History of Innsbruck

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The Inn river valley's advantageous geographical position made it a natural choice for settlements from the earliest times. During the Bronze age, Illyrians populated the valley areas that were safe from flooding. Remnants of Illyrian urns can be found in the districts of Wilten, Hötting and Mühlau. There are also remains of an Illyrian settlement on the hill at Vill. Numerous districts of present-day Innsbruck bear names that derive from such settlements: Aldrans, Lans, Igls and Vill.

Around 15 BC the Roman empire expanded violently northwards. It annexed the central alpine region leading right up to the Danube. The area around Innsbruck thus became a transit route of key strategic importance for Roman soldiers heading northwards. A community soon sprang up around the fortified outpost of Veldidena (present-day Wilten), which guarded the approach to the Brenner pass.

The Bavarians migrated to the Inn valley from the north during the second half of the 6th century AD. The area thus became part of the Bavarian hereditary Duchy. However, the German Emperor took control of this strategic area ' then still referred to simply as 'the land in the mountains' away from the Bavarian dukes and handed it over to the Bishops of Brixen instead. But above all it was the Counts of Andechs and their feudal lords who brought autonomy and political power to the alpine valleys of Tirol. Indeed, the counts became the most important territorial rulers in Tirol. As a result, Innsbruck quickly became the centre of Andechs rule.

A market place was established by the Andechs in 1180 downstream from the district of Hötting. The first recorded mention of the name 'Innsprucke' dates back to 1187. Innsbruck was granted city status in 1239. The name of the city is derived from the original meaning 'bridge over the Inn'. This bridge was a key factor in the development of trade and the movement of goods between regions both north and south of the Alps. The counts of Andechs built a fortress opposite the present-day Ottoburgin order to protect the settlement.

In 1248, Count Albert III gained control of Tirol together with Innsbruck. This heralded the unification of the counties around the Brenner pass. The year 1248 has therefore gone down as 'the year of Tirol's birth' in Tirolean historiography. Duke Friedrich IV built the impressive ducal residence of Schloss Tirol at Meran. Innsbruck became the capital of all Tirol in 1429. The 15th and 16th centuries were Innsbruck's golden years. Emperor Maximilian I fashioned the city into a booming financial, cultural and administrative centre. His crowning achievement was the construction of the das Goldene Dachl, a splendid Renaissance relief with gold-coated copper shingles. As Innsbruck's most famous landmark, the Goldene Dachl is responsible for attracting countless tourists to the city every year. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, Innsbruck's architectural style was heavily influenced by the Türing and Gumpp dynasties.

In 1665, the Tirol line of the Habsburgs died out. Nevertheless, Empress Maria Theresia helped the city to retain its splendour by building the Hofburg and the Triumphpforte.

The peace treaty of Pressburg that sealed Napoleon's conquest of Austria in 1805 decreed that Austria cede the provinces of Brixen, Trient and Tirol to Bavaria. Only after the wars of liberation fought on the Berg Isel, was Innsbruck freed from Bavarian rule. Andreas Hofer, the Tirolean folk hero who led his forces to victory on the Berg Isel, proceeded to make Innsbruck the centre of his administration. However, his enemies struck back: a combined French and Bavarian force attacked and overran Innsbruck in 1809. Tirol remained under Bavarian rule until 1814, when it was handed back to Austria at the Vienna Congress.

Innsbruck was to regain significance beyond its immediate provinces in the latter part of the 19th century with the onset of the industrial revolution and the spread of mass communications and transport. In particular, the opening of the railway through the Brenner pass in 1884 made Innsbruck a key point on European transport networks linking north and south as well as east and west. During the Second World War, Innsbruck suffered massive damage from air attacks. The Winter Olympic games first took place in the city in 1964. This regular event has played a major role in Innsbruck's postwar growth and has led to the construction of some of the finest sporting facilities in the world. The Olympia Eisstadion, for example, has played host to competitions in high-speed ice skating, figure skating and ice hockey.