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Measured in terms of the earliest traces of human settlement in the valley, the town of Lienz is relatively young. The low land can be pictured as a swamp, the flood area of the Isel and the Drau, whereas the heights were suitable for settlement. Two neolithic hatchets, found on the Schlossberg and dating back to the period around 2000 BC, provide the earliest evidence hitherto of human existence in the Lienz area.
The first settlement of any significance, as far as is known, was situated at Breitegg, on a knoll near Nussdorf, to the east of today's town. Located on one of the long distance routes of that day, the ceramic objects found (dating back to c. 1800 BC) indicate connections with the prehistoric cultural centres in the Southern Alpine area.
In around 400 BC the Celts entered the area of the Eastern Alps and a loose merger of Celtic tribes came about. The mining deposits in particular held a magnetic attraction for the Roman Empire, neighbours to the south. A league was contracted, restricting the independence of the Celtic state and leading to a dependence on Rome; by the middle of the first century AD the area had finally become a Roman province, the settlement on the Debant receiving the name "Municipium Claudium Aguntum" under Emperor Claudius (AD 41-54).
Scientific excavations present a picture of a flourishing Roman provincial town which enjoyed stable political conditions and an economic and cultural heyday until the second half of the yd century. Aguntum was also the seat of a bishop who was subject to Aquileia. The area of the Eastern Alps was Christianized from Aquileia in north-east Italy in the 4th century. Early Christian churches in astonishing number were found in Aguntum, Lavant, St. Andrew's in Lienz, and in Oberlienz in the course of archaeological excavations.
The Voelkerwanderung, that period of tribal migration, also affected Aguntum. The battle between Bavarians and Slavs which - according to the report by Paulus Diaconus, a Lombard historian - took place in around 610 must have decisively contributed to the abandonment of the settlement. The defeat of the Bavarians had its effect on the formation of political boundaries and territories: whereas the Pustertal belonged to the Duchy of Bavaria, the Lienz area and the Isel region went to the Duchy of Carinthia. The Slavic annexation must apparently have taken a peaceable course. The Bavarian infiltration, the Christianization of the Slavs and, finally, the supremacy of the Franks over Bavarians and Slavs led to a stabilization of conditions in the Lienz area. Aquileia, Salzburg and the Benedictine monastery of Innichen in the Pustertal - this was founded by the Bavarian Duke Tassilo III in 769 - all became involved in the new wave of Christianization. When Charlemagne established the river Drau as the boundary between the missionary areas of Aquileia and Salzburg in 811, all that remained north of the river for the patriarchate was the settlement around the church of St. Andrew. This shows how significant the place was; it was later referred to as "villa patriarche", "Patriarchesdorf" and, in a document drawn up between 1022 and 1039, "locus Luenzina". The spelling of Lienz altered during subsequent centuries, its present form first being recorded in 1595.
Lienz became the seat of the regional administration under a dynasty of counts who first held the Lienz "Gau" in the Carinthian county of Lurngau. In around 1100 these counts acquired the stewardship of Aquileia, this entailing various rights and landed property. The dynasty then took the title "of Gorizia" and from this new position of might they succeeded in extending their rule across the entire Lurngau.
At the end of the 12 th century, long after woodland clearance started on the low ground between the Isel and the Drau, the Counts of Gorizia founded a "Burgum" here, its layout an elongated triangle which corresponded to the main square of today's town. The major approach was from the west, the most endangered side; it was protected by a castle. With its 30 odd houses, the "Burgum" - it took the name "Lienz" from the settlement around St. Andrew's was first administered by Gorizian retainers, or ministers. One of these was Burgrave Heinrich of Lienz, a talented minstrel whose songs are contained in the famous "Manessische Liederhandschrift", completed soon after 1300. The Gorizian ministers were gradually replaced by tradespeople and artisans. The settlement acquired various rights and slowly assumed the status of a mediaeval town, which is why no precise date can be given for its receiving a municipal charter. The first documentary mention of a town ("civitas") here is contained in an entry by a notary public in Bozen, dated 25rh February, 1242. It is an indication of the town's significance that the old "Burgum" had to be extended westwards between 1311 and around 1320.
