Cultural walk trough Ybbsitz
|Sea-level 414 m
Area 104 km²
8 district communities
Iron manufacture and iron trade have always played a significant role in the history of Ybbsitz, which reaches back to Celtic times (even the name Ybbsitz is believed to be derived from the Celtic language). However, the real founder of Ybbsitz is Archbishop Wichmann of Magdeburg, who donated the area to the monastery of Seitenstetten, decreeing that a church had to be erected there. This first document gave the names of the rivers, brooks and mountains, but did not contain the name of any settlement. Two years later, in 1186, Pope Urban confirmed that the area belonged to the monastery of Seitenstetten and that a church had been set up there. And this document first mentions the name of a settlement around the church: Ibisitze.
It is a fertile area, and so it was primarily used for agriculture. However, it is close to the „Erzberg“ („Ore Mountain“, a mountain in the north of Styria with Austria’s main iron ore resources), where iron ore had been mined for centuries. When charcoal and food got scarce there, the manufacture of iron moved to areas where there were enough forests to produce charcoal, enough agricultural land to feed the people, and water power for manufacturing. Ybbsitz had it all in abundance, and so in the 15th century, many smiths settled in this area. The farmers needed their products and thus provided a local market. But soon the products were also exported to Germany, Hungary and even to Russia, and there was a real economic boom.
In the following centuries Ybbsitz was invaded by the Turks (in 1532) and plundered several times by Napoleon’s troops (in 1801, 1805 and 1809). But all this did not prevent the iron industry from expanding, and reaching its peak. In 1808 there were 20 forges in Ybbsitz, employing 63 forge masters as well as numerous helpers.
Iron manufacture brought wealth to the area, and the owners of the hammers, who mostly wore black, were called „Black Earls“. They became very influential, not only in society, but also in politics. However, in the late 18th century, emperor Joseph II abolished their privileges.
At the same time, decline started: due to the Industrial Revolution, competition grew, iron products could be produced more cheaply by machines, and most of the local masters were too slow to adapt to the changes. They were not competitive any more even though new techniques were introduced, such as the „Jubiläumsschleife“ (Jubilee Grinders“), set up along the Prollingbach to grind the axes and other agricultural tools.
Only a few forges succeeded in adapting to changing times, and they have survived, developing into modern companies with iron still as the basis of their production, with products ranging from metal parts and wire (company Fuchs), special machines (company Seisenbacher), garden and household tools (company Sonneck), enameled pots and pans as well as pressure cookers (Riess), bridges and steel constructions (Franz Wahler) to state-of-the-art steel profiles (Welser), to name but the most important companies.
Thus iron manufacture is still vital to the economy of Ybbsitz – and also to its tourism, due to the courses held at its forging centre and the attractions of the revitalized hammers and its international blacksmithing events Schmiedeweihnacht (Blacksmithing Christmas Market, held every year on the third weekend in December, with blacksmiths‘ demonstrations and a traditional Christmas market) and Ferraculum (held bi-annually in mid-June). Both events not only attract blacksmiths from all over Europe as well as the USA and Japan, but also huge crowds interested in watching the demonstrations of different techniques and works. Moreover, Ybbsitz has become home to Alfred Habermann, probably the most prominent blacksmith in the world today, to whom an exyhibition will be dedicated in the new museum „House Ferrum“.
Ybbsitz is also the centre of the Iron Trail, it is a founding member of the Ring of European cities of iron works and has close relations with most other blacksmithing communities and events, such as Hephaiston at Castle Helfstyn in the Czech Republic, Stia in Italy, Kolbermoor in Germany, Thiers in France, Ivano-Frankivsk in the Ukraine etc.
The Mile of Forges
Ybbsitz has been shaped by many different influences in the course of its history, but blacksmithing has been the most dominent one.
The Mile of Forges, which is in fact 3 km long (about 2 miles), tries to evoke times long gone by. It shows how the smiths lived, where they worked, and how they spent their leisure time. Eight so-called „milestones“ (Meilensteine) mark the way.
1. House FeRRum, the new museum on Market Square
2. Schaumarkt: the old market square, where iron was weighed and traded. Next to it you can see the Black House, where travelling journeymen can find cheap accommodation while taking classes or courses in Ybbsitz.
