Since the mid-12th century, the historic city center of Villach has been the hub for all of the city’s activities. It is the home of annual festivals like Fasching and Kirchtag, it is the best place to enjoy a cup of coffee, and it has great shops and cafes. Today, Villach is a vibrant city of 60,000 inhabitants. It has grown to be Carinthia’s second largest city and the seventh largest city in Austria. Villach is known throughout the region for its cultural events, its high tech industry, and for being a vacation destination.
Villach has long been an important crossroads for the region. Dating back to the time of the Romans, Villach was known as “Santicum”, a station along a Roman trading route. The first documentation of Villach is from 878 when it was mentioned as “Pons Uillah”. In 1007, Villach was given to the Archbishop of Bamberg and remained ruled by the Bambergs for more than 700 years. In 1759, Empress Maria Theresa purchased Villach and all of its estates, placing it under the rule of the Habsburg Monarchy. In 1050, Villach was established as a market town and in 1240 it was first mentioned as a city.
As a border city between three cultures (Slovenian, Italian, and Austrian), Villach has been an important battlefront during several wars. In World War I, Villach was a command center for battle on the Italian border. During the Cold War, the nearby Wurzen Pass was a battlefront with Yugoslavia. In World War II, the city was a strategic railway hub which resulted in the significant bombing by Allied raids. Villach was bombed 52 times during World War II, resulting in the loss of the railway station, some civilian buildings, and parts of the historic city center. The evidence of World War II is still visible today, with newer buildings intermixed with historic ones. Despite its wartime destruction, the city of Villach has managed to rebuild and become the charming city center it is today.
With its rich history, the city center has lots to offer including some interesting historical sights.
Right in the middle of the city center is the Trinity Column, a monument that dates back to 1739. The column is topped with statues of the Virgin Mary, Saint Florian (the patron saint of firefighters), and Saint Roch (protector against the plague).
One of the defining architectural elements of Villach is the bell tower of the Parish Church of Saint Jacob. Originally, a Roman basilica was at this location dating sometime before 1136. The original basilica was destroyed by an earthquake in the 14th century and was rebuilt in the Gothic style. In 1526, Saint Jacob’s church became the first Protestant church in Carinthia but became Catholic again in 1594 after the Protestant groups were forced out of the city. Nowadays, the Parish Church of Saint Jacob is an important landmark for the city and regularly holds religious services. The bell tower is the highest tower in Carinthia and offers excellent views of the city.
Hidden behind the 19th and 20th-century buildings on Hans Gasser Platz is what remains of Villach’s old city wall. Originally, the city was safeguarded against intruders by strong walls and towers. However, the city wall was almost completely demolished when Napoleon and his regiment held the city from 1809-1813. For a view of what Villach looked like with a city wall, stop by the 3D model in front of Cafe Bernold on Nikolaigasse.
This is one of the oldest streets in Villach and was once home to the city’s first markets. Walking along the street you may notice that some of the street’s names relate back to its market history. Be on the lookout for “Rindermarkt” (cattle market) and “Salzgasse” (salt lane).
Nowadays, the oldest guild street in Villach is a popular nightlife destination with bars and restaurants. On house number 10 is a plaque commemorating the high water mark from the flood of 1882. Don’t worry though, the regulation of the Drau river in 1981 has diminished the risk of future floods.
This small castle was once the local administrative building for the Archbishop of Bamberg, making it the oldest building in Villach. In the courtyard of the Bamberger Stadtburg is a large vaulted room holding some of the archeological remains of the castle. You can visit the “Schauraum” of the castle every day from 9 am - 5 pm, entrance is free of charge.
Interested in seeing more of Villach’s historic locations? Located throughout Villach are City Tour information boards. On every City Tour information board, there is a QR code for more in-depth multimedia content. Use the city of Villach’s free Wifi (WiVi) to access all of this information and more during your walk. For even more information about Villach’s history, visit the Museum der Stadt Villach. The museum is open from May 2- October 31 from 10 am - 4:30 pm.
Chelsea Navarro is an American expat from California, USA.
She has lived in Villach with her partner and dog since February, 2016. She enjoys exploring the Austrian wilderness, drinking Villacher beer and traveling around Europe.