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Graz Roots

April 21, 2011 By:
Andrew Marcione, Jewish Exponent Feature
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The Kunsthaus, home of modern art

 

From Baroque to Renaissance, Graz is a medley of timeless architectural marvels.

Encouraging visitors to lose themselves in this romantic, fairy-tale locale, Graz boasts a myriad of pastel-colored buildings, charming inner courtyards and narrow alleyways that lead from one enchanting corner to another.

It's no wonder that this Austrian city has carried the title as a UNESCO world cultural heritage site since 1999.

Located just off Jakominiplatz, Am Eisernen Tor is an excellent place to begin exploring Graz's historical center. Formerly known as the Judentürl ("Jewish Gate") during the Middle Ages, it marked the city's original Jewish quarter and led to the former Jewish cemetery.

Herrengasse, which is a pedestrian shopping promenade, runs from Am Eisernen Tor to the structural splendor of the City Hall in the Main Square. This picturesque street showcases a sequence of stately edifices that exemplify masterpieces in art.

Highlights include the Renaissance architecture of the city hall (Landeshaus); the ornate and intricate stucco work on the facade of the Luegghaus, whose arcades were once used by traders and masons; and the 18th-century frescoes of Greco-Roman mythological gods upon the Gemaltes Haus.

Moreover, the alleyways nestled between Herrengasse, Sporgasse and Bürgergasse will lure visitors from one treasure trove of city delights to another.

From the Main Square, it's a quick walk down Murgasse to the banks of the Mur River. It won't be difficult to spot the avante garde construction of the Kunsthaus, standing juxtaposed among church steeples and historical buildings.

Cultural Capital

Designed by Peter Cook and Colin Fournier, the city's modern art museum was among the special features added when Graz held the honor of cultural capital of Europe in 2003.

Stroll up Lendkai, which runs parallel to the Mur, and another work of modern art comes into view: the Murinsel. Conceptualized by New York artist Vito Acconci, the half-opened, shell-shaped steel island contains a small amphitheater for performances and a cafe above the fast-flowing river.

Cross the footbridge over the Mur and head to Schlossbergplatz. The square's backdrop of 260 steps is a gateway to the rising mountain above the city.

The Schlossberg's prime location offers breathtaking views of a blanket of terra cotta rooftops amid a lush landscape of green fields and rolling hills. Whether by the funicular railway or by the elevator, which runs through the very core of the mountain, visitors can reach Graz's highest point and the origin of it's namesake: Gradec, Slavic for "little castle."

Although Napoleon's army destroyed the almighty fortress that once stood aloft here, he spared two of the mountain's focal points that visitors can see today.

The Clock Tower, which dates back to 1712, continues to chime on the hour and reminds visitors that time hasn't stood still here for centuries. Farther up the incline is the Bell Tower from 1588 and its five-ton bell, which blacksmiths formed out of 101 Turkish cannon balls.

A Taste of the Past

After a pleasant time atop the plateau, return to Schlossbergplatz and walk along the river down Marburgerkai to Augartenbrücke to discover a taste of the city's Jewish past.

It is clear that Graz's Jewish history is among the oldest in Austria. Albeit small, the community experienced two expulsions in the 1400s and a subsequent 400-year absence. It wasn't until 1863 that Jewish roots took hold in the city once more.

Built on the corner of Grieskai and Zwiglgasse, Graz's grand synagogue stood here from 1895 until Kristallnacht in 1938. Today, a modern architectural blend of glass and brick rests upon the original foundation of the former Jewish temple.

The Jewish Cemetery and Ceremonial Hall, located in the district of Wetzelsdorf, is open weekdays. Moreover, in early 2012, the synagogue will also house an exhibition by the Jewish Cemetery Project, which will reflect the research that has gone into the cultural and social aspects of the community's long history in Graz.

In order to visit the new synagogue and to learn more about the city's Jewish history, schedule a one-hour morning tour with the Israeli Culture Community of Graz at: office@ikg-graz.at.

Extra Tip: Purchase either the 24- or 48-hour Universalmuseum Joanneum ticket. For one price, visitors receive admission to Graz's wonderful cultural museums, including the palatial rooms at Schloss Eggenberg. Extra charges may apply for additional services.

For more information, see: www.graztourism.at.

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