Graz's Historical Buildings Walking Tour, Graz

Graz's Historical Buildings Walking Tour (Self Guided), Graz

One of the most impressive things about Graz is its architecture. Indeed, the atmospheric Medieval center of the city, the largest in Europe, abounds in architectural marvels – opulent historic buildings evoking the grandeur and glory of Austria’s Imperial past.

Influenced by the centuries-long presence of the Habsburgs and the cultural and artistic role played by the country's aristocracy, downtown Graz is full of fanciful house fronts that can turn a stroll through its narrow, winding streets into an exploration of various architectural periods. Artistic styles and movements from the neighboring regions of Central and Mediterranean Europe had succeeded each other in Graz from the Middle Ages through the 18th century, creating a harmonious blend and turning the city into an exemplary model of living heritage.

Among the architectural highlights of Graz, which you wouldn't want to miss whilst wandering around, there are:

Grazer Burg (Graz Castle) – a 15th-century gem with a stunning double-spiral staircase; locals call it the “stairs of reconciliation” because if you choose to go in opposite directions on one level, you will meet each other again on the next level;

Opernhaus Graz – this Neo-Baroque Opera House, second-largest in Austria, is one of the marquee architectural landmarks in the city;

Landhaus (Country House) – an excellent example of 16th-century Italian Renaissance architecture, with several courtyards surrounded by elegant arches;

Gemaltes Haus (Painted House) – one of the most popular Instagram-worthy spots in Graz; the colorful frescoes depict the hierarchy of Greco-Roman gods;

Rathaus (Town Hall) – the history of this stunning Late Historicist-Old German-style edifice, completed in 1893, reflects how Graz has prospered over the centuries.

If you are an architecture aficionado, take this self-guided walking tour of Graz and discover some of its most eye-catching historic buildings.
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Graz's Historical Buildings Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Graz's Historical Buildings Walking Tour
Guide Location: Austria » Graz (See other walking tours in Graz)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.5 Km or 0.9 Miles
Author: ashley
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Dom (Graz Cathedral)
  • Grazer Burg (Graz Castle)
  • St. Catherine's Church and Mausoleum
  • Opernhaus Graz (Graz Opera House)
  • Stadtpfarrkirche (Church of the Holy Blood)
  • Landeszeughaus (Styrian Armory)
  • Landhaus (Country House)
  • Gemaltes Haus (Painted House)
  • Rathaus (Town Hall)
  • Dreifaltigkeitskirche (Holy Trinity Church)
Dom (Graz Cathedral)

1) Dom (Graz Cathedral)

Graz Cathedral is dedicated to Saint Giles, aka Saint Aegydius. The first church of Saint Giles had occupied the site since 1174. The Cathedral was designed in a late Gothic style and built in the 15th century under the auspices of Friedrich III. It was built outside the city walls as a fortified church.

Construction of the Cathedral probably began in 1438. In the sacristy and the choir are dated plaques with the Latin letters AEIOU, there are various interpretations. Some say it means "Austria is destined to rule the world" (Austriae est imperare orbi universo). Friedrich really liked this one. It can be found everywhere.

The exterior has a walled choir with buttresses. The frescoes on the facades have been whitewashed, except for the plagues of God, by Thomas von Villach. Chapels on the outer walls, two ridge turrets, one large roof turret, sheet metal doors, walled-up tombstones and a sculpture of Saint Aegydius complete the picture.

The Graz Cathedral is a "hall church" inside, with added side chapels and a baroque organ gallery. The nave is really three naves separated by formidable-looking pillars. The baroque high altar replaced the Renaissance high altar in 1733. The longish choir is behind a tall triumphal arch. Two reliquaries on marble plinths flank the triumphal arch.
Grazer Burg (Graz Castle)

2) Grazer Burg (Graz Castle)

Situated east of Graz's old town, close to Graz Cathedral, Graz Castle was constructed starting in 1438 under the patronage of Duke Frederick V, who later ascended to become Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III. Its strategic significance was limited, so it was linked to the fortress on Schloßberg through a covered passage. Graz became the capital of Inner Austria in 1564, leading to the castle's expansion and refurbishment as the residence of the region's Archdukes. However, with Archduke Ferdinand II's relocation to Vienna upon his coronation as emperor in 1619, the castle lost its primary role and fell into disrepair.

