Happy International Museum Day! If it’s your first time here, then you’ve come across the writing project of a traveling history buff who loves visiting the kinds of museums that incorporate physical surroundings with treasured objects. Today’s installment is all about a really interesting building in Graz, Austria!
Nestled among the Austrian mountains southeast of Vienna, Graz’s numerous, co-existing architectural periods seamlessly blend together and share a lot about it’s rich history dating back to the Middle Ages. More on that in my next post, because today we’re talking one, unassuming building right in the center of town that houses the world’s best and largest collection of historic armory.
The Landeszeughaus, or Styrian Armory, holds 32,000 pieces of weaponry, suits, and accessories and is set up in the way an original 17th arsenal would appear. Austria’s geographic location made it prime for conflict with the Ottoman Empire, Hungarian raids, and Transslyvanian attacks between the 15th and 18th century, so the arsenal was built in Graz to hold everything for battle. Once things cooled down and it was no longer needed, the objects sat unused, outdated and largely forgotten, as the existence of the massive collection in the very heart of town was a closely guarded government secret or spoken about as rumor. Some floated around or were displayed as novelty items, and during WWII they were moved to safer locations to avoid damage. In the 19th century the building opened up as a museum and a testament to Austria’s past.
A few pieces stood out and were explained by our guide who pointed out the stories the items could share. One helmet had holes from the impact of a fatally skull-crushing morning glory strike, while another showed eye holes cut in the wrong place before a second set was added resulting in a super happy looking soldier. Custom made suits were necessary for some, and a few of the rounder suits for heftier (read: richer) men were pointed out. The really ornate ones were special because they were only worn for ceremonial events, their detailed looks expressively made to reflect who was inside. Our guide told us the items in the armory probably didn’t see battle since they were all in such great shape and any defective items would have been removed from the stores, so the dinged ones were overlooked exceptions and great historic artifacts.
One of the few remaining full sets of horse armor is the armory’s most prized possession, and it’s a true work of art. It was used for parading around or jousting tournaments rather than combat, as armor thick enough to deflect real blows would have been too heavy even for a horse.
Going into this, I thought it would be unremarkable but I was really blown away with how much information was available. Our guide was really fantastic, and I loved how he humanized the sea of armor by pointing out the individual suits and making them more than just another suit or armor. You see one, you’ve seen them all…right? NOPE! The tour was FREE and everyone tipped our guide, who was also very friendly and suggested some things to see in Graz. My visit in the winter meant the place got pretty cold so we had to keep our coats on, and the limited seasonal hours also required planning in advance.