Steyr: History & Industry
The Upper Austrian city of Steyr is a rather peculiar mix of a wonderfully preserved and beautiful Altstadt town centre on the one hand and one of Austria′s most heavily industrialised cities with arms and steel manufacturers on the outskirts. One thing is sure: Steyr is worth a visit and probably offers more sights than even the province′s capital Linz.
The city itself is ancient and was founded around 980 by the counts of Styria. The earliest settlements were located around the castle and the parish church. For the next centuries, Steyr was ruled by Bavarians until the Babenbergs of Austria got hold of it in 1186.
The town′s economy was based on the iron ore mining from the nearby Eisenerz Alps, for which it served as a trading spot. With the increase in iron ore production, the town′s prosperity grew over the centuries and continued to do even better after the industrialisation of Austria.
Upper Austria′s Industrial Core
In terms of sightseeing, this means that you want to stay with the historic town centre. The outskirts are still dominated by heavy industries, mostly steel, arms and car supplies. Steyr forms Austria′s "industrial triangle" with Wels and the capital Linz. To dive into the general history of the place, you can go to the "Heimatmuseum", the local town museum situated in a 17th century house.
The parish church was built by the same 15th century architect that was responsible for the Stephansdom cathedral in Vienna. Its extensive renovations in the 19th century didn′t do much good to the church, though. The Marienkirche Church is another building of interest, with rich Rococo decorations in the interior. The Michaelerkirche Church was built in 1635 by Jesuits and on the other side of the River Steyr.
Sightseeing in an Industrial Town
You are probably best advised to spend most of your time strolling around in the town centre: Enjoy the picturesque houses on the main square, the Stadtplatz. The 15th century "Bummerlhaus" building hosts a bank today, and allows visitors during opening hours to have a look at frescos and one of the interior courts of a typical Stadtplatz burgher-house. Another one of these is the "Sternhaus" from 1768, in an interesting contrast to the Bummerlhaus with its rich Rococo decorations. Spend some time walking along the banks of the town′s two rivers, the Steyr (very original) and the Enns.
The castle Schloss Lamberg today serves as a town hall, administrative building and police headquarter. The Baroque castle also has a gallery with changing arts exhibitions and an extensive park that is open to the public.
The industrial heritage of Steyr is best explored in the "Museum Industrielle Arbeitswelt" in a converted factory to the opposite of the castle (across the River Steyr). Here you will learn about the rise of Protestantism among exploited peasants of the region, the impact of the 19th century boom on arms trade (one of Austria′s most important arms manufacturer and subject of the exhibition, Josef Werndl, was from Steyr) and the rise of socialism among the labourers of the town. Even today, Steyr, Wels and Linz are considered to be "red" cities, provincial echoes of Vienna in an otherwise fairly conservative country.
Attractions around Steyr
Steyr′s tourism office loves to flirt with the local combination of history and industry. This can be felt by the way they market the 19th century romantic composer Franz Schubert as a local hero (just because he spent a bit of time here and was very fond of the town - he also composed his famous "Trout Quintet" in Steyr) and at the same time sell themselves as a high-technology venue (for example, by organising tours across the town on "Segways", these bizarre scooter-like things that make people fall and break their limbs).
For aficionados of more traditional means of transport, the narrow-gauge "Steyrtal-Museumsbahn" steam train might be more of an attraction. It runs for approximately 17 kilometres to the town of Grünberg. Somewhat off Grünberg, there is a small Baroque church of pilgrimage in the settlement of Christkindl that is famous in Austria. "Christkindl" means something like "Baby Jesus" and is the Austrian equivalent to Santa Claus when it comes to presents.
Traditionally, children in Austria ask for presents by writing a letter to the Christkind (we truly are a nation of bureaucrats), which is why every year thousands of letters end up at the local post office. They do benefit from their name, though: This very post office sells envelopes with the annual Austrian Christmas stamp and the "Christkindl" seal to philanthropists worldwide. Approximately 1.5 million letters each season.
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