Over the centuries, there were various minor renovations, but by 1822, sections were deemed rundown, resulting in partial demolition between 1853 and 1854. In the early 20th century, some renovations and expansions occurred, and since 1922, the castle has housed the Styrian governor's offices.

During World War II, the castle sustained significant damage and underwent reconstruction from 1947 onwards. Between 1950 and 1952, new structures were added, forming what is now called the New Castle. Presently, alongside the provincial governor's offices, the castle hosts several departments of the Styrian provincial government. While access to the castle is limited, visitors can explore its courtyards and the iconic double spiral staircase, appreciating its historical significance from the exterior.
St. Catherine's Church and Mausoleum

3) St. Catherine's Church and Mausoleum

Emperor Ferdinand II was not a savory character to everyone. He was born in 1578 in Graz. He was educated by Jesuits. He became emperor of Austria and protector of the faith (Catholic). He was the scourge of Protestants. He instigated the bloody Thirty Years War. He achieved his goal. Austria became Catholic. In 1614 he chose his mausoleum.

He commissioned his favorite architect, Giovanni Pietro de Pomis to build both his mausoleum and Saint Catherine's Church. Giovanni died with the church and mausoleum half-finished. Ferdinand was laid to rest in the half-done church. In 1687, Ferdinand's grandson, Leopold, hired architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach to finish the job.

The resting place of Ferdinand II is a combination of mausoleum and church. The mausoleum is under the cupola on the right side of the building. This is one of the most unusual buildings in Graz. It joins the Austrian Baroque Mannerist qualities with the dramatic appearance of Roman churches.

The size of the crypt is huge. The high altar was made in 1696 by J. B. Fischer von Erlach. The ceiling paintings are exceptionally fine. A convex mirror inside the crypt allows for a more extensive view of the ceiling paintings. The sarcophagus is underground. It is possible to climb the bell tower for a great panorama of Graz.
Opernhaus Graz (Graz Opera House)

4) Opernhaus Graz (Graz Opera House)

Opera performances have been a tradition in Graz since the 17th century, initially taking place in a repurposed coach house located on the Habsburg royal estates. The National Theatre, built in 1776, hosted numerous early presentations of Mozart's operas. However, nowadays, following several renovations, it mainly focuses on staging plays.

The first purpose-built opera venue in Graz, which laid the groundwork for the current Graz Opera, was the Thalia Theatre. This establishment was converted from an old circus hall in 1864. Recognizing the city's growing cultural significance, plans for a new theater, envisioned as a hub for German art, were put forth in 1887.

Designed in the Neo-Baroque architectural style by Ferdinand Fellner and Herman Helmer, the Graz Opera officially opened its doors in 1899 with performances of Schiller's William Tell and Wagner's Lohengrin. Despite suffering damage during World War II bombings, the theater was restored and resumed operations post-war.

A major renovation took place between 1983 and 1985, costing $15 million. This modernization effort focused on updating equipment and facilities while preserving the original appearance of the building.

For those interested, guided tours are offered on the first Saturday of each month between September and June, as well as by appointment.
Stadtpfarrkirche (Church of the Holy Blood)

5) Stadtpfarrkirche (Church of the Holy Blood)

In 1440, Emperor Friedrich III had a chapel dedicated to the Body of Christ established in the old jewish ghetto of Graz. The Dominicans improved on it, adding a three-nave Gothic church with a narrow chancel. They also built a cloister on the south side. Part of the cloister with its ribbed vault remains today.

The Dominican period came to an end in 1585 when the Jesuits took over. In the 19th century the ornate Baroque altars were replaced by neo-Gothic ones. Only the Baroque Johannes Nepomuk Chapel remains unchanged. Designed by Josef Hueber on an oval ground plan, it holds the altarpiece of "Mariae Himmelfahrt" by Tintoretto.

