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WOLFSBERG - the City in Paradise


The architectural monuments and places of interest in Wolfsberg’s old town bear witness to a rich history. The finest examples are to be found around Hoher Platz square.

The old town houses (Bürgerhäuser) date back to the 15th and 16th centuries, and some of their late gothic portals, renaissance windows and romantic balconies still remain today. In recent decades they have been lovingly restored by their owners. The baroque column dedicated to the Virgin Mary (Mariensäule) to be found in the middle of Hoher Platz square is five metres high and recalls the great plague of the modern era.

Wolfsberg Castle (Schloss Wolfsberg), perched high above the town’s rooftops, remains a visible symbol of the town’s vibrant history. Owned by the diocese of Bamberg from the 11th century onwards, the castle was sold to Count Hugo Henckel von Donnersmarck in 1846, who had the building rebuilt in English Tudor style according to plans by Viennese architects Johann Romano and August Schwendenwein. Today the castle is the property of Kärntner Montanindustrie GmbH and since the 1990s has increasingly been used as a cultural and exhibition centre.

Other historic buildings in Wolfsberg include Bayerhofen Castle (Schloss Bayerhofen), which was once the Lavant Valley’s stronghold of Protestantism, and the old Parish Church of St. Mark (Stadtpfarrkirche St. Markus), which dates back to the 13th century. This venerable place of worship has a 72-metre tower and houses precious items of sacred art. St. Anna’s Chapel (St.-Anna-Kapelle), built in 1497, is also a source of frequent admiration. It is owned by the bakers’ guild and therefore is also sometimes referred to as the “bakers’ chapel”.

Wolfsberg’s numerous places of historical interest have earned it widespread renown. It is therefore no wonder that every endeavour has been made to enhance the appearance of these “testimonies to the past”, preserving them from dilapidation where necessary. In 1988 work commenced on re-paving the area in front of the west portal of St. Mark’s Church. The flagstones came from the Krastal quarry near Villach due to their colour being closest to that of the original steps. They were selected in consultation with the Austrian Federal Office for the Care of Monuments.

The Church of the Holy Trinity (Dreifaltigkeitskirche), the former infirmary church, in Wiener Strasse was also renovated to save it from dereliction. The church, built in the 16th century and the property of the town council, houses three baroque altars by Franz Anton Detl. In the course of general refurbishment, all the paintings and statues were likewise professionally restored. Some of the works of art originate from the Blutspitalskirche church which was demolished to make way for construction of the town hall in 1888.

There are numerous other historic buildings in the environs of the town which bear witness to the region’s eventful past. Worthy of particular note are Waldenstein Castle and the old Gräbern Church.

Waldenstein Castle (Schloss Waldenstein) rises up from a shadowy slope in Waldenstein valley. It was built in the first half of the 12th century, a commission from the diocese of Bamberg which was already mining for iron ore in the valley at that time. The original Romanesque castle complex saw extension and frequent alteration over the years, notably the irregular gothic-style annexes around the inner courtyard in the 14th and 15th centuries. Today, the architectural ensemble still conveys the image of a majestically strong fortress that has increasingly taken on the character of a commodious castle to meet the demands of a new age.

Historical records confirm that the Ungnad von Sonnegg family was the feudal lord and owner of the castle from its beginnings in the 12th century through to the first decade of the 17th century. During the first half of the 16th century, Waldenstein was the declared nucleus of the Reformation movement in the Lavant Valley under the protestant governor and commander Hans Ungnad von Sonnegg (1483–1564).

At that time, Hans von Ungnad ceased service to the emperor and fatherland and invested a large part of his wealth in a printing works in Urach near Tübingen. It was there that the protestant preacher Primoz Trubar, who is considered the founder of the Slovenian written language, translated the writings of Luther with the help of Georg Dalmatin, so as to be able to spread the controversial teachings of the Reformation in Slovenia.

After the printing works had been shut down, a press and the old Glagolitic, Cyrillic and Latin letters are said to have been taken to Waldenstein. However, what happened to the printing equipment thereafter is not known for sure. It is believed that Napoleon’s soldiers, who occupied parts of the Lavant Valley in the early 19th century, took the Ungnad printing press to Paris.

In 1851 Count Hugo Henckel von Donnersmarck acquired the entire estate and furthered the old mining industry in Waldenstein valley. Today, micaceous iron oxide is still mined there and is used, above all, to produce high-quality anticorrosion paint.

There are also several legends surrounding Waldenstein Castle. In 1669 jealousy is said to have led the lord of Waldenstein Castle to lock the ensign Peter Eckhard von Peckern in a dark dungeon and leave him to starve to death. Before the unfortunate ensign died, he wrote a message in blood on the wall of his cell: “Your lordship, let justice prevail! For you are a lord and I am a servant. As you shall judge me, so God will also judge you one day!"

Waldenstein Castle was also where the Wolfsberg-born Josef Ritter von Rainer-Harbach set a poem by Johann Thaurer Ritter von Gallenstein to music in 1835. The song was officially declared the “Carinthian anthem” in 1911.

Gräbern Church is one of the oldest places of worship in the Lavant Valley. The tiny mountain chapel, dating from the Dark Ages, emanates a special, irresistible charm. Legend has it that the church was built by St. Hemma (c. 995 – after 1044), who founded the convent at Gurk. Described in a forged Gurk document as being a niece of Emperor Heinrich II, Hemma married the respected and landed Count Wilhelm von Friesach. Later on, Count Wilhelm is said to have quelled an uprising by the Görtschitztal miners so bloodily that he went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to atone for his dreadful deeds.

The legend goes that the count took so seriously ill on his return journey that he was weak and frail by the time he reached the Lavant Valley. He stopped for a rest at a farmhouse in Auen, where he died from his serious illness only a few hours later. However, before he died he made the farmer promise to lay his corpse on a cart, harness two heifers and allow them to run free. He instructed that a stone cross be erected at the places where the animals had their first two rests, and that he should be buried at the spot where they stopped for the third. The farmer fulfilled Wilhelm’s final wish — his animals took their third rest in Gräbern.

In 1043 St. Hemma is said to have built a small church and planted three lime trees over her husband’s grave, where several miracles soon happened. Down the centuries Gräbern Church, which is also known locally as “Wilhelm’s Church”, was a frequent place of pilgrimage. Pilgrims prayed at Wilhelm’s grave for his intercession in healing them of serious illnesses, in particular diseases of the head.

However, historians have pointed out that Count Wilhelm could never have died on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The Hildesheim Annals recount that Wilhelm was almost certainly not buried at Gräbern Church, but killed in 1036 by Adalbero von Eppenstein, who with Wilhelm’s assistance had been deposed as Carinthia’s duke. Yet even today, this has not deterred many people from regarding Gräbern Church as a special place of pardon.