Bruce Woelfel reports on Graz's fabulous collection of medieval weaponry.

Graz's number one tourist attraction is probably its Zeughaus (Arsenal), a warehouse filled with medieval weaponry. It is a collection that will catch the imagination of every kid and ex-kid who ever read "Prince Valiant" on Sunday or was fascinated by armored knights and their weapons.

On a late June afternoon, After paying the modest entry fee, I found myself alone in the rather gloomy three hundred year-old building. Not a museum, this is a supermarket of the medieval art of war: four floors of every conceivable specimen of 17th century technology, on floors, walls and ceilings, all looking brand new. The ground floor contains six 16th century field guns, a bronze mortar from 1652, implements and materials for making rockets, armor for light cavalry and footmen, black armor, (breast and back plates), hundreds of matchlock arquebuses, countless 17th century matchlock, wheellock and flintlock muskets, pistols and rifles.

Other floors have equally large quantities of all descriptions of officers, commoners, tournament and horse armor, helmets, pistols, rifles, crossbows, halberds, lances, boar and peasant spears, sabres, broadswords, two-hand swords, shields, and many other weapons of the 16th and 17th centuries.

The weapons displayed here were gathered to equip an army of mercenaries late in the 17th century, when the warlike intentions of the Turks were at their most frightening. In 1683, Vienna came under siege, its population barely escaping starvation through the intervention of Polish and German relief armies under the Polish king John III (John Sobieski) and Charles V of Lorraine. But the weapons gathered here were never used for war. The 1699 Treaty of Karlowitz began the deterioration of the Ottoman Empire. The Arsenal's contents remained relatively untouched for 300 years to become the most complete collection of its kind in the world, an extraordinary window into the craft and complexities of medieval warfare.

Walking back to my hotel was like returning from a journey into the past. I knew that even today a thousand or more mercenaries could be outfitted and march back in time to the middle ages, completely equipped for battle. BW

Graz

Population: 240,000

Altitude: 1,194 feet

Rail Distances and Times

  • Vienna 200 km 124 miles 2.5 hours
  • Salzburg 250 km 155 miles 4.0 hours
  • Innsbruck 440 km 275 miles 6.0 hours
  • Munich 390 km 242 miles 5.75 hours
  • Frankfurt 800 km 500 miles 10.0 hours
  • Zürich 740 km 460 miles 9.75 hours

Graz Tourist Office

  • Hans-Sachs-Gasse 10
  • A-8010 Graz.
  • Telephone: 0316/83 52 41-0
  • Fax: 0316/83 79 87

Important Buildings

Landeszeughaus (Arsenal). Herrengasse 16, telephone 0316/877 2778. Admission: Adults 25 AS ($2.30), children under 14 free. Closed November 1-March 31.

Domkirche (Cathedral). In 1485 a picture of the "Scourges of God" was mounted on the exterior wall - a reminder of the Black Death, the invasion of the Turks and the plague of locusts.

• Clock Tower, Acquired present appearance in 1556 when the Schlossberg Castle was reconstructed. Still keeps time.

Glockenturm (Bell Tower). Built in 1588 under Archduke Karl. Houses largest bell in Styria and a medieval prison.

Landhaus. Considered to be a masterpiece of Italian Renaissance architecture.

Eggenberg Palace. Built in 1625, the square building has 365 windows - a different window for each day.

Opera House. Built in 1898/9. Inspired by famous Graz architect Fischer von Erlach, who built Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna.

Mausoleum. Erected in 1614/1638. Tomb of Emperor Ferdinand II.

September 1994