Bombs of World War II destroyed the gothic stained glass windows in the chancel. Salzburg artist Albert Bickle got the job of making new windows. Bickle's windows show the passion and the resurrection of Christ.

The new stained-glass windows caused a big stir in the fifties when they were installed. The picture shows Hitler and Mussolini were among the tormentors of Jesus. Bickle was condemned as a degenerate artist by the Nazis and now he had his revenge. Never dis an artist.
Landeszeughaus (Styrian Armory)

6) Landeszeughaus (Styrian Armory) (must see)

In the Inner City of Old Graz, just off the Main Square at number 16 Herrengasse, is the Styrian Armoury, the largest historical armory in the world. It was built by Tyrolean architect Antonio Solar in the years 1642-1645. The state of Styria was often at war with elements of the Ottoman Empire. An armory was needed to stockpile weapons.

The armory today has a collection on four floors of more than 32,000 historic pieces of armor and weaponry, including cannons, muskets, lances, halberds, partisans, swords, sabres, more than enough helmets and some strange-looking horse armor. The Styrian Armoury was a leading arms depot of the Hapbsburg empire.

By 1699 conflict with the Ottomans had ended with the Treaty of Karlowitz. Furthermore, the technology of battle had changed significantly. The amory ceased to be vital to the defense of Graz. In 1745 Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa was centralizing the defenses of Austria. She wanted to move the weaponry in Styrian Armoury to Vienna.

The Styrian estates petitioned to keep the weaponry of Styrian Armoury as a memorial to Styria's past. The petition was allowed. The weaponry of Graz was not used in earnest until the revolution of 1848. Some weapons were used but not perhaps so much armor.

In 1879 Dr Fritz Pichler and Franz, Count Meran arranged the exhibits according to the 17th century system. In 1892 the Styrian Armoury was absorbed into the Joanneum Universal Museum.
Landhaus (Country House)

7) Landhaus (Country House)

The Country House of Graz is the perfect place to kick back. One ia awed at the sight of the spacious courtyard. Three floors of arcades, 16th century gargoyles, a bronze fountain, all these form a Mannerist playground. It is the perfect place for feasts, events, concerts, films and the annual Christmas ice crib.

It is a vision of the palaces of Venice come to the Austria. In 1557 the Italian architect Domenico dell'Aglio, a fortress architect who was supervising the restoration of the Castle Hill, started work on the Country House for the Styrian estates. The estates were done with holding their meetings at different places. They needed a place in Graz.

The interior of the Country House is full of Baroque adornments. The Session Hall has a stucco ceiling installed by Johann Angelo Formentini. There are escutcheons, coats of arms, and porcelain stoves decorated with the Austrian Eagle and the Styrian panther. In the Meeting Room the ceiling is decorated with signs of the Zodiac.

In 1631, after the expulsion of the Protestant estates, the Country House chapel got its black and gold Jesuit altar. The altarpiece shows the assumption of the Virgin. The two statues of Saints Catherine and Barbara signify the restoration of Catholicism in Graz.
Gemaltes Haus (Painted House)

8) Gemaltes Haus (Painted House)

The Painted House is first mentioned in 1360. In this house the Dukes of Styria would give their subjects land in fee and otherwise carry out their public business. The manager of the building was untaxed in return for his putting up the "Prince's chair."

In the year 1600 while a brother of Styrian prince and future emperor Ferdinand lived in the house, it was painted for the first time. The artist was Ferdinand's future court painter, Giovanni Pietro de Pomis. Giovanni would also be the architect of Ferdinand's mausoleum.

In 1742 the house passed to Franz von Lathurner. Franz was a moneychanger. Another thing he liked to change was the paint job by Giovanni. He engaged Vorauer artist Johann Mayer to paint new frescoes. Mayer was a student of Johann Cyriak Hackhofer.

