Feistritz an der Gail / Bistrica na Zilj
Getting off the main road, this hike offers beautiful panoramic views from the onset, especially of the village square which is marked by a powerful lemon tree, a symbol of Slovenian culture. This area was first inhabited by rich peasants and waggoners who quickly founded several inns. The beautifully renovated “Gasthof Alte Post” presents a romantic glimpse into the past. The roots of the inn find themselves all the way back in the 16th century when it was founded by Jannach Franz, a jack of all trades who had his hands in most of the local industries. The proficient businessman also donated church bells to the village. His work did not end here- he also introduced 16 children into the world. The Gasthof Alte Post is not only a culinary hotspot, it also introduces its guests to a fascinating intersection of German, Slovenian and Roman culture.
The village was first documented in the 11th century and into a horse breeding hotspot following the Dobratsch-Landslide of 1348. The village’s first church was destroyed by a flood, which explains why the present-day church sits upon the rocky floor above the town center. The Gothic-styled building has a baroque marble altar and a beautiful Madonna and Child statue from the late Gothic period. The church tower is visible from afar with its striking spire.
Once per year Freistriz hosts a traditional „Kufenstechen“ event, a Gail Valley rite of passage in which courageous young men ride horses bareback with iron clubs. At the end of their ride, they ask young women to dance. The spectacle attracts thousands of visitors and is the highlight of the Gail Valley fair.
Built in the 19th century, this is the oldest wooden bridge in Carinthia, spanning the romantic Feistritz River Gorge below the church.
A jewel of architecture is waiting to be seen west of Achomitz. There are two so-called “Doppelharpfen, slow-doplarji,” that served the purpose of storing mowed grass. This type of structure is only found in southern Carinthia and northern Slovenia. The “doplar” is a construction made out of two simple wall bars that are set on the roof. This is one of the origins of covered agriculture. Its stability is due to the construction of wooden truss-like compounds that are a testament to the skill of the carpenters.
Just like Saak and Feistritz, this village is characterized by a dense center that is beautifully paved. The exemplary architecture is also displayed through the historic districts of houses. Achomitz became well-known because of the famous ski-jumper and Olympic champion, Karl Schnabl, who discovered his talents on the natural ski jump in the village. The village is also home to a Slovenian Cultural Association that significantly contributed to the forging of Slovenian identity in the lower Gail Valley.
The village is situated on a hill above the main road- the „Maria Named” (Holy Name) stately church is immediately noticeable. The late-Gothic building is surrounded by the remains of a fortified wall, has a multi-colored church steeple and a large fresco on the northern wall. The Church was destroyed by the Turks in 1478 and restored in 1500. Inside you will find a magnificent altar and a beautiful “Woman of the Apocalypse” painting from the 16th century. Even older is the statue of St. Florian which probably dates back to the founding days of the Church. Under the conserved monument is the stately parsonage, a two story baroque building, whose windows are partially fitted with iron wings. There are several lime trees and farms nearby, resulting in a cozy feeling. It would be difficult to find a more welcoming inn than the one next-door.
Der Ort erstreckt sich über einen Hügelkamm abseits der Hauptstraße und fügt sich harmonisch in einen besonders lieblichen Abschnitt des Unteren Gailtals. Schon vor 2.000 Jahren führte hier eine Römerstraße vorbei, und schon im 6. Jahrhundert siedelten sich die ersten slawischen Bauern an. Die erste Nennung erfolgte im 12. Jahrhundert unter der Bezeichung Kostridah. Den heutigen (deutschen) Namen verdankt das Dorf dem ungewöhnlich wuchtigen Turm der dem heiligen Cyriacus geweihten Dorfkirche aus dem 13. Jahrhundert. Von seiner Spitze wurden einst Feuersignale ausgesendet, um die Bevölkerung vor drohenden Türkeneinfällen zu warnen. Neben diesem Kulturdenkmal gibt es einen kleinen Friedhof mit schöner Aussicht, ein hübsches Feuerwehrhaus und eine Reihe historischer Bauernhäuser zu besichtