Dark pink, ornately carved Vosges sandstone masonry covers the facade of this most novel and Germanic of French cathedrals, a triumph of Gothic art begun in 1176. Not content with the outlines of the walls themselves, medieval builders lacily encased them with slender stone shafts. The off-center spire, finished in 1439, looks absurdly fragile as it tapers skyward some 466 feet; you can climb 330 steps to the base of the spire to take in sweeping views of the city, the Vosges Mountains, and the Black Forest.
The interior presents a stark contrast to the facade: it's older (mostly finished by 1275), and the nave's broad windows emphasize the horizontal rather than the vertical. Note Hans Hammer's ornately sculpted pulpit (1484–86) and the richly painted 14th- to 15th-century organ loft that rises from pillar to ceiling. The left side of the nave is flanked with richly colored Gothic windows honoring the early leaders of the Holy Roman Empire—Otto I and II, and
Heinrich I and II. The choir is not ablaze with stained glass but framed by chunky Romanesque masonry. The elaborate 16th-century Chapelle St-Laurent, to the left of the choir, merits a visit; turn to the right to admire the Pilier des Anges (Angels' Pillar), an intricate column dating from 1230.
Just beyond the pillar, the Renaissance machinery of the 16th-century Horloge Astronomique whirs into action daily at 12:30 pm (but the line starts at the south door at 11:45 am): macabre clockwork figures enact the story of Christ's Passion. One of the highlights: when the apostles walk past, a likeness of Christ as a rooster crows three times.