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(älzäs`), Ger. Elsass, former province and former administrative region, E France. It is separated from Germany by a part of the Rhine River. It comprises the departments of Bas-Rhin, Haut-Rhin, and the Territory of Belfort (a department created after the Franco-Prussian War when the rest of Alsace was annexed by Germany).

Alsace is rich agriculturally (especially in the plain between the Rhine River and the Vosges Mts.), geologically (potassium exploitation in the Mulhouse area ranks France among the top worldwide producers), and industrially. StrasbourgStrasbourg
, Ger. Strassburg, city (1990 pop. 255,931), capital of Bas-Rhin dept., NE France, on the Ill River near its junction with the Rhine. It is the intellectual and commercial capital of Alsace.
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 is the ancient capital and the leading industrial center. Textile industries are located in the Mulhouse-Colmar area, and wines (notably Riesling) are produced there. Hydroelectric plants are at Kembs and Ottmarscheim. Virtually the whole population speaks French, but a very large majority have also retained their German dialect. About 75% of the population is Roman Catholic. Alsace retains many old customs such as the wine and harvest festivals.


Of Celtic origin, Alsace became part of the Roman province of Upper Germany (see GaulGaul
, Lat. Gallia, ancient designation for the land S and W of the Rhine, W of the Alps, and N of the Pyrenees. The name was extended by the Romans to include Italy from Lucca and Rimini northwards, excluding Liguria.
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). It fell to the Alemanni (5th cent.) and to the Franks (496). The Treaty of Verdun (843; see Verdun, Treaty ofVerdun, Treaty of,
the partition of Charlemagne's empire among three sons of Louis I, emperor of the West. It was concluded in 843 at Verdun on the Meuse or, possibly, Verdun-sur-le-Doubs, Soâne-et-Loire dept., E France.
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) included it in Lotharingia; the Treaty of MersenMersen, Treaty of,
870, redivision of the Carolingian empire by the sons of Louis I, Charles the Bald (later Charles II) of the West Franks (France) and Louis the German of the East Franks (Germany), signed at Mersen (Dutch Meersen), now in the Netherlands.
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 (870) put it in the kingdom of the East Franks (later Germany). The 10 chief cities of Alsace gained (13th cent.) virtual independence as free imperial cities. The remainder of the region was divided into fiefs with the exception of Upper Alsace, where the HapsburgHapsburg
or Habsburg
, ruling house of Austria (1282–1918). Rise to Power

The family, which can be traced to the 10th cent., originally held lands in Alsace and in NW Switzerland. Otto (d.
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 family consolidated its original holdings.

Alsace became a center of the Reformation (although the rural areas remained generally Catholic). The Treaty of Westphalia (1648) transferred all Hapsburg lands in Alsace to France. Lower Alsace was conquered (1680–97) by Louis XIV of France; the Treaty of Ryswick (1697) confirmed French possession. The Edict of Nantes (1685), promulgated before the annexation of Alsace, could not be revoked; therefore religious worship remained free. In 1798 the city of MulhouseMulhouse
, Ger. Mülhausen, city (1990 pop. 109,905), Haut-Rhin dept., E France, in Alsace, on the Ill River and the Rhône-Rhine canal. Cotton, wool, and clothing are the chief manufactures; machinery, chemicals, automobile parts, and steel pipes are also
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 voted to join France.

In 1871, as a result of the Franco-Prussian WarFranco-Prussian War
or Franco-German War,
1870–71, conflict between France and Prussia that signaled the rise of German military power and imperialism. It was provoked by Otto von Bismarck (the Prussian chancellor) as part of his plan to create a unified German
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, all Alsace (except Belfort) was annexed by Germany. With part of Lorraine, it formed the "imperial land" of Alsace-Lorraine, held in common by all the German states. Many inhabitants emigrated to France rather than submit to a policy of Germanization. Clamor for the return of Alsace-Lorraine became the chief rallying force for French nationalism and was a major cause of the armaments race that led to World War I. France's recovery (1918) of this territory was confirmed by the Treaty of Versailles (1919).

