The Station- Kléber area features the whole panoply of urbanisation that has taken place in the city since the Roman era. .
Echoes of the Roman and mediaeval past
The Roman camp was established in the eastern part of the Grande-Île, and a substantial civilian population soon built up along the thoroughfares leading to the entrance gates. The major route was located on the western side, along what is now rue des Juifs and rue des Hallebardes (the old decumanus of the castrum) and extending along Grand’Rue and rue du Faubourg-National, towards Koenigshoffen.
The narrow, winding streets and rich facades of the half-timber houses of the Petite-France are just about as they were in the mediaeval city, while the rue du Faubourg-National has kept the same layout. The different stages of the city's expansion can be seen from the remnants of the city walls, and the last of these extensions marked the city boundaries right up to 1871. In the Finkwiller sector, for example, next to the old stud farms, remnants can still be found of the 13th century wall, with its 27 towers, some of which were square-shaped, and 8 gate towers. The three towers of the Ponts-Couverts and the gate tower of the hospital (place de l’Hôpital) still stand.
The Golden Age of Strasbourg, free city of the Germanic Holy Empire
After Strasbourg became a free city of the Germanic Holy Roman Empire in 1262, the power centre of the mini republic established itself in the Pfalz, or Town Hall, built in 1322 by what is now place Gutenberg. The importance of the square was strengthened by the construction of the Chancellery in 1462, the Palais de la Monnaie (the Mint) in 1507 and the Neubau or New Building (nowadays the Chamber of Commerce, the first building in the city to be made of ashlar stone), completed in 1585 to house municipal services and provide extra facilities for trade.
The Golden Age also produced many fine churches, including Saint-Thomas, Saint-Pierre-le-Vieux, Saint-Nicolas, as well as the bell tower of Sainte-Aurélie, the old Customs house and the St.John Commandery (now the ENA, the National School of Administration), the pharmacy of the Hospital, etc.
The foundations for the modernisation of the city
When the city came under French law in 1681, it was turned into a stronghold to protect the kingdom's borders. Vauban was tasked with strengthening the fortifications, which included the construction of the dam or lock bridge in 1685, designed to provide a defence for the Ponts-Couverts.
The increase in the population and building density led to public health issues, and architect Jacques-François Blondel was appointed by the king to draw up a plan (approved in 1768) to make travel easier through new thoroughfares running north to south, and by improving the layout of a certain number of roads and squares. Blondel wanted to turn place Gutenberg into a Royal square. A number of buildings, including the Palais de la Monnaie in 1738,the Pfalz in 1782 and the Chancellery in 1800 were demolished, although, for want of funds, nothing was put up to replace them. While Blondel also had plans for Place Kléber, the only building he managed to complete there was the Aubette, which proved to be the only legacy that the architect left to Strasbourg.
During the Revolution, the Neubau was pillaged and put to the sack, which made it unusable. The city's administrative offices moved to the Palais Rohan and then, in 1806, to one of the mansions located between rue Brûlée and place Broglie. The Neubau itself was taken over by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which has remained within it to this day.
The city's modernisation was consolidated as from 1830, with remediation and sewage work, which included filling the fossé des Tanneurs ditch and rebuilding the Petites-Boucheries to the rear of the Aubette (1838 – 1840).
The opening of the Rhone-Rhine Canal in 1833 and the demolition of the false rampart of the canal du Faux-Rempart between 1831 in 1838 provided the opportunity for modernising the port and creating a new area for trade and business in the north of the city. A number of bridges were subsequently renovated or rebuilt, while wharfside thoroughfares were built along the canal du Faux-Rempart. The Marais-Vert railway station (at what is now the Centre Halles) produced a shift in the city's business centre away from its old location towards the north of the city.
The boulevard ring and urban expansion
Strasbourg was made capital of Reichsland Elsass-Lothringen in 1871, which meant the city had to keep up with its new status. The first stage of its expansion, decided in 1875, moved the city's boundaries outwards to include what are today the central districts, including Station-Kléber.
Jean-Goeffroy Conrath's expansion plan, drawn up in 1880, allowed for an external boulevard, to enable people to travel across the city without needing to go through the Grande-Île. The boulevard went from place de Haguenau to the Pasteur bridge, and then along the wharfs. In 1882, a canal was built to link the Rhône Rhine Canal to the Marne Rhine Canal. As a result, the Port of Strasbourg shifted down south of the Civil Hospital, with the construction of the Hospital Gate basin. Other basins were built further to the east, endowing the city with a modern port structure. The railway system also expanded to include a junction (demolished to make way for the road between the motorway and the route du Rhin in 1990) at the Hospital Gate. The central station, designed by architect Johann-Eduard Jacobsthal, was opened in 1883 to replace the Marais-Vert, which was no longer of a suitable size. The new station was designed to link up with the old town, through rue du Maire Kuss and with place de Haguenau and the Pasteur bridge through the new boulevard ring. The new infrastructures underpinned the urbanisation of the district.
The City's social policy
The new authorities wanted to make Strasbourg a shop-window for modern town planning, and their project included the expansion of the Civil Hospital, which was no longer able to cope with the demands of late 19th-century medicine. The first stage of the expansion was completed in 1872, covering a surface area of 3 ha and including a number of buildings, designed by different architects and constructed between 1873 and 1901. The second stage, of 18 ha, began in 1905, but not finished until after the First World War, marks the boundaries of today's hospital. The project was driven by city mayors Otto Back and Rudolf Schwander, who entrusted the work to the young architects and brothers , Karl and Paul Bonatz., who based their work on Friedrich Ruppel's site plan.
The chronic lack of housing produced a policy designed to enhance the quality of life of the city's inhabitants, and which resulted in a major social housing program across the city. The first such units were built in areas that were part of the city's urban expansion. The Mutzig court, built by Strasbourg's Social Affairs Department and architect Émile Salomon in 1892, provided a number of workers' apartments, while the biggest project, designed as the equivalent of the cité Spach, was the Katholischer Bahnhof, along boulevard de Lyon. Designed by architect Albert Nadler, the scheme was completed in 1908 and provided some 250 accommodation units built around a central courtyard.
The urban expansion programme (commonly referred to as the Grande-Percée or great breakthrough), also helped improve the health of the city with the demolition of 135 insalubrious buildings to make way for a thoroughfare linking the train station to the port. The inhabitants of these buildings were rehoused in Stockfeld , a garden city in the south of Strasbourg. Between 1907 and the start of First World War, a roadway 400 m long was built to link place Kléber to the Saint-Pierre-le-Vieux church (rue du 22 novembre). The low-cost housing project continued up to the 1930s and included a number of buildings in between place Kléber and place de la Bourse.
The district gets a space-making facelift
Many buildings had been destroyed in the centre, following bombardments in the Second World War and some of the resulting open spaces were turned into public areas and parkland. The Grande-Percée project finished with a new layout for place de l’Homme de Fer and an extension of the north-running route, starting at rue du Noyer. New squares, such as the Place des Tripiers were built to give the city more space.
The renovation of the Petite-France district in the 1960s paved the way for increased city pedestrianisation, first in the Petite France itself, in 1976, followed by a restriction on car access to the city centre and the building of a new tram system in 1994, between the train station and place de l’Étoile, subsequently extended to faubourg National, faubourg de Saverne and rue de Molsheim.
The area around the train station saw significant modernisation, with the arrival of the TGV high-speed train in 2007, while the lower station project planned for 2025 will provide the final link to form a comprehensive network.