Murau: A forgotten gem in the Mur Valley
It is one of the strongest believes behind this website that travelling should go beyond the most popular tourist destinations and that locals are often the best-suited people for guiding you to the hidden treasures. One such treasure widely neglected by international visitors of Austria is the ancient town of Murau at the onset of the Mur River Valley.
Murau is a neat, small town - or rather a village - with a population of approximately 2,000 residents. Despite of its humble size, Murau is a county town (Bezirkshauptstadt). This means that there are all sorts of regionally important facilities in Murau - schools, companies, administrative buildings.
Certainly more than you would expect in other Austrian towns of a comparable size. Murau is situated in a picturesque corner of the Styrian alps with plenty of opportunities for hiking, golf and skiing. It is also one of these places in Salzburg and Styria that have "Samson" processions, alongside with all sorts of other traditions and customs. In terms of sightseeing attractions, there are a view things worth noting in and around Murau.
Attractions of Murau
The town centre is small, medieval, pretty and easily explored by just walking around for a while. Yet there′s many small corners and certain spots worth stopping by. The Schiller Square or Schillerplatz is at the core of the centre and triangular in shape. In the Annakirche ("Anna′s Church") you can marvel at late 14th century frescos and Gothic interiors. Nearby is the parish church St Matthew (Pfarrkirche St Matthäus) from around 1296 alongside with an associated charnel house. The latter one contains some more 14th century frescos as well as a wild array of skulls and bones.
The Leonhardikirche is a small church that is part of the Castle of Grünfeld in Murau. Its written records date back to 1439 and was built in late-Gothic style. West of the Leonhardikirche, you will find a small chapel, the Heiligengrabkapelle, which depicts the tomb of Christ. Appropriately, it is equipped with a calvary scene. As usual with such things in Austria, they are elements of a Calvary mount.
The Medieval city walls of Murau are partly preserved. There are also some towers that have made it until today, and there are other, smaller churches and chapels (including a Lutheran one). Murau is very inviting for a general stroll. By doing so, don′t miss the former gallows off the road to Ranten - comprising of three stone pillars and a wall around them.
Famous Frescos of Murau
In the church you will find more frescos, some of which refer to the local noblemen of Liechtenstein. This local sideline of the dynasty that still rules over its own strange little principality became extinct in the 16th century, its most famous member being Ulrich von Liechtenstein. Inspired by an enormous tournament organised in Friesach by the Babenberg Duke Leopold VI of Austria in 1224, the courtly poet Ulrich wrote a series of epic poems on the event, which is considered to be among the most important pieces of medieval literature that originates in Austria.
In Murau, Ulrich built the castle Schloss Obermurau in 1250. After the local house of Liechtenstein had become extinct with the death of Christoph von Liechtenstein in 1580, the house of Schwarzenberg took over the premises. Just like the surviving line of the Liechtensteins, the Schwarzenbergs are still among the wealthiest families of Central Europe and still possess the castle. Therefore, access to the building is limited to guided tours and you are advised to arrange one in advance.
Once every year, Schloss Murau serves as a venue for the "European Shakespeare Days", a Shakespeare festival organised by a Styrian theatre group called "Shakespeare in Styria". The festival tries to bring young actors and students from all over Europe to Murau for the performances. Another cultural event in Murau is the Operettenfestspiele ("Festival of Operetta"); popular, too, but very different from the Shakespeare things in terms of target audience. I hate operettas.
More Murau Sightseeing & Surroundings
If the Princes of Esterhazy got their riches through loyalty to the Habsburgs against revolutionary Hungarian nobility and the Princes of Liechtensteins for their share in suppressing the Czech, the Princes of Schwarzenberg were leading figures in the Habsburg′s endeavours of the counter-reformation that took place all over Styria in the 17th and 18th century. To aid them, they called in all kinds of orders, resulting in a high density of Baroque monasteries in Styria and the South of Lower Austria. This applies also to the Capuchin Church or Kapuzinerkirche, although the Capuchins are generally not famed for splendid architecture or a prominent share in counter-reformation.
The oldest church of Murau, however, is the Ägydikirche Church that dates back to the 12th century and contains yet another array of frescos. To learn more about the moved history of Murau, the Mur Valley and the trade between Italy and Central Europe (for which Murau was a hub during the Middle Ages), go to the Heimatmuseum or Town Museum. It will also tell you more about the two local Princes. Finish the tour in a local pub - the Murauer Bier from the local brewery is served all over Styria and known in all of Austria.
Finally, one interesting or funny or tragic anecdote from the days of WWII: Murau was home to a camp for prisoners of war. Most POWs in Murau were British. When the people of Murau realised that the Red Army was approaching the town, a group of Austrian resistance fighters released the POWs to pretend that the town had already been liberated by British troops. In fact, the Red Army was fooled, and spared Murau until actual British troops came, occupied it and stayed until 1955. Probably saved Murau some rape and looting.
Nearby attractions include the Benedictine abbey of Lambrecht. The towns of Friesach and Judenburg are not too far. Attractive spots a bit further away would be Leoben and Eisenerz, Bruck and der Mur, Gurk or the former abbey of Seckau. Road connections to the Styrian part of the Salzkammergut are also fairly good, especially Bad Aussee and Hallstatt.
Back to: "Styria Sightseeing Guide"