I learned a lot about the history of Graz when I moved to the city as an Erasmus student from my dear friend David, who happens to be a fantastic professional tourist guide. He showed me around Graz back then and taught me a lot of interesting things. Here are a some I learned over my time living in Graz that really surprised me when I heard them.
So here you go, expand your mind and impress your mates next time they come visit you in Graz. 😉
1. Where the name of the city comes from
During the 6th century, slavic tribes settled into the area that is currently known as Styria and Carinthia. They built a fortress on the hill that is now Schloßberg, which gave its name to the city.
In fact, in Slovene the word gradec means “small fortress”. This word developed throughout the years, becoming Gratz at first and then Grätz. The name eventually turned into Graz in German. In Slovenia, the city is still today referred to as Gradec.
2. Graz was the capital of Inner Austria and Habsburg residence
For around 300 years, Graz was the capital of Inner Austria and residence of one line of the Habsburg family. Inner Austria was made up of Styria, Carinthia, Kranj, Gorica, and the northern Adria with Triest. The main job of the Styrian line of the Habsburgs was defending the reign against the Turks. Luckily, the fortress was never attacked by the Turks, but was later on destroyed in part by Napoleon’s troops.
The family lived until 1619 in Graz, when Ferdinand II then moved to Vienna, as he was the only heir left to the Habsburg throne.
3. The Clocktower was saved from Napoleon by the citizens of Graz
Napoleon came and conquered Graz at the end of the 18th century, destroying in his path the castle that used to rise atop the Schloßberg.
The citizens of Graz wanted to save the Clocktower and the bell tower from destruction, so they paid for these buildings to be spared. This cost them 2897 guilders and 11 kreuzer (about 87.000€ in modern value).
The two buildings became at this point the symbols of the city of Graz.
4. Graz citizens were big supporters of the Nazi party even before the “Anschluss”
This is quite surprising, if you think that Graz tends to lean more towards centre and left parties nowadays.
The citizens of Graz were very big supporters of Adolf Hitler’s party and prepared for his arrival two weeks before the Anschluss. Swastika-flags were hung all over the city, earning Graz the title of “Stadt der Volkserhebung” (city of popular uprising) from the Führer himself.
The University of Graz also came close to being renamed to “Adolf-Hitler Universität”.
5. Liebenau used to be home to a Nazi forced labour camp
As a consequence to what I mentioned in the previous point, a forced labour camp was also built in Graz. It was the Zwangsarbeiterlager Graz-Liebenau (Lager V), used as an intermediate station for jewish hungarians and yugoslavians on their way to the concentration camp in Mauthausen.
Nowadays nothing of it can be seen anymore, but it used to be in the aera south of the Merkur stadium reaching all the way down to the Mur river. (Roughly where the Seifenfabrik is currently standing.)
6. Graz used to be called “Pensionopolis”
It seems like during the monarchy, Graz was very much beloved by retired public officials. They would move here to spend their last years in retirement, I guess seeking a life that was quieter than in Vienna.
That’s why Graz used to be called “Pensionopolis” (Pension = retirement).
Did I miss any interesting or surprising historical facts? Let me know in the comments if you know anything else about Graz’ history!