After the decline of early enthusiasm over the reunion with France, a strong particularist movement gained ground, demanding cultural and even political autonomy. The movement received impetus from recurrent efforts by the French government to end the Concordat of 1801Concordat of 1801,
agreement between Napoleon Bonaparte and Pope Pius VII that reestablished the Roman Catholic Church in France. Napoleon took the initiative in negotiating this agreement; he recognized that reconciliation with the church was politic.
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, which had remained valid in Alsace-Lorraine although it had been ended in the rest of France in 1905. In 1940, German troops occupied Alsace; a large part of the population had already been evacuated to central France. Alsace was treated as a part of Germany. French and American troops recovered (Jan., 1945) Alsace for France and were generally hailed as liberators. Alsace officially became a French administrative region in 1972. In 2016 it was merged, with Champagne-Ardenne and Lorraine, into the region of Grand Est.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a historical region in eastern France, in the basin of the Rhine River. Area, 8,300 sq km. Population, 1,517,000 (1975), mostly Alsatians. The principal city is Strasbourg (Strassburg). The territory of Alsace corresponds to the economic and planning region of the same name, which comprises the departments of Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin.

Alsace is an important industrial and agricultural region; in 1975, 35 percent of the economically active population was employed in industry, and 5 percent in agriculture. Potassium salts are mined near Mulhouse (2.3 million tons in 1973). A hydroelectric station is situated on the Rhine.

The chief manufacturing industries are machine building (general machine building and electronics, electrical engineering, and automotive industries), metalworking, and textiles; in 1971 machine building and metalworking accounted for 42 percent of those employed in industry, and textiles for 12 percent. The principal machine-building centers are Strasbourg and Mulhouse, and the main textile centers are Mulhouse and Colmar. Products of the food-processing industry include beer, grape wines, flour, and cheese. Alsace also has petrochemical, tobacco, lumber and paper, glass, and clothing industries.

More than half the value of agricultural output comes from animal husbandry: dairying, swine raising, and poultry farming. The principal crops are wheat, barley, potatoes, sugar beets, hops, tobacco, and feed crops; there are vineyards in the foothills of the Vosges. Part of the population of Alsace—22,600 in 1975—works in the Federal Republic of Germany and in Switzerland.

Historical survey. Alsace, first mentioned in the seventh century, was a duchy in the late seventh century and the first half of the eighth century; it subsequently became part of the Carolingian empire. In 870, as part of eastern Lotharingia (Lorraine), it passed to the East Frankish kingdom. Alsace’s location on the trade routes from Italy to Germany and France caused its cities, beginning in the 12th century, to increase in economic and political importance: many attained self-government, and several were granted imperial status. Cloth-making and wine-making underwent considerable development in the 13th and 14th centuries.

In the 15th and 16th centuries Alsace was an important center of humanism and the Reformation, in large measure because of the rapidly developing printing industry in Strasbourg. In the late 15th century and the 16th, it was the scene of disturbances among the peasantry and the urban lower classes. Under the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, Alsace became part of France, but the imperial cities remained subordinate to the Holy Roman Empire. King Louis XIV of France took ten Alsatian cities in 1673 and Strasbourg in 1681. The Treaty of Ryswick of 1697 recognized Strasbourg and other Alsatian lands as French possessions.

Under the Treaty of Frankfurt of 1871, Alsace and eastern Lorraine, which had been won from France, were ceded to Germany, forming the Reichsland (imperial territory) of Alsace-Lorraine; under the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 they were returned to France. In 1940, Alsace-Lorraine was annexed by fascist Germany, after whose defeat it was again returned to France.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a region and former province of NE France, between the Vosges mountains and the Rhine: famous for its wines. Area: 8280 sq. km (3196 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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