The city's past and present development was significantly influenced by the area's existing geological and geographical features. The River Mur, which flows from north to south cuts the city in half, hilly regions flank the north, the east and the west of the city and the Schlossberg mountain in the city centre is only a short distance away from the river.
The streets that surround the city centre stretch out in all directions and are connected by small alleys, between which buildings fill up the web-like structure. Seventeen district surround the city in circular formand their contemporary social fabric reflects not only when they were built, but also the circumstances of their growth, as well as their economic importance.
The 'Altstadt', or Old Town, consists largely of huge rows of houses, many of which date back to medieval times and many of them are grouped around several smaller squares and alleys (Kälbernes Viertel). The Schlossberg, the City Park and the river Mur separate it from the rest of the city and moreover, UNESCO recently named this part of Graz a venue of 'World Cultural Heritage'.
Apart from its historical and cultural significance, Old Town is also where many of the town's social life is played out. There are numerous restaurants such as the Restaurant Maroni) and cultural events such as the Steirischer Herbst. The city also gets very busy on Carnival Tuesday (Faschingsdienstag) and during the City Fair. On warm summer evening, it can be difficult to find your way through the masses of people, all of whom are looking for a free table at a café or a bar like the Mohrenwirt.
In the north, east and south of the city centre, you will find the St. Leonhard, Jakomini and Geidorf (Geidorf-Kunstkino) districts, which changed from being suburban to upper-middle class residential areas in the 19th century. As is to be expected, these districts are full of historical houses and other interesting buildings, such as the Herz-Jesu Church and the Technical University Karl-Franzens-University. Geidorf is also home to parks such as the Augarten, where you can find the MuWa, which is the 'Museum of Perception'.
The eastern part of Geidorf is also home to some impressive turn-of-the-century villas. Despite its potential for a residential feel, the areas atmosphere of this district, just like that St. Leonhard and Jakomini, is dominated by the university. Considering that there are nearly 40.000 students and numerous staff, this is not really surprising though!
The western bank of the River Mur, which is opposite the Old Town, is divided between the Gries and Lend districts, the latter of which is known for its (Farmer's Market). They complete the inner ring of districts that surround the Old Town. This part of Graz is full of baroque buildings, such as the Minoriten Monastery.
In the 19th century, Gries and Lend were centres of trade and much of the traffic that passed through the city stopped here. Today, they are known for their multicultural population: many different nationalities have found a home here, there are lots of different shops and nightlife at venues such as the Bang!, continues to thrive.
A further eleven districts surround the neighbourhoods that surround the Old Town. Most of them were once small villages, which were incorporated into Graz in 1938. Although areas such as St. Peter or Gösting (Ruine Gösting) still have a very intimate feel, the majority of these districts are actually modern residential features. Those in the south have managed to cover a vast area, but some, like Andritz, Puntigam and Liebegau (where the Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadion is), are Graz's most important centres of industry and business.
Graz's outer districts, which have lots of forests and meadows, have a slightly rural feel. The locals tend to take advantage of the fact that you can get to places such as the 'Buschenschank' in a relatively short time, either by bicycle or by public transport. In addition, hilly areas such as Rosenhain, Leechwald and Ruckelberg in the east of the city, provide further oppurtunities of being at one with nature.
History of GrazGraz's appearance as a city offers numerous possibilities to discover its history, which has included times of splendour and expansion as much as times of difficulty and stagnation.
One of the main features in the development of the city is its geographical location in a valley, which is surrounded by mountains. The river Mur flows through its centre and an wide, open stretch of land can only be found in its sound.
The middle of the city's central basin, which is only a few metres from the river, is where the is and it is inbetween these to natural features that the city central basin developed.
Graz, which is the centre of the Steiermark region, is also Austria's second largest city. Realistically, it is composed of a number of smaller villages, which were once independent. Until they began to intertwine with one another in the 19th and 20th centurys, their only common feature was that they all developed around the Schloßberg.
Archeologists have found artefacts from the early stone ages to the Roman era in the area we know cal Graz but the the earliest advanced settlement here is traced back to the Slaws in 800 AD. The name means "Little Castle" and comes from the Slavonic word Gradec. Unfortunately, however, there have only been a few archeological finds from this epoch.
The High and Late Middle Ages were decisive periods in the city's historical coming of age. Under the Stirian Nobles, Graz became an important centre of commerce and trade and the Ruine Gösting is a symbol of the city's status. The city centre then, as now, was composed of the area around the Sackstraße, the Murgasse, the Sporgasse and the Hauptplatz, with the nice old town of the Kälbernes Quarter. There was also a Jewish Ghetto in the south of the city, but in the 15th century, pogroms forced Jews to go elsewhere.
Despite its medieval standing, it is the buildings that were built during the time the Habsburg dynasty resided in Graz, that continue to dominate the inner city's landscape. From 1379-1493, the Cathedral and much of the Castle were built and the conflict over land in the 16th century. The city's landed nobility, many of whom were Protestant, made their presence felt by erecting buildings such as the Landhaus and numerous city palaces, the facades of which were given baroque features as time went on.
In reaction to this construction programme, Catholic land owners brought Jesuits into the city. From 1564-1619, Catholics sponsored masterpieces such as the Old University (today a seminary), the Mausoleum, the Minoritenkirche and the Church of St. Ändra.
The most important piece of baroque architecture in the city is without doubt Eggenberg Castle, but the city's landscape also changed when forts were built around the Schlossberg and the City Park. Only a few remains, such as the Paulustor, the Burgtor and the Kasematten (Kasematten-Schlossbergbühne), can today be seen though, for they were pulled down in the 19th century.The grounds that were subsequently empty were used to extend the Stadtpark in 1869 and to build new residential areas and because of this, the inner city and surrounding areas, were brought closer together.
In the 19th century, Graz became had a big enough population to call itself a city and its most influential citizens, many of whom favoured unification with Germany, built impressive buildings such as the Karl-Franzens-Universität, the Opernhaus, the Town Hall and the Herz Jesu Church. On one hand, these were to illustrate the Graz's right to call itself a city and on the other hand, they were to show people that Graz was an "example of German Culture".
As the 19th century progressed, the divide between the city's left and the right, which was heavily represented in the working-class districts of Gries and Lend, became ever more apparent. At the same time, Graz was also described as a "Pensionopolis" because many retired imperial civil servants and artists, like Johann Nestroy to name but one, moved to the city.
During the Third Reich, again proved to be favourable towards union with Germany and when Hitler annexed Austria in 1938, there was much euphoria. The city was even given the "honorary title" of "Stadt der Volkerhebung" ("city of the peoples' uprising").
At the beginning of the 21st century, Graz is a city which is very aware of its geographic proximity and historical relationship to the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Unlike in the past, there is a more open, less hostile atmosphere towards this reality and it is noticable not only in city life as a whole, but also in the city's three universitys.
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