Amstetten, Part II: History of Amstetten

The area around modern Amstetten was populated since Neolithic days, throughout the Bronze and Iron Age; there was a Roman settlement in Mauer. It was the Romans who built a limes road through the area, which matches the modern main street. With the withdrawal of Roman administration and the age of migration, the area was widely vacated, only a few Slavonic villages and later Hungarian ones developed. Mission projects were organised by the dioceses of Passau and Salzburg.

In 976, the area of modern Amstetten was part of the county that Leopold von Babenberg received (see my "History of Austria" for details). The name Amstetten is first mentioned in 1111 and comprised mostly of a Gothic parish church and some houses. The castle in Ulmerfeld was built in 1321, along with city walls. Nearby Amstetten had gained some significance as a market town by then, and was also granted permission to build city walls which it did only to a small extent. Between the 14th and early 16th century, Amstetten was repeatedly besieged, occupied and looted: By peasants and bandits, Hungarians, Hussites (Bohemian protestants), and most devastatingly by Turks in 1509. By 1542, most of Amstetten was destroyed.

This was followed by measures of the Counter-Reformation, which targeted the then predominantly Protestant population of Amstetten. The 30-Years′-War didn′t help to improve the situation, and the towns of Waidhofen and Steyr were economically the most influential towns of the area. In 1662, a Catholic hospital was opened in Amstetten coinciding with a turning point and general recovery of the town. In 1679, the bubonic plague killed half the population of Amstetten the next disaster for the town.

Amstetten after the Turkish Invasion of 1683

Despite of the lack of city walls, Amstetten was not conquered by the Turks in the war of 1683; nevertheless, severe fighting took place and the town was badly damaged. Amstetten also lost its market privileges and declined economically throughout the 18th century. You think this is already as bad as it gets? The Napoleonic Wars brought even further destruction: Withdrawing Russian troops fought the French and their allies around Amstetten in 1805, the town was badly battered. This collateral damage was severe and even mentioned in Leo Tolstoi′s epic novel "War and Peace".

Times turned for Amstetten after the revolution of 1848. In 1858, the enormously important railway was built. In 1868, Amstetten became county town and finally got its own county court (Bezirksgericht). Amstetten was now a traffic hub for the industrial areas of the Styrian iron ore region, the Ennstal valley and the Linz-Vienna route. The town finally developed rapidly, gained a monastic church and school, army barracks for a garrison and an ever-growing station.

In 1937, a Roman treasure was found in Amstetten, which is now partly exhibited in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Between 1938 and 1945, Amstetten had two sub-camps of the concentration camp Mauthausen. Amstetten was severely damaged in the course of WWII mostly in April 1945, when the SS coordinated the fierce but pointless defence of Amstetten against the Red Army.

Amstetten was considered strategically important during the Cold War and was re-built quickly. The strategic importance also resulted in the construction of a modern army base in 1976. In the past few years, Amstetten tried to re-shape its face into something more appealing than what it is. So far, this was not overly successful. With the Fritzl case of 2008, the image of Amstetten suffered once again a lasting damage.

Return to "Amstetten - Part I"


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