A vibrant centre of economic life grew up outside the west gate. Four roads started here and this was the site of the Church of St. John. Not far away, a Carmelite (now Franciscan) cloister was built in the mid-14rh century. The hospital, a social ameniry probably dating back to the 13rh century, was also situated outside the walls. A road led to the Pfarrbrücke, the oldest bridge in Lienz, with the nearby convent of Dominican nuns. North of the Isel was the cattle market ("Rindermarkt") with St. Michael's square as its centre. In a new phase of urban extension in the late 15th and early 16th century St. John's square with the church, Carmelite monastery and hospital were all included within the walls. This was the era in which the Turks first menaced the Occident.
Far away from the town, on a knoll at the entrance to the Iseltal, the new residence of the Counts of Gorizia was built in the third quarter of the 13th century: Schloss Bruck. At the zenith of its might the dynasty ruled over vast areas of the Pustertal, Upper Carinthia and Friuli with property extending as far as Carniola and Istria. One branch of the dynasty acquired the county of Tyrol and the duchy of Carinthia. The Gorizians were able to consolidate full sovereign powers in their territories and they were recognized as rulers, immediately subject to the Empire.
As the capital and the residence of the Counts of Gorizia, Lienz experienced all the changing fortunes of history. Leonhard of Gorizia, the last of the dynasty, died at Schloss Bruck in 1500. Maximilian I, King and Emperor, was universal heir to the Gorizians. The territories in the Pustertal and the domain of Lienz were unified with the County of Tyrol. Lienz forfeited its central position as the residence.
Engaged in warlike action with his neighbours, Maximilian was constantly in need of arms and fortifications, but these necessitated vast sums of money. This was why Maximilian sold the domain of Lienz to Michael, Baron of Wolkenstein-Rodenegg, his councillor, in 1501. He did, however, reserve various rights, including that of repurchase. One of the most momentous events during the Wolkenstein-Rodenegg administration - in 1630 they were elevated to the rank of counts - was the fire of 1609 which reduced the greater part of the town to ashes within three hours. During its course the Liebburg, their newly built residence in the main square, was destroyed. When it was re-erected, the Liebburg acquired the towers which are so characteristic of the town today. The Wolkensteins no longer recovered from the financial loss incurred due to the fire. In 1947 they were compelled to return the domain of Lienz to the Tyrolese ruler who, in turn, sold it to the Royal Ladies' Convent in Hall in 1653. Lienz remained in the Convent's hands for 120 years until Emperor Joseph I dissolved that institution in 1783. The administral passed to the provincial and state authorities.
The Napoleonic era affected the whole of the 1 Lienz was particularly involved. The Pustertal sen most frequented route between Inner-Austria ane rol. Quite apart from the warlike events here, on ders of the Tyrol, the concentration of imperial are troops in the area made high demands of the po In 1797 Lienz was twice occupied by the French war of 1805 between Austria and her allies and tl had deeply disturbing consequences for the Tyro was compelled to cede the Tyrol to Bavaria. Religious reforms, the wretched economic situation, the unpopular Bavarian rule, Austrian propaganda and the emergence of strong personalities prompted the Tyrolese to take up arms.
1809, the year of the struggles for liberation, was the culmination of those restless times. Forsaken by the Austrian military, the Tyrolese were left on their own. At the beginning of August French troops under General Rusca entered the Tyrol from Carinthia, attempting to reach the centre of the province. Stubborn fighting in the Lienzer Klause (8th August) prevented them from entering the Pusterral. Andreas Hofer, the commander of the Tyrolese forces, thus had not need to fear an attack from the rear, but was able to muster his men for the third battle of Bergisel. After the Tyrolese victory Hofer also took over the civil administration as the Emperor's representative, until the fighting broke our anew. Resistance continued until the end of December. The area of Lienz, the Lienzer Klause and the Iseltal were the final sites of fighting.
