see where I had been. Here, for the descent, are the ledge and the lower staircase. You can see the staircase's handrail through the windows. The views from the top were wonderful, I enjoyed the labyrinthine aspect of climb, and with that descent complete I was happy to have my feet on the pavement again.

No comments:

Post a Comment