Klagenfurt: a 500 year old Renaissance city

Birgit Stegbauer

An ideal Renaissance city

The fire that burnt the small and insignificant city of Klagenfurt down to its foundations about 500 years ago, in 1514, proved to be extremely fortuitous after all. The city's owner, the Archduke of Carinthia, Emperor Maximilian I, saved himself the cost of its reconstruction by giving the place to the Carinthian estates in 1518. From that time on Klagenfurt had the status of an estate city and was, furthermore, appointed Carinthia's new capital. The Carinthian estates splashed out: in rebuilding Klagenfurt, they succeeded in creating the only ideal Renaissance city within the borders of today's Austria.

The idea of creating an ideal city was widespread amongst urban planners of the 16th century. It has been linked to the theories of architecture ever since antiquity, and became even more popular during the Renaissance, when architects such as Alberti or Filarete wrote tracts about the aesthetic and utopian programs of ideal cities. A strict symmetrical concept was typical for all designs of an ideal city. Everything organically grown was to be avoided - the utopians tried to achieve an overall solution. Only a few ideal cities came into being so Klagenfurt is a rare example.

From 1527 on, inspired by Upper Italian fortification engineering and planned by Domenic dell'Allio (de Lalio), a master builder from Lugano, Klagenfurt re-emerged as a city, designed on the drawing board. First, the Lendkanal canal was dug, which connected the city with Lake Wörthersee. The canal's water was used to supply the town moat, which was built next - 7 m deep and up to 34-38 m wide. The material gained by digging the town moat was used as a backfill to the city wall which consisted of a 15 m high dry-stone wall.

The city fortification had the shape of a regular rhombus with a side length of about 700 m. In the middle of the 16th Century the four corners of the city walls were fortified with bastions. Similar bastion-like towers were added to the middle of the four sides as city gates, which were crowned with coats of arms and figures. Wooden bridges across the city moat led to the city gates whose names continue to live in today's inner city ring road: St.-Veiter-Ring, Völkermarkter Ring, Viktringer Ring and Villacher Ring.

The result of considerable time and effort, the fortification of the city was finally completed in 1591. A little bit earlier, in the 1570's, major construction work also started within the city walls. The three key projects of the Carinthian estates were the Landhaus - a building for the political representatives of the Carinthian estates - the public hospital (Bürgerspital) and the Collegium sapientiae et pietatis, a humanistic educational institution. Churches were built, for example the by then Protestant Trinity Church (today's catholic cathedral St. Peter and Paul), and after 1600, during the time of the counterreformation, monasteries were founded.

Nobility and citizens settled in the city, thereby gradually increasing the construction of residential buildings as well as those needed by craftsmen or merchants. The so-called new city/Neustadt arose next to the old city/Altstadt and it was allowed seven times the space of the old city. Its streets were designed on the drawing board with a rectangular grid plan that continues to exist to the present day. The Neustadt's centre was (and still is) the Neue Platz with the figure of the dragon/Lindwurm. Carved out of a single piece of Kreuzbergl slate by an unknown artist at the end of the 16th century, it became Klagenfurt's emblem.

Nowadays only scattered remnants of the former city fortification remain, most notably in the area of the Villacher Ring. The city's inner ring road runs along the site of the former city walls. Bonaparte's French soldiers did in Klagenfurt what they did in so many other places they occupied: they razed the city's walls, bastions and gates to the ground in 1809. The only remaining part of the fortification system, the Völkermarkter Tor, was torn down in 1867.

The city website is available in German here.



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