July 17, 2011

Der Grazer Schlossberg

Last night I was in the mood for some walking and decided to climb the city's most recognizable landmark. The Schlossberg, which means castle mountain, is a "small" (by mountain standards anyway) dolomite crag that juts precipitously up through the earth right in the heart of downtown Graz and is indeed crowned by an ancient castle. I entered the trail system from the northeast side of the Schloss. It is bordered by a large city park and features a short but exhausting series of steep switchbacks surrounded by dense primarily deciduous foliage. If it weren't for the paved hand-rail-edged trail and occasional park bench I might have thought I was back in Ithaca climbing through a steep gorge.

When I reached the top, panting and sweating (man that felt good!), I was greeted by amazing views of the city and its surrounding mountains as they faded away into the distant sunset. I was a little surprised by how much smog there seemed to be. Still the view was lovely and the cool breeze made the air feel fresh.

Once you get to the top of the Schlossberg there are numerous cafes, historical buildings and displays, gardens, statues, and lots of people. If you keep wandering around the edge of the summit you end up with an almost 360 degree view of the city from above.

Here is an aerial view of that funky looking art museum I mentioned in an earlier post...

A few days ago when I told some of my colleagues how strange I thought this building was, one of the horn players remarked, "Yeah, and from above it looks like a spleen." There is certainly something uncannily organic about its form--thus the "friendly alien" nickname I guess. The building's architect Sir. Peter Cook is also the main guy in charge of designing the stadium for the 2012 Olympics in London...it will be interesting to compare the two.

And here is a view of the Graz Rathause--the main city government building...

In the 1950s the town council thought this building was too old fashioned and gaudy and wanted to replace it with something more modern. They began removing and destroying some of the statues that lined its facade in preparation for the demolition, but decided to put the idea to a town vote before following through with the final act. Fortunately the citizens of Graz voted against its demise and the lovely building remains to this day...minus some of its original statues.

Last night when I was looking down on the scene (and maybe you can see some of the crowd in the picture above) there was a choir singing in the Rathause square. I was surprised how well the sound of their voices carried and it was a pleasant addition to the evening's ambiance.

The feature most characteristic of the Schlossberg is it's Uhrturm, (clock tower). The tower's existence was first described in 1265 and though it's now one of the oldest buildings in Graz it remains functional to this day, housing a working clockwork mechanism dating from 1712 and three bells that chime out the passage of the hours: the "poor sinners bell" (1450), the large hour bell (1382), and the fire alarm bell (1645).
It's difficult to get a sense of its scale here, but the clock's face is huge. Nevertheless, the chiming of the bells every 15 minutes is surprisingly soft and mellow...like an unobtrusive and gentle reminder to the folks of the city that time is flowing, but that one needn't worry about it too much.

After visiting the Uhrturm I wandered through its surrounding gardens playing with the up-close setting on my camera. I'm actually pretty proud of this one...

Exiting the Schlossberg on its western flank, a winding and uneven stone stairway delivered me to a spot near the center of the old town. A couple of weeks ago a race was held to see how quickly someone could ascend this precipitous series of steps and the winner achieved a time of one minute 30 seconds! This is not only impressive because of the distance and grade covered, but is also a challenging test of coordination and balance. The twists and turns to the top are not equally spaced and the occasional stray rock edge jutting up from the surface of many steps could easily send someone tumbling.

Within the mountain is a series of tunnels and caves (you can see the entrance to one in middle-right-hand side of the picture) that during WWII served as an air-raid shelter for Grazers. Today the mountain's innards house an elevator to the top (1 ride for 50 cents), and a fairyland kiddie ride that one long-time AIMSer described as "It's a Small World on acid." I must say I'm quite curious about that last one!

1 comment:

  1. Great fun for you!!! For me it's great fun, too and I'm so excited about the next thing you share! I hope you're well.