Styria is a large, verdant, agricultural state located in southeastern
Austria, where the plains of western Hungary begin to give way to the
Alps. Styria's rolling hills are pierced by river valleys that have
been passageways for centuries of travellers. Like the Danube which flows
through Vienna in northern Austria, Styria's Mur and Raab rivers are
fingers that penetrate the mountains. To go from eastern to western
Europe, travellers, traders and conquerors alike passed through this land.
With no natural land barriers to protect its eastern border, Styria has been invaded by a succession of foreign aggressors. Between the 15th and 17th centuries, Styria faced its greatest threat when the Ottoman Turks launched repeated attacks. Styrians saw the attacks not only as battles for survival, but also as a struggle to preserve its culture and religion. Here East met West, and Islam confronted Christianity. If the Ottomans penetrated Austria, they could open the door to western Europe.
Styria's continuing struggle became a dominant theme in its culture at the very time when Europe was entering its Renaissance and Baroque periods, two of the most gifted and creative artistic phases in Europe's history.
Because it had no natural protection against the invasions, Styria took its defensive role as an Austrian border state very seriously. As early as the 13th century, Styrians began to build a series of castles and fortresses that dotted its eastern border and formed part of a larger network of defensive fortifications stretching from the Baltic to the Adriatic seas.
High, steep, rocky outcroppings that loom over Styrian river valleys were important for Styria's survival. They served as lookouts, shelters, redoubts, storehouses, and armories during periods of invasion. Graz, which relied on a walled Italian bastion system for defense and was established on the Mur River beneath a steep rocky lookout, became the seat of government, the principal repository for Styrian armaments, and the site of the Landeszeughaus.
Styria also had one other natural resource that was crucial to its survival: iron ore, which was mined at the Styrian Alpine peak Erzberg. Styria is known for its fine ironwork and the smiths who worked it are key to both the state's survival and the important dialogue between art, arms, and armor that informs Styria's history.