Freistadt, walled History in Upper Austria
Many cities with outstanding architectural heritage have a similar story to tell: it usually involved a period of economic prosperity and wide-spread building activities followed by a quick crisis that forced the place to "freeze" for a long period of time, thereby preserving the historic buildings.
Think of Rome′s rise and fall once in antiquity and once in early Baroque times, think of Venice or Salzburg. Another example is Freistadt, a mere 17 kilometres south of the Austrian-Czech border. The town of only 7,000 residents has a longstanding history, but its prime was in the Middle Ages.
Freistadt was a hub for salt trade from the Salzkammergut, connecting Austria with Bohemia and the lands beyond. With the people in the region of Bohemia as a traditional thread, the Babenberg and later Habsburg rulers of Austria made the city a centre for the border defence. Founded in 1220, the city was endowed with loads of privileges in order to make it bloom and flourish, including rights in taxation, holding markets and regulating through fare.
Free City Status for Freistadt
As a "free city" (that′s what Freistadt means), its legislative was widely independent (compare with Rust in the Burgenland). The Babenberg′s plan worked well: The city rapidly grew and became the fortified bastion they needed to keep the Bohemians out and under control.
Times changed in 1526: In this year, Bohemia became a "Kronland" or dependency of the Habsburgs and was no longer hostile territory. This was to change again repeatedly in the following centuries over the course of religious wars, nationalist movements and alike, but for the time being, it meant that Freistadt lost its strategic role as a border town. The city fell into sleep with the medieval core - mostly from the 14th and 15th century - remaining to be one of the best-preserved in Austria. Freistadt is walled and packed with charming alleys.
Sights of Freistatt & Surroundings
The main attractions are all centred by the main square or "Hauptplatz" and are easily explored by walking around. There are several merchant′s houses with pretty facades in Baroque style that prove that there was a bit of trade after the Middle Ages - however, the main attractions are the cobble-stone alleys and Medieval lanes around them.
The local castle Schloss Freistadt Castle houses the town museum, where you can learn a bit more on the regional history. It also contains a collection "Hinterglasmalerei", a traditional style of painting where the paint is directly applied to glass in several layers, usually depicting religious scenes. The region around Freistadt was (or to some extent still is) well-known for this craft.
Another sight is the "Katharinenmünster", a church in mixed style of Gothic and Baroque. Check out Waaggasse Lane and the small side-alleys nearby and stop at the impressive Linzer Tor Gate, the most important remain of the medieval fortifications. The "Freistädter Bier" beer is an attraction by its own standards. Freistadt makes a good destination for a day-trip (or half a day trip) from Linz (40 kilometres distance); there are limited possibilities of things to do nearby, though.
The small community of Kefermarkt is on the way to Linz and known for its church of pilgrimage. There is also a small castle called "Schloss Weinberg" ("vineyard castle") in predominantly Baroque style that is worth a visit. The monastery of Stift Schlägel makes another attractive destination in the Mühlviertel area. A Medieval town with a somewhat similar story, by the way, is Krems in Lower Austria.
Back to: "Upper Austria Sightseeing Guide"