There are two cities in Austria that tend to monopolize the traveler’s visits: Vienna and Salzburg. Its majestic buildings and the landscape enclave in which they are located, especially the latter, are more than effective attractions for tourists. However, there is a great unknown making its way as an avant-garde city: Graz. Located less than 200 kilometers from Vienna, it has a wide range of connections from the country’s capital and its airport receives flights from different Spanish cities.
The youthful atmosphere animates the streets and fills the squares and terraces that in 1999 earned it to be declared a World Heritage Site. In recent years, it has become a university destination par excellence. Of its 300,000 inhabitants, which make it the second most populous city in the country, 60,000 are students. It currently has six universities. Many of these young people and those who do a quick search on the internet do not miss the name of Terminator. The streets of this city, more specifically in the suburbs of Graz, Arnold Schwarzenegger was born.
Its hectic social life led it in 2003 to become the cultural center of Europe, a capital that, almost two decades later, it has managed to preserve. It boasts a varied museum offer, exhibitions, festivals and architectural jewels designed by national and international artists that you will find at street level. Unlike Vienna, Graz has been betting on a more intimate, local, but no less select cultural offer.
Despite the modernity promoted by the young people who inhabit the capital of the state of Styria, it retains a classical air, inherited from the title of imperial city that it held after the Habsburgs decided to move their residence here in the 14th century. With this architectural legacy, a walk through its historic center, one of the best preserved in Central Europe and where we can still escape the tides of tourists, must include the following stops.
Schlossberg is one of the biggest attractions of Graz. To visit one of the symbols of the city, the visitor will have to prepare to climb a small hill. Its top offers exclusive views from which to appreciate the imposing domes of its most emblematic buildings. At the top of this hill stood a fortress of which only two of its towers remain. The one that attracts the most attention is the Clock Tower (Uhturm), an icon present in all souvenirs. The glory years of this castle ended in 1809, when Napoleon ordered it to be blown up to overthrow the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Under the Schlossberg, the mountain is home to six kilometers of tunnels that served as a refuge for the population during World War II. Today there are many visitors who are encouraged to also discover the underground of this city. But if what you want is to continue enjoying the outdoors, on this hill you can visit various gardens and green spaces where you can stop and contemplate the landscape. Many will be surprised when they discover another of the attractions that the space offers: a Chinese pavilion. It was built at the end of the 19th century and housed the chair of Bishop Nadasdy, who lived as a prisoner in the fortress for 40 years until the day he died.
A walk along Herrengasse
Herrengasse is the main street. A baroque boulevard linking Jakomini and Hauptplatz, the two busiest squares. The Graz Town Hall is located in Hauptplatz, the old medieval core. Walking along this avenue, you can appreciate the coexistence between neo-Gothic and Baroque facades with intense colors that force you to look up.
During the walk, a stop at the Landhaus is essential, one of the Renaissance jewels of all of Austria. Its courtyard, which houses the headquarters of the regional parliament, can be visited free of charge. This building also houses a small museum famous for its collection of armor, helmets and pistols from the 15th to the 18th century. Its 30,000 pieces make the place the largest armory in Austria.
Mausoleum of Emperor Ferdinand II
Located next to the cathedral and at the top of a staircase, the mausoleum of Emperor Ferdinand II unites two religious buildings, on the one hand, the tomb of the emperor and his family, and on the other, a church dedicated to Santa Catalina. For centuries, the Habsburgs were buried in the imperial crypt. The interior is filled with frescoes by the artist Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach. In a mannerist baroque style, its turquoise domes rise above the rest of the city’s rooftops.
Recognition as a European City of Culture in 2003, this building was built with a striking exterior appearance that can remind you of a whale. It is a contemporary art center with works ranging from the sixties to the present. But without a doubt, the most extravagant thing can be seen from the street. Its surface is made up of 900 m² of methacrylate under which 930 rings of fluorescent lamps were installed. An authentic light show at nightfall.
Continuing with the creation of modern spaces, which contrast with the medieval heritage of Graz, an artificial island is located in the Muriel river that connects the two banks. Its designer, the American architect Vito Acconci, tried to resemble the appearance of a giant shell. You can get to it by following the catwalks to rest for a few minutes in some stands that make up something similar to an amphitheater or have a drink in the cafeteria.
Despite the fact that the visitor will have to leave the center to go to the eastern part of the city, the trip will be worth it. This palace, built at the beginning of the 17th century on the basis of a 13th century medieval castle, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2010. Inside you can tour the Joanneum Universal Museum, a large ballroom and even an extensive collection of numismatics. John Peter De Pomis ordered its construction inspired by the style of the El Escorial monastery in Madrid.