... and now striking 101 times - 3 times a day
28.12.2009 - 28.12.2009 4 °C
We had snow overnight and St. Gilgen was starting to turn white again. Unfortunately was was fairly light snow, but it was getting back toward what we saw when we arrived a week ago. When we were saying goodbye to our landlady, she said that this Christmas was a disappointment with snow and that normally they have it knee deep. But we were far from disappointed with St. Gilgen and surrounds - we saw it covered in snow, we saw it at it's green best and every morning we woke up to magnificent views, who could ask form more?
Anyway it was on the road again and off to Graz - Austria's second largest city with a population of 270,000. To get there we had a 280km drive, mainly on autobahn and through some extraordinary country. we also went through tunnel after tunnel - why climb a mountain when you can go through it? The longest tunnel was over 8km long. We also drove through some fairly heavy snow falls, but finished the drive in bright sunshine and a temperature of around 4 degrees.
Graz has a history going back to the 12th century when first mentions of it as a small fortress (gradec) were made and 100 years later it was granted town status and a wall was built. By 1379 it was the capital of Inner Austria and by 1440 was the imperial residence of Freidrich III. In 1809 it was besieged by the French who after months of siege and with an army of over 3000 could not defeat the Austrian garrison of 896 who had the benefit of the imposing Schlossberg fortress. It was only because Napoleon threatened to destroy Vienna that the Austrian army surrendered and then the French set about destroying as much of the fortress as possible. Most of the fortress was destroyed with only the bell tower and clock tower allowed to remain. The bell tower contains a ~5 tonne bell called Leisl that was cast from 101 Turkish cannonballs and peals out 101 chimes at 7am, 12pm and 7pm. The fortress is now listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the strongest fortress of all time.
Enough of the history lesson, and back to our visit. We set of to walk around the old town and had a very enjoyable afternoon. Graz has many beautiful and elegant buildings, many of them 3-5 stories and with central courtyards. In their day they would have been palaces for the nobility and well off citizens. Many of the buildings had ornate facades and showed evidence of Renaissance, Gothic and Baroque architecture. It has been declared a World cultural heritage site by UNESCO because of these buildings. There were quite a few people around, but the streets and laneways had a really laid back and relaxed feel about them.
Sitting above the town is are the remains of the fortress - it must have been an imposing sight before the French destroyed most of it.
After an enjoyable afternoon looking around we headed to our hotel which was a little way out of the town & found tthat it was right next to another of the city's landmarks - the Mariatrost Basilica which is a double towered church that is the target of a great number of pilgrims coming to see a statue of the Virgin Mary that has been linked to numerous miracles. These pilgramages have been going on since the 17th Century and because of them a building was erected next to the church to provide lodging for pilgrims. A later version of that building (rebuilt after a fire in 1863) is now our hotel. In 1744 the hotel/inn was run by the Pauliner order of monks and could accomodate 50 guest - but some had to sleep in chairs. In 1772 it was leased to a lay person who was not allowed to have music or to accomodate evil or suspect persons of either gender! It has been owned by the same family since 1919 and has a very family feel about it as well as magnificent decor.