Graz is situated in southeastern Austria on the Mur River. It is the second largest city and the capital of the federal state of Styria. The old town, marked by the centuries-long presence of the Habsburgs, is one of the best preserved in Central Europe. The city’s universities, where famous intellectuals such as the astronomer Johannes Kepler have taught, have produced several Nobel Prize winners.
Graz was originally believed to occupy the site of a Roman settlement. It developed in the early twelfth century under the Styrian prince, Margrave Ottokar III of the Traungau family, who took control of the city and established it as his administrative centre. In 1192 the Frankish Babenberg dukes inherited Styria, making it a second residence after Vienna. After the demise of the Babenberg line, the city came under the control of King Bela IV of Hungary and later King Ottokar of Bohemia, before finally becoming the seat of the Leopold line of the Habsburgs in 1379. From 1480 the city was menaced by the plague and the threat of a Turkish invasion. During the fifteenth century it was a residence of the Holy Roman Emperors and was to become a centre of intellectual and political conflict as the Reformation swept across Europe in the sixteenth century. The Jesuit Karl-Franzens University was founded in 1585 under the auspices of Archduke Karl II of Inner Austria in an effort to recatholicize Styria.
The city was occupied by the French army in 1797, 1805 and 1809 during the Napoleonic Wars. By the terms of the peace treaty following the defeat of the Austrian troops in 1809 at Wagram, Graz’s fortress was dismantled (only the clock tower, bell tower and some walls of the fortress remaining). The nineteenth century was a period of significant growth for the city. Following the Second World War, Graz was liberated by Soviet troops and then included in the British zone of occupied Austria until 1955.
Graz is an important cultural centre, hosting annual musical events and festivals. It is the home of the University of Music and Performing Arts, which opened in 1963. Despite economic stagnation during the inter-war period and the devastation of the Second World War, the city today is prosperous. It has a broad industrial base and hosts Austria’s two largest trade fairs—the Graz International Spring and Autumn Fairs. Graz was the European Capital of Culture in 2003.
Places of Interest
The core of the city retains its medieval and early modern flavour, while its outer reaches date from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The old town on the west bank of the river is dominated by the Schlossberg Park, a strongly fortified hill until 1809 when its defences were destroyed by the French. The park has an open-air theatre and a bell tower dating from 1588, and the clock tower—symbol of the city. Other attractions include the fifteenth century Gothic Church of St Aegidius (designated a cathedral in 1786) at Hauptplatz, and the Mausoleum of Emperor Ferdinand II, one of the best examples in Austria of Mannerism, the transitional style between Renaissance and Baroque. The Armoury (Landeszeughaus) at Herrengasse houses a collection of historical arms largely dating from the seventeenth century. The Renaissance-arcaded courtyard of the Styrian parliament (Landhaus) forms part of Austria’s oldest museum, the Johanneum. The Schlossberg cave railway runs for 2 km and is the longest of its kind in Europe.