Although there remain few traces of the city's history in the Meinau district, which, on the face of it, is a relatively new addition to Strasbourg's urban fabric, it was actually part of the city's origins, in contrast to the neighbouring district of Neuhof, which only came within the city's boundaries in 1370.
The Meinau originally grew up along the route linking Strasbourg to Lyon and Basel (now the avenue de Colmar) and remained the sole southern entry point to the city right up to the opening of the motorway in 1971. It was also here that Charles the Bald and Louis the German met in 842 to sign the celebrated Oaths of Strasbourg, the first documents to be written in the Old French and Old High German languages.
A strategic plain at the gates of the city
Right up to the 19th century, the Meinau and neighbouring Neudorf were part of the vast floodplain that extended up to the southern ramparts of the city. The configuration of the canton of the Meinau , which includes the Schluthfeld, resulted from this.
In 1321, the city's butchers were given permission to graze their cattle on the fields, before sending them to the slaughterhouse on the banks of the River Ill (now the Historical Museum) and this gave rise to the name of the Plaine des Bouchers (butchers's plain) area and also to the porte des Bouchers gate, one of the two main entrances to the south of the city.
Two waterways run across the Meinau - the Krimmeri (Rhin Tortu) is to the north, while the Landwehr defensive trench, the South, separated Strasbourg and Illkirch.
The Meinau was the main outpost of the city and two lookout posts on each of the waterways guarded the southern entrance to Strasbourg, the 13th century Wighauesel (now a signal box) to the north and the Hohe Wart to the south, from 1429.
From the 16th century, the Plaine des Bouchers was used both as a training ground for artillery and for public occasions and parades, such as the Fête de la Fédération in 1790.
The first settlements
The area was primarily meant for the city's defences and there were few inhabitants. What activity there was grew up mainly along the route de Colmar.
The 16th century saw craftsmen and small-scale industry begin to set up shop along the Rhin Tortu, including the Schachenmuhle mill, a workshop making sail canvas and another making strong glue. The Ziegelwasser also had its share of activity, including an oil cloth manufacturer and a porcelain mill.
The first farmlands and leisure properties appeared in the 18th century, including the Entenfang, the Bartischgut, the Flachenbourg and the domaine de la Kaltau which would later become the Saint-Joseph monastery. The construction of dikes along the Rhine to help prevent flooding encouraged building, and by the end of the 18th century, there were 21 constructions which housed four auberges, gardeners, farmers and a baker.
In 1806, Schulmeister bought the Entenfang estate, which he built up and christened Meine Aue (My prairie), whence the modern-day name of the district.
The district takes shape
The current boundaries of the district were set out in 1833 with the construction of the Rhône-Rhine Canal, which cut between the Plaine des Bouchers and the Montagne Verte. In 1905, the new railway line to Kehl was opened, which separated the Meinau from the inner-city, as it was surrounded on either side by a glacis zone where building was prohibited.
In 1911, the Mathis car factory was built to the north, along the route de Colmar, and this provided the impetus for the industrial development of the Plaine des Bouchers.
In 1912, the City set up a 140 hectare industrial estate on land it had owned since 1855. The estate gradually extended southwards until it became the city's largest industrial area in the second half of the 20th century.
Before the First World War, the City had planned to set up a "Garden City" for people working in the Plaine des Bouchers, to be located eastwards of the route de Colmar (Beamten & Arbeiter Kolonie Meinau). The project only went ahead in the 1920s, based on the same idea of a garden city, but inhabited by white-collar workers and the professions. Comprising mainly large individual houses, the development finally finished in the 1970s with the urbanisation of the last remaining farmland in the north-east of the district.
The route de Colmar was the focal point of life in the district throughout the first half of the 19th century, and just about all businesses and shops were built along the self-same road, which had been served by trams since 1886. The tram line was replaced by bus service in 1962.
By 1954, the population of the district had reached 4875 inhabitants. It had no real autonomy and the nearest churches were in Neudorf and Neuhof, while the cemetery of the southern gate is still called the Neuhof cemetery.
A self-contained district
The building of the cité de la Canardière gave the district a whole new shape. The 1957, the City decided to build what was to be Strasbourg's biggest housing development, on what remained of the old Schulmeister estate. Over 3200 housing units were built between 1957 and 1964, along with facilities which made the Meinau into the self-contained district it is today. By 1968, the district had a population of 20,000.
The motorway built in 1965, linking the southern part of the city and the Porte de Schirmeck, meant the Meinau was no longer the entry point to Strasbourg. The district underwent further large-scale developments, including, in 1970, the first major shopping centre of the southern suburb of the City, by the Baggersee in the commune of Illlkirch-Graffenstaden, while in 1984, the old football stadium was replaced by the current stade de la Meinau.
Nowadays, the City has extended its boundaries well beyond the Meinau and the district is now within easy reach of the centre and enjoys excellent connections, with the new Baggersee motorway junction, opened in 1988, and the return of the tram in 1994. The Meinau is still undergoing gradual change, driven by public and private-sector projects. The Plaine des Bouchers, for example, is becoming a centre for service industries, as can be seen all along the avenue de Colmar, while a number of administrative authorities have also moved into the area.
The renovation of the cité de la Canardière , started in 2005, is a large-scale project which is part of the Urban Renovation Plan for the suburbs, rolled out in 2003. The new scheme, initiated by the local authorities and housing associations, in cooperation with the local inhabitants, will write a new page in the history of the district.