Broad and busy, Herrengasse is the main street through the inner city. It begins at the Der Platz Am Eisernen Tor (“Place at the Iron Gate”), where the former city gate once stood, and ends at the Hauptplatz and its tram station.
It’s a good place to start your meanderings. The main tourist information office is halfway up the street, at #16 Herrengasse, close by the Landhaus Courtyard and the Painted House. You can also purchase tickets and gain access to the Styrian Armory through this office.
St. Florian watches over chimney sweeps, firefighters, and soapmakers. (Note the fire bucket in his left hand.)
Born in the 3rd century, Florian was a successful Roman commander and proto-Austrian (his birthplace is in Sankt Pölten). His job was quench any flames – figurative or literal – that might arise in the province of Noricum.
He took the instructions to heart. During his time of command, he transformed a crack squad of soldiers into a world-class firefighting brigade.
When word reached Rome that Florian was not persecuting Christians with sufficient zeal, Aquilinus was sent to Noricum. Not only did Florian refuse to apologize to the Emperor, he refused to renounce his principles of mercy. His punishment was death.
At first, Aquilinus planned to burn him at the stake. Florian’s response to the soldiers holding the torches?
“If you do, I will climb to heaven on the flames.”
Spooked, the Emperor’s missives reverted to water. They threw Florian into the Enns River with a millstone around his neck.
German-speaking people still appeal – somewhat ironically – to Florian today, using the Sankt-Florians-Prinzip:
O heiliger Sankt Florian, verschon’ mein Haus, zünd’ and’re an!
“O Holy St. Florian, please spare my house, set fire to another one!”
In Germany and Austria, Florian is the universal call sign for fire trucks, fire stations, and, on occasion, firemen.
Hidden in Graz’s Parish Church is a damning indictment of 20th century fascism. Take a close look at the stained glass window in the chancel. You’ll see 2 familiar figures – Hitler and Mussolini – among the torturers of Christ at the crucifixion.
Their place in hell was guaranteed by Albert Birkle, a German-born artist whose art had been denounced as “degenerate” by the Nazis. After the church’s Gothic stained glass was destroyed in World War II, Birkle was asked to provide a replacement. He didn’t hesitate.
You’ll find a similar scene in the stained glass window of the Martinskirche in Landshut. Created in A.D. 1946, it shows Hitler and his henchmen acting as executioners during the martyrdom of St. Kastulus.
Kepler Bonus: On the last day of July in 1600, Archduke Ferdinand ordered every man, woman and child in Graz to attend Catholic Mass. As part of his counter-reformation efforts, Ferdinand insisted that the entire city to bow to his will.
A 100+ recalcitrant Protestants did not appear. Some promised to convert to Catholicism; others remained “disobedient.” Johannes Kepler, the famous mathematician and astronomer, was one of the latter. He was banished in August.
Although they may appear like the products of a modern tanning bed, the Greco-Roman gods and goddesses on #7 Herrengasse are the work of the Baroque painter, Johann Mayer.
Until A.D. 1450, when Graz Castle was built, Herzoghof (“Duke’s Court”) was the seat of the Dukes of Styria. Later in its life, Herzoghof was used by the Habsburgs to conduct official business.
Art Bonus: Mayer was following in the “brushmarks” of Giovanni Pietro de Pomis, the court painter of Emperor Ferdinand II and architect of Ferdinand’s grandiose Mausoleum. De Pomis first painted the building in A.D. 1600.
Fans of outdoor art can also look for the Murinsel, the “House of the Black and White Stripes” on Wielandgasse, the Lichtswert sculpture, old floral frescoes on the wall of Graz Castle (above the Jewish grave marker), the Landplagenbild on the side of the Dom, and – of course – graffiti.