The Duchess, the Countess and the Mermaid
Many describe Luxembourg, with its ancient castles and lush forests, as a fairy tale kingdom, but visitors will find no damsels in distress here. Dip a toe into the fascinating stories of the women who made the country the progressive place it is today by exploring Luxembourg City on foot.
Begin in rue Plaetis, on the banks of the Alzette River opposite Neumunster Abbey, where a mermaid sits. Artist Serge Ecker’s 3D print is a nod to Melusina, wife of Count Siegfried, the capital’s founder. Legends says that Melusina asked him to leave her alone in her chamber one day a week without asking why. He did so until the day his curiosity got the better of him. Peeping through the keyhole, Siegfried saw his wife in her bath with a long fish tail where her legs had been. When confronted, Melusina leapt from the window into the Alzette below, never to be seen again.
Cross the Stierchen bridge and soak up the natural beauty of the Alzette Valley, at the end of the nineteenth century an area of leather and textile factories employing large numbers of women.
Resistance and freedom
Pause on rue Münster to see the Natural History Museum, originally founded as the hospice of Saint Jean by Margaret of Brabant, who became Queen of Germany in 1308. Before becoming a museum it served as a women’s prison run by Franciscan nuns.
Climb rue St Esprit to Place Clairefontaine, a cobbled square with a bronze statue of Grand Duchess Charlotte (1896-1985) reaching out to passersby. During World War II, the then-leader became a symbol of resistance when she broadcast messages from abroad on BBC Radio to the people of Luxembourg. The statue’s beckoning gesture can be interpreted as Charlotte’s appeal to Allied nations to liberate Luxembourg from its occupiers at the start of the war, but also to the people of Luxembourg to follow her.
From here, walk to Place d’Armes and to look up at the imposing Cercle Cité building. A frieze beneath the clock depicts Countess Ermesinde (1186-1247) issuing freedoms to Luxembourg City citizens in exchange for taxes and military conscription. These charters laid the foundations for the first municipal authorities in Luxembourg.
Continue towards the Municipal Park entrance from Boulevard Royal where you will find a circular bed of flowers overlooked by a statue of Princess Amalia of Saxony Weimar (1830-1872) which has stood there since 1876. Married to Prince Henri, who governed Luxembourg, Princess Amalia was active in many charitable works including the introduction of the pre-school system.
Head through the park towards the Villa Vauban, and meet the bright, bold and beautiful “La Grande Tempérance” by sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle, who through her work denounces the stereotypes that confine women. Strong and sensual, radiant and feminine, the series of “Nanas” became the emblem of women’s liberation movements of the 1970s.
History buffs can dive into women’s history resources and meet more of the pioneering women who helped shape the open and welcoming society we enjoy today.