Mayer's frescoes cover the whole facade, 723 square feet. Nothing is left of the frescoes of Giovanni Pietro de Pomis. Mayer's work, the gods and heroes of the ancient world, has faded.

The low part of the facade had Bacchus, Vulcan and Vesta. Gods of wine, crafts and fire, respectively. Above them are Apollo (light), Jupiter (Father of the gods), and Pluto (underworld). Then comes Mercury (business, travel and borders), Mars (war), Minerva (also war, and arts), and Aesculapius (medicine).

On the top row are the heroes of both Greek and Roman mythology. The ancient world had a lot of gods and heroes. They aren't as clear as they used to be. Look close.
Rathaus (Town Hall)

9) Rathaus (Town Hall)

In 1550 the city administration of Graz moved themselves into a rather modest Town Hall, which was also used as a prison. In 1803 this building was exchanged for a newer, classical style model, sans prison. The Town Hall of today was designed by architects Wielemans and Reuter and built in 1893. The style is Historicist-Old German.

It was determined all the houses on the block set up for the new town hall would be demolished. Some owners resisted, however. Two houses stayed in place while the town hall grew around them. The stubborn narrow twosome can be found in the inner courtyard, jammed into the bulk of the enormous town hall.

The town hall was financed through a tax on wine. There are short corner towers on either side of the front of the four-level building. In the middle, the tall center tower has a dome and spire. Niches on the neoclassical facade hold statues of Austrians, emperors, and figures representing art, science, trade and industry.

Inside, the two-story session hall provides space for the city council. The chamber has a coffered ceiling and a gallery. Panelings, a chandelier and a wall clock are 19th century originals. On the left side of the main entrance is a 1971 painting of the Graz Town Hall evolving through time.

Up the staircase to the next level is the Wedding Hall. The Town Hall is a popular site for weddings. A webcam is used. Marriages can be witnessed around the world.
Dreifaltigkeitskirche (Holy Trinity Church)

10) Dreifaltigkeitskirche (Holy Trinity Church)

The Holy Trinity Church is a Roman Catholic church, located just off Schlossbergerplatz in the fifth Grazer district. A monastery, formerly Ursuline, and a school of the Sister Klara Fietz Volksschule, is adjunct to the church on the northwest side.

The church was built in 1704 by Bartholomaus Ebner and intended for the Ursulines. Construction of the connecting monastery lasted from 1700 to 1722. The monastery was designed by Anton Leithner. The church stands today on the site of the former city moat. Now the church is managed by the Franciscan sisters order.

The church was built in the Italian Baroque style but it has altered a bit to the Habsburg Baroque. It could be called South German-Austrian Baroque. The facade has monumental columns, a cornice and a semi-circular voluted gable. The Archangel Michael in full battle armor is ensconced above the portal, triaging the Last Judgement.

Observing the judgement from flanking side niches, are Mary and Joseph. The pediment is ruled by the Holy Trinity, Father, Son (Jesus), and Holy Spirit in the shape of a stucco dove. A thin roof turret on the side of the Mur river closes off the gable.

The interior is baroque throughout. The nave is vaulted. There are side chapels and galleries. The high altar reasserts the dedication to the Holy Trinity. Sculptures of the Fathers of the Church, Gregory the Great, Hieronymus, Ambrosius and Augustine, appear between heavy columns. God the Father and Saint Ursula also appear.

Walking Tours in Graz, Austria

Create Your Own Walk in Graz

Create Your Own Walk in Graz

Creating your own self-guided walk in Graz is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Graz Introduction Walking Tour

Graz Introduction Walking Tour

There were settlements in the Graz area as early as the end of the Copper Age. However, Graz, as Graz, did not truly emerge until the 12th century. The Babenberg dukes swapped hegemony over the area until Otakar III built the Hauptplatz, the main square of the city in 1160.

Otakar was one of the Babenberg dukes. Under Babenberg rule Graz developed into an important commercial center. By 1280...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.0 Km or 1.9 Miles