Karnburg/Krnski grad and the Carantanians

The pretty village of Karnburg is situated at the foot of mount Ulrichsberg in the north of Klagenfurt. Slightly elevated on a small high plateau above the Zollfeld - Carinthia's cultural and political heartland - the view from here reaches far over the country. A long time ago, during the 7th and 8th centuries AD, Karnburg was a center of power from which the Slavs ruled over their principality Carantania. Even after the Slavs lost their sovereignty to the Bavarians in 772, Karnburg was maintained as a palatine palace until the 10th century.

The Carantanians were important for the shaping of the future Carinthia because they constituted the first sovereign principality within the boundaries of the former Roman Noricum after the migration period. They consisted of migrated tribes of Alpine Slavs who formed the ruling class. In Latin sources of the 7th century they were called "Carantani" from which derives the name "Carantanians", but you can also find the term "Sclavi" (used for slaves as well as for Slavs) in old documents. In Germanic linguistic usage however, the term "Winedi" or "Windisch" used to be common. Even today, in Carinthian "Windisch" denotes Slavic or Slovenian.

It would be wrong, however, to think of the Carantanians as one homogeneous tribe. Over time they mingled with Romans, with Romanized Celts and with Teutons who settled in the area during the migration period. In the course of the 8th century, the Carantanians gradually lost their independency to the Bavarians, who in turn, were incorporated in the huge Franconian empire of Charles the Great in 788.

The Carantanian leaders and their families were the first ones to be Christianized by the Bavarians, to be followed later by the rest of the population. Nothing is handed down about the pagan cults of the Carantanians, such as the names of their deities. Depictions of their pagan gods were seen by the missionaries as the devil's work, as idols, and therefore demolished. Only a few have survived that fate.

At Karnburg's palatine church St. Peter and Paul no evidence of any pagan cults of the Carantanians can be found. Built in the 9th century AD, the church is the only preserved part of the palatine palace and it is one of Austria's oldest churches. The simple hall church is connected with a smaller chapel, the Gothic Annakapelle. Most noticeable are the many reused Roman fragments which were built into the church's exterior. They originate from Virunum, the abandoned capital of the Roman Province of Noricum, which is in the vicinity of Karnburg.

Does a tomb slab at the nearby St. Peter am Bichl - where Carolingian wickerwork of astonishing quality is also integrated into the facade of the church - give a hint of how we should imagine Carantanian idols. The tomb slab, which was built into the south-facing wall, looking towards the church's cemetery, shows a long stalk supporting a wheel cross containing two primitive faces. Could this tomb slab be a link to steles with multiple faces, such as are documented in other pre-Christian east-Slavian areas, and the beginning of the early Romanesque period from the 9th or 10th centuries AD.

Catholic Church St. Peter and Paul, Karnburg
Pfalzstr. 8
9063 Maria Saal

St. Peter am Bichl
Daughter Church of the Catholic Church of Zweikirchen
Zweikirchen 15
9556 Liebenfels

Restaurant recommendation:

Landgasthaus Moser
Arnulfstr. 1, 9063 Karnburg
Phone: 04223 - 322 22
Click here for further details.

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