History of Graz

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Graz's appearance as a city offers numerous possibilities to discover its history, which has included times of splendour and expansion as much as times of difficulty and stagnation.

One of the main features in the development of the city is its geographical location in a valley, which is surrounded by mountains. The river Mur flows through its centre and an wide, open stretch of land can only be found in its sound.

The middle of the city's central basin, which is only a few metres from the river, is where the is and it is inbetween these to natural features that the city central basin developed.

Graz, which is the centre of the Steiermark region, is also Austria's second largest city. Realistically, it is composed of a number of smaller villages, which were once independent. Until they began to intertwine with one another in the 19th and 20th centurys, their only common feature was that they all developed around the Schloßberg.

Archeologists have found artefacts from the early stone ages to the Roman era in the area we know cal Graz but the the earliest advanced settlement here is traced back to the Slaws in 800 AD. The name means "Little Castle" and comes from the Slavonic word Gradec. Unfortunately, however, there have only been a few archeological finds from this epoch.

The High and Late Middle Ages were decisive periods in the city's historical coming of age. Under the Stirian Nobles, Graz became an important centre of commerce and trade and the Ruine Gösting is a symbol of the city's status. The city centre then, as now, was composed of the area around the Sackstraße, the Murgasse, the Sporgasse and the Hauptplatz, with the nice old town of the Kälbernes Quarter. There was also a Jewish Ghetto in the south of the city, but in the 15th century, pogroms forced Jews to go elsewhere.

Despite its medieval standing, it is the buildings that were built during the time the Habsburg dynasty resided in Graz, that continue to dominate the inner city's landscape. From 1379-1493, the Cathedral and much of the Castle were built and the conflict over land in the 16th century also left architectural reminders. The city's landed nobility, many of whom were Protestant, made their presence felt by erecting buildings such as the Landhaus and numerous city palaces, the facades of which were given baroque features as time went on.

In reaction to this construction programme, Catholic land owners brought Jesuits into the city. From 1564-1619, Catholics sponsored masterpieces such as the Old University (today a seminary), the Mausoleum, the Minoritenkirche and the Church of St. Ändra.

The most important piece of baroque architecture in the city is without doubt Eggenberg Castle, but the city's landscape also changed when forts were built around the Schlossberg and the City Park. Only a few remains, such as the Paulustor, the Burgtor and the Kasematten (Kasematten-Schlossbergbühne), can today be seen though, for they were pulled down in the 19th century.The grounds that were subsequently empty were used to extend the Stadtpark in 1869 and to build new residential areas and because of this, the inner city and surrounding areas, were brought closer together.

In the 19th century, Graz became had a big enough population to call itself a city and its most influential citizens, many of whom favoured unification with Germany, built impressive buildings such as the Karl-Franzens-Universität, the Opernhaus, the Town Hall and the Herz Jesu Church. On one hand, these were to illustrate the Graz's right to call itself a city and on the other hand, they were to show people that Graz was an "example of German Culture".

As the 19th century progressed, the divide between the city's left and the right, which was heavily represented in the working-class districts of Gries and Lend, became ever more apparent. At the same time, Graz was also described as a "Pensionopolis" because many retired imperial civil servants and artists, like Johann Nestroy to name but one, moved to the city.

During the Third Reich, again proved to be favourable towards union with Germany and when Hitler annexed Austria in 1938, there was much euphoria. The city was even given the "honorary title" of "Stadt der Volkerhebung" ("city of the peoples' uprising").

At the beginning of the 21st century, Graz is a city which is very aware of its geographic proximity and historical relationship to the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Unlike in the past, there is a more open, less hostile atmosphere towards this reality and it is noticable not only in city life as a whole, but also in the city's three universitys.