Napoleon then divided the Tyrol between the kingdoms of Bavaria and Italy and the Illyrian Provinces which were immediately subject to the French Empire. The new French administration was just beginning to function when Austria again entered into armed conflict with Napoleon. In August 1813 Austrian troops entered the "11Iyrian Tyrol" from Carinthia, Lienz being the first Tyrolean town to be liberated. Austrian rule was restored throughout the Tyrol in the following year.
The first half of the 19th century was one of the quietest periods in the history of Lienz. The appearance of the town changed, several old buildings and the mediaeval town gates disappearing. Outwardly, the dawning of a new age had been documented. With the introduction of political districts in 1868, Lienz became the district town, the administrative centre for the Isel region and the eastern Pustertal.
The opening of the Pustertal railway line (1871) signified a turning-point in the town's development and the beginning of a new era. The line provided the first rail link with Vienna, the capital of the monarchy. On the communal sector, the changes wrought in Lienz between 1870 and the First World War laid the foundation of a modern town. Political parries were established in the 1860s. In the period up to the First World War the mayor frequently came from the liberal camp. Various communal amenities were introduced: a water system was installed, a cemetery was laid our, improvements were made on the public health sector and a "school of swimming" was built.
The Great War put an end to such development; it brought Austria-Hungary's farewell and the loss of the South Tyrol. The District of Lienz became an isolated part of the Federal Province of the Tyrol. Even after the worst post-War misery had been overcome, it was no longer possible to recapture the auspicious pre-War years. The “Anschluss”, the annexation of Austria by Germany in 1938, brought great upheavals in all spheres of life. An undeniable enthusiasm shown by wide sections of the population in the town of Lienz, hopeful of economic improvements, soon gave way to disillusion. The Lienz district was separated from the Tyrol and unified with the administrative district of Carinthia. Lienz became a "Kreishauptstadt" under an appointed mayor. As from 1st January, 1939, the neighbouring village of Patriasdorf was incorporated in the town. This brought an increase in the population, as did the arrival of numerous South Tyroleans who were to be resettled, having opted for the German Reich and having left their home. With the outbreak of War in September 1939, many Lienz people became directly involved in the fighting and the civil population were not left unscathed either. After November 1943 the air raid warnings became more frequent in the town and by the end of the War enemy aircraft had dropped some 1,000 bombs on Lienz. The destruction was considerable and human life did not escape. In all, the Second World War cost the town 360 lives. The arrival of British troops on 8th May, 1945 signified the end of an unhappy era.
Culminating on 1St June, 1945, the tragedy in the Lienz suburb of Peggetz must also be seen in connection with the War. The Cossack people had dissociated themselves from the U.S.S.R. and had fought on Germany's side against the Red Army and Tito's partisans. The Cossacks were surprised in Upper Carinthia and the Lienz basin at the end of the War. The British attempt to hand over the Cossacks to the Soviet Union resulted in terrible massacres, in the course of which 3,000 Cossacks, among them old people, women and children, were killed, trampled to death and crushed by British tanks. A cemetery with 18 mass graves is a permanent reminder of this tragic event.
After the collapse of Hitler Germany, Austria again took shape. It was not until October 1947 that the Lienz district was reunited with the Tyrol, however. The general turn for the better meant that life gradually returned to normal. Incidentally, in October 1953 Lienz was one of the first Austrian towns to be relinquished by the occupying forces.
It was during the mayoralty of Michael Meirer (1950 - 1962) that the town of Lienz really flourished again. Living accommodation and school buildings were a prime concern in those years and Lienz began to prosper as a school centre, the outward sign of a town that has remained young and has an eye to the future.
Download History of Lienz (PDF 28 KB)
Copyright: Haymon Verlag 1999 - Univ.doz.Meinrad Pizzinini - Lienz Yesterday and Today (Lienz in Geschichte und Gegenwart)
10 May 2012
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