Friesach: Middle Ages in Carinthia
Friesach is a small Carinthian town famous for its medieval heritage, which consists alongside with some pieces of town walls and fortifications mostly an event that is annually commemorated with a festival of medieval culture. This event was an enormous tournament organised here in Friesach by the Babenberg Duke Leopold VI of Austria in 1224. Pretty much every decent knight from all over Central Europe came to Friesach on this occasion.
It must have been a truly impressive event, at least impressive enough to inspire the knight and poet Ulrich von Liechtenstein to write a series of epic poems on the tournament, which is considered to be among the most important pieces of medieval literature that originates in Austria. Every year on the 30th of August, the town folks and random role-playing-gamers that just happen to like swords gather in Friesach to play knight for a bit. Then the entire town transforms into a medieval market, with stalls all over the place, knights and damsels strolling the cobbled streets. Certainly a date to keep in mind if you happen to tour Carinthia in August.
The history of Friesach started much earlier, though. Like most of Carinthia and Styria, the region of today′s Friesach was first occupied by Celtic and Roman people and later by Slavonic tribes. Friesach was part of the Slavic kingdom of Carantania, which later got under the control of Bavarians. It was also a Bavarian, Emperor Ludwig the German, who gave Friesach to the Archbishop of Salzburg in the 9th century.
All is Medieval in Friesach′s Sightseeing
Under the rule of Salzburg, Friesach quickly developed to one of the most prosperous market towns of Carinthia, built courts and fortifications and became the medieval stronghold one can still see today. Story goes that Richard the Lionhart travelled via Friesach on his way back from a crusade in 1192, before he was imprisoned by the Duke of Austria (see the article on Wiener Neustadt on the result of the king′s imprisonment).
Most of Friesach′s charm is thus derived from its medieval architecture. For sightseeing, start at the Hauptplatz or main square. The 16th century Renaissance fountain doesn′t blend in that well, but at least it is more attractive than the rather plain and unspectacular parish church. The Dominican Church has some interesting interiors, mostly Gothic and seriously old. There is the famous Friesach Madonna from 1320 and an altar from 1500.
Strolling around the town, you will find many buildings from pre-1500 as well as parts of the medieval fortifications. This is where proper sightseeing kicks in: On the Petersberg Hill you will find the preserved 13th century keep of a castle, which now houses the Stadtmuseum or Town Museum. It has an exhibition on the town′s history (surprise), but also some fine examples of Gothic art produced by local artists and some pieces of folk culture from Carinthia.