Canals in Strasbourg, France, October 24, 2003
Strasbourg; Lower Alsatian: Strossburi; German: Straßburg, is the capital and principal city of the Alsace region in eastern France and is the official seat of the European Parliament. Located close to the border with Germany, it is the capital of the Bas-Rhin département. The city and the region of Alsace were historically Alemannic-speaking, which explains the city's Germanic name. In 2006, the city proper had 272,975 inhabitants and its urban community 467,375 inhabitants. With 759,868 inhabitants in 2010, Strasbourg's metropolitan area (only the part of the metropolitan area on French territory) is the ninth largest in France. The transnational Eurodistrict Strasbourg-Ortenau had a population of 884,988 inhabitants in 2008.
Strasbourg is the seat of several European institutions, such as the Council of Europe (with its European Court of Human Rights, its European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines and its European Audiovisual Observatory) and the Eurocorps, as well as the European Parliament and the European Ombudsman of the European Union. The city is also the seat of the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine and the International Institute of Human Rights.
Strasbourg's historic city centre, the Grande Île (Grand Island), was classified a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1988, the first time such an honour was placed on an entire city centre. Strasbourg is immersed in the Franco-German culture and although violently disputed throughout history, has been a bridge of unity between France and Germany for centuries, especially through the University of Strasbourg, currently the second largest in France, and the coexistence of Catholic and Protestant culture. The largest Islamic place of worship in France, the Strasbourg Grand Mosque, was inaugurated by French Interior Minister Manuel Valls on 27 September 2012.
Economically, Strasbourg is an important centre of manufacturing and engineering, as well as a hub of road, rail, and river transportation. The port of Strasbourg is the second largest on the Rhine after Duisburg, Germany. In terms of city ranking for innovation, Strasbourg has been ranked the third city in France and 18th globally. Strasbourg is on the Eastern border of France, on the Ill River where it flows into the Rhine on the border with Germany, across from the German town Kehl. The city lies in the Upper Rhine Plain, a major axis of north-south travel, approximately 20 km (12 mi) east of the Vosges Mountains and 25 km (16 mi) west of the Black Forest.
Strasbourg's location in the Rhine valley, sheltered from the dominant winds by the Vosges and Black Forest mountains, results in poor natural ventilation, making Strasbourg one of the most atmospherically polluted cities of France. Nonetheless, the progressive disappearance of heavy industry on both banks of the Rhine, as well as effective measures of traffic regulation in and around the city have reduced air pollution. The Grand contournement ouest (GCO) project, programmed since 1999, plans to construct a 24 km (15 mi) long highway connection between the junctions of the A 4 and the A 35 autoroutes in the north and of the A4 and the A352 and A35 autoroutes in the south, meant to divest a significant portion of motorized traffic from the unité urbaine.