Mulhouse is a town and commune in eastern France close to Swiss and German border. It is the largest town in Haut-Rhin, and the second largest in Alsace after Strasbourg.
Its designated local development area consists of 16 communes, but its conurbation is substantially larger than that.
The first written records of Mulhouse date from the 12th century. It was part of the southern Alsatian county of Sundgau in the Holy Roman Empire. 1354–1515 Mülhausen was part of the Décapole, an association of ten Free Imperial Cities in Alsace. 1515 the City joined the Swiss Confederation as an associate and was therefore not annexed by France 1648 like the rest of the Sundgau.
It was then considered a free republic associated with the Swiss Confederation until it was annexed by France on January 4, 1798, during the French Directory period.
From 1870 to 1918, Mülhausen belonged again to the German Empire as part of the territory of Alsace-Lorraine. The city was occupied by French troops on 8 August 1914 at the start of First World War, but they were forced to withdraw two days later in the Battle of Mulhouse. As a result of World War I, Alsace-Lorraine was annexed by French in 1918. It was occupied and annexed again by Germany from 1940, until 'restored' to France at the close of the war in 1945.
The town's development was stimulated first by the expansion of the textile industry and tanning, and subsequently by chemical and engineering industries from the mid 18th century. In consequence Mulhouse has enduring links with Louisiana, from which it imported cotton, and also with the Levant. The town's history also explains why its centre is relatively small.
Two rivers run through Mulhouse, the Doller and the Ill, both tributaries of the Rhine.
Medieval Mulhouse consists essentially of a lower and an upper town.
- The lower town was formerly the quarter of merchants and craftsmen. It developed around the Place de la Réunion (which commemorates its reunion with France). Nowadays this area is pedestrianised.
- The upper town developed from the 18th century on. Previously, several monastic orders were established there, notably the Franciscans, Augustinians, Poor Clares and Knights of Malta.
- The Nouveau Quartier (New Town) is the best example of urban planning in Mulhouse, and was developed from 1826 on, after the town walls had been removed (as they were in many French towns). It is focused around the Place de la République. Its network of streets and its triangular shape are a good demonstration of the town's desire for a planned layout. The planning was undertaken by the architects G. Stolz and Félix Fries. This quarter was taken up by rich families and the owners of local industries, who tended to be liberal and republican in their opinions.
- The Rebberg district consists of grand houses inspired by the colonnaded residences of Louisiana cotton planters. Originally, this was the town's vineyard (the word reb meaning vine). The houses here were built as terraces in the English style, a result of the town's close relationship with Manchester, where the sons of industrialists were often sent to study.