Wels in Upper Austria
The important traffic-hub of Wels is Upper Austria′s second-largest city after the capital Linz. Its 60,000 residents are spread out thinly and the town centre is easily explored in a two or three hour stroll. Similar to Steyr, Wels is heavily industrialised - however, it lacks an Altstadt of the size of Steyr. Therefore, most visitors consider it a short stop-over destination. The core of the Altsadt, however, is small but pretty and well worth a closer look.
Wels was founded by the Romans, who called it "Ovilava". Before the arrival of the Romans, the region was already populated by Celtic (Illyrian) tribes, but it was the Roman Ovilava that was the first proper town from around 15 BC: A capital to an entire territory, Ovilava had 4 kilometres of city walls and a considerable population.
With the migration of Bavarians, the city maintained its important position. As early as 776, a document mentions the name Wels (or rather "uelses"). Under the Babenberg rule, Wels became part of Austria. The powerful Habsburg Emperor Maximilian I died in the castle of Wels in 1519.
Some History of Wels
In the following century, Wels was a primary battlefield for the reformation, counter-reformation and struggle for power between farmers and peasants on the one hand and merchants and wealthy burghers on the other. Getting devastated in the 30 Years′ War certainly didn′t help either and by 1650, Wels was a rather sad place. Only in the 18th century, with Austria′s rise to a superpower, things changed again. Much of Wels′ town centre got a Baroque polish and the economy kicked in again. The industrialisation finally made Wels an important centre again with access to major railway lines and several significant factories. Today, Wels, Steyr and Linz form the "industrial triangle" of Austria.
In terms of sightseeing, you should simply go for stroll around the Altstadt town centre. Stay around the "Stadtplatz" main square. A medieval gate, the "Ledererturm" was built in 1367. It is the only piece of the medieval fortifications that has survived. The burgher houses on the main square have the facades typical for the historic towns in Upper Austria. The Rathaus or City Hall dates back to 1748. More interesting is probably the "Salome Alt Haus".
Celebrities of Wels & Surroundings
The famous late medieval / early modern "Meistersänger" of Nuremberg, Hans Sachs, has lived in this building. Some of his first poems were written in Wels. A later inhabitant is remembered more commonly in Austria: Salome Alt was the mistress of Salzburg′s legendary Prince Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau and the mother of his 15 children. After Wolf Dietrich′s defeat by the rivalling Bavaria in 1612, Salome Alt moved to Wels. The house has distinct frescos and decorations on the fašade. Nearby you will also find the local parish church in mostly Gothic style.
The rather small-ish "Castle" Burg Wels is best known for Emperor Maximilian I, who died here in 1519. In the 1980ies, the building was converted into a museum and arts centre. The "Stadtmuseum und Galerie" are probably a better place to dive into the history and culture of Wels: A bit off the Ledererturm tower, it gives an introduction to the Roman heritage of the city as well as exhibitions of local contemporary artists.
Back to: "Upper Austria Sightseeing Guide"