3. Dr. Meyer Park, a recreation park with a curling field
4. Sonneck Plant IV (an old forge that is still used to produce modern tools)
5. Fahrngruber Hammer: in this renovated hammer, axes, pickaxes and hatches were produced and sold all over Europe. Nowadays, you can see blacksmithing demonstrations there (every Sunday in summer or any time on demand) or simply admire the old equipment and visit the little museum showing a range of its products.
6. Eybl-Hammer: this beautifully reconstructed hammer is privately owned, and among its marvels are two original tail hammers. It is used today for forging courses, forging demonstrations (held on demand), and it can be rented out for special occasions as an out-of-the-ordinary setting for birthday parties, weddings and the like.
7. Schleifen in der Noth: a reconstructed grinder along the Prollingbach shows how axes and weapons used to be ground, using water power to turn the big grinders. Close to it is the Adventure Bridge, a modern steel construction, spanning the Prollingbach in a bold curve and providing an excellent view of the waterfalls.
8. Einödhammer: another privately-owned hammer, which marks the end of the Mile of Forges and has an interesting modern weirbridge.
Scenic route around Ybbsitz
The Market Square with its fontain was redesigned as the centre of Ybbsitz in 1996. It is the starting point of the scenic route, which consists of different parts, ranging from long to short, easy to a bit more demanding. All routes, however, give you an insight into the traditions and history of the area.
The first scenic route takes you to „Kreuzstöckl“, a little chapel on a hill, which offers a wonderful view of the centre of Ybbsitz. Then you walk past the sculpture "Futura"“through the "Erholungswald " (recreation forest with plaques giving information on different trees) to Dr. Meyer Park (a leisure park with playgounds for children and a curling field). Then you follow the Mile of Forges along the brook Prollingbach as far as Fahrgruber Hammer, but leave it there to walk up the slopes of the Prochenberg to the goldfish pond with yet another interesting sculpture in its centre. It is a popular resting place for families because of its adjacent playgound. You can either return to the centre of Ybbsitz or continue further up through the woods to the Waldkapelle (Forest chapel), which offers you a breathtaking view of Ybbsitz.
A second route takes you along the new residential parts of Ybbsitz to meadows where cattle are grazing peacefully with their cowbells chiming, into yet other woods and finally to the „Pensioner’s Glacier, which is no glacier at all, but a leisurely walk through an untouched forest to another residential part of Ybbsitz.
A third route goes along the river Ybbs past some beautiful old houses, the railway station, the cemetary (with many interesting forged crosses to mark the graves) to the outdoor swimming pool with its bathing beach along the river, its slide, the playgound and a beach volleyball field.
Panoramic scenic route
The panoramic walking route runs along the top of the mountain range to the north of Ybbsitz. It gives you wonderful views to the north, with its many apple and pear trees that are so typical for the „Cider Quarter“ and with the beautiful pilgrimage church Sonntagberg, as well as to the south with the peaks of the Lower Alps. Along the way you can marvel at the old farm Ekamp with its thatched roof, its tiny windows and the small rooms with low ceilings and stop for a typical farm snack, a glass of „Most“ (a type of cider) or a shot of schnapps at one of the welcoming farmhouses, e.g. Klein-Eibenberg.
The most popular mountain for hiking is the Prochenberg, 1,123 metres high. On top, you find one of the oldest mountain refuge huts of Austria, where you can enjoy some typical Austrian food and a cold drink – unfortunately only on Sundays and public holidays from May to October (in July and August on Saturdays and Sundays). The nearby observation tower again offers a phantastic view of the Lower Alps and the whole region. Other hiking trips might take you to Maisberg and Friesling – Alm (a typical Austrian mountain hut, where you can enjoy milk and other dairy products).
One of the most popular pilgrimage and wedding churches of the Cider Quarter, this little church lies on a hill, some way off the main roads.
Sports and spare time activities
Sports lovers enjoy the numerous mountainbike trails ranging in difficulty from simple ones to trails for experienced bikers only. For a more leisurely biking tour we recommand the marked cycle path to Waidhofen.
Riding enthusiasts can go to the riding stables on Gut Theuretzbach with an indoor and outdoor riding arena, where riding lessons are offered for all levels. It is set in a remote valley with untouched nature and phantastic walking paths away from the hustle of modern times.
In winter the wintersports centre Prolling offers cross-country trails as well as skilifts for children in a wonderful unspoilt high valley. There is also a ski rental, and the farms along the runs offer the possibility for a stop to get a refreshment or simply to warm up with a glass of hot tea laced with a generous shot of schnapps.