Visit Friesach, the town of castles and trace the way back to the Middle Ages.
Friesach – a journey back to the Middle Ages
In the year 860 the Carolingian King Ludwig the German donated the “Court of Friesach” to Archbishop Adelwin of Salzburg. A market village grew and was extended purposefully by the Archbishops of Salzburg as place of residence and trans-regional centre of the church in the region south of the Tauern mountain range.
The rise of Friesach from market to town (since 1215 documented as “civitas”) at the beginning of the 13th century was based on the mining of precious metal in the mountains surrounding the town, the minting of coins and Friesach´s location in the “slanted passage”, the main trade route between Venice and Vienna. This favourable geographic location lead to trans-regional importance as centre of economy and commerce, with the Friesacher penny as the widespread coinage.
In the High Medieval period, Friesach, as an important seat of the archbishopric Salzburg, was very attractive for immigrants. The monetary and credit system flourished as well as crafts and trade and the processing of furs and leather was of particular significance.
During the first part of the 13th century Friesach was, from the clerical and economical point of view, the most important town in the whole of Austria. At that particular time the importance of Friesach was greater than that of Vienna, Graz, Klagenfurt or St. Veit.
The Archbishops of Salzburg were great sponsors of the arts and culture. Bec use of that Friesach had libraries of European importance. Many sacral art treasures of the Romantic and Gothic periods bear witness to the town in its heyday and the minstrel Ulrich von Liechtenstein cites Friesach in his novel “Frauendienst”. He speaks about a great, legendary tournament in Friesach which is said to have taken place in 1224.urgs
At the end of the 13th century, after disputes between the Archbishops of Salzburg and the Hapsburgs and Bohemia, Friesach was conquered three times within a few decades, plundered and destroyed. The town lost its attractiveness, immigration stopped and the bishops rarely came here and the cash flow decreased. Friesach experienced a last short heyday in the 16th century with the increase of precious metal mining, but afterwards the economic decline could not be stopped anymore. While other towns expanded and flourished, Friesach stagnated. In 1803, during secularization, Friesach became the property of the Habsburgs. The economic and political loss of importance saved many cultural and art monuments in Friesach, which in other places had to give way to modernity and to the growth of the towns, so that today the place is a perfect example of a medieval town without destructive reconstruction.
Nowadays Friesach makes the connection with its great history: in 2001 the town hosted the National Exhibition of Carinthia – “Medieval Showplace Friesach” with the theme, “The town in the Middle Ages”. Friesach´s goal is to become THE medieval competence centre of the Central European region. Friesach attempts to achieve this through the construction of a castle using medieval methods and techniques, with various medieval activities such as the Spectaculum and the Friesach Academy. Visitors find opportunity to discover and experience history in many ways. And in 2015 Friesach will celebrate 8oo years of designation as “civitas”
Castle construction Friesach
The realization of a very special project in the south of Friesach, about ten minutes’ walk from the town centre, began in the spring of 2009: the construction of a medieval castle using medieval work methods and techniques. It is a busy but quiet construction site without engines and electricity. Only the knocking of metal on wood can be heard, caused by working woodcutters and their axes. Also blacksmiths, stonemasons, carpenters, bricklayers and basket weavers bring life to the building site on an area of around 6,5ha and demonstrate ancient craft techniques. As a visitor you can watch the craftsmen at work. Highest authenticity is guaranteed, although the technical safety regulations of our time must be followed, of course.
A construction period of 40 years is planned, covering 400 years of construction history from the Romanic to the Gothic period. The construction of a keep, a so called Palas – a residential house, circular walls, corner towers, a castle yard, castle gates, a castle garden and a chapel are planned.
The municipality of Friesach initiated this project. The Institute of History of the Alpe Adria University Klagenfurt has the scientific supervision. The castle construction project is supported by the government of Land Carinthia, by the Austrian Work Market Service and by the European Union.
The castle construction site is accessible to visitors between the middle of April and the end of October. Follow the growth of a medieval castle from year to year.
The trace back to the Middle Ages
There is hardly any other town like Friesach, the oldest town in Carinthia, where you can encounter the Middle Ages at every turn. The “Fürstenhof” – the Prince´s Palace – with its granary, churches and monasteries, impressive ruins of chancels and towers, as well as the one and only water-filled moat in the German speaking region, all make Friesach a synthesis of the arts and bear witness to a great past. No other town in Carinthia, and not even Salzburg, which was the residence of the Archbishops, was so rich in monasteries and clerical facilities.
FRIESACH — Experience the Middle Ages
A visit to Friesach is always worth making. There is so much to discover in the town of castles: the intact city fortifications with its 820m long, water filled moat, the town walls, fortified towers, three castles and the building site of a “new” castle, which is now under construction.
Follow the herald, the town messenger. He will show you Friesach and will tell you about the eventful history of the town. The combined guided tours of the town and of the castle building site are very popular.
At the break of darkness you can accompany the night watchman on his tour of the town.
The wax room is situated in the granary near the Prince´s Palace. Here you can learn interesting facts about the ancient trade of the chandler.
In the Middle Ages the Friesacher pennies were minted from local silver. On request these are reproduced in the mint in the Prince´s Palace, or you can enjoy Friesacher pennies made of chocolate, created in Craigher´s confectionery in the Main Square.
FRIESACH´S OPEN-AIR THEATRE FESTIVAL – Theatre since 1950
High above Friesach, in the upper part of the former fortress on the Petersberg, the widely known Friesach´s Open-Air Theatre Festivals have performed plays for more than sixty years. www.burghofspiele.com
Town museum in the Petersberg keep
Distributed over the six floors of the keep, the museum accommodates precious testimonies to the eventful history of the town: a collection of Friesacher pennies, the Romanesque fresco in the St. Rupert´s chapel, a Maria lactans, a collection of historic weapons, treasures from Friesacher craftsmen, historical musical instruments and much more. From the top floor of the keep visitors have a spectacular view over the town.
SPECTACULUM zu FRIESACH
Every year at the end of July a medieval week with the famous “Spectaculum” takes place. In the grounds of the Dominican church and monastery, knights measure their strength, musicians and dancers, miners, fire-eaters and jugglers delight the visitors. In the camp of the “Friesach Medieval Society” life as it was during the Middle Ages is re-enacted. You can see the Prince with his entourage, town guards, craftsmen, kitchen maids and children, all in their element.
The fruit garden of the monastery is turned into a huge camping place inhabited by medieval groups from all parts of Austria and the surrounding countries. On the market place you meet traders from near and far. Numerous refreshment places offer food and drink. “Come and let yourself be carried off into another era”
TRANSROMANICA – The Romanesque Routes of European Heritage leads from Germany through Austria and from Carinthia into Slovenia and Italy and makes the treasures of the Middle Ages from the 10th to the 12th century accessible. Five places in Carinthia – Friesach, Gurk, St. Paul, Millstatt and Maria Wörth – are part of this EU initiative focusing on the common cultural heritage of Europe.
The best maintained medieval town in Austria, Friesach, offers you an unique view of a town with fortifications, castles and monumental sacral buildings. www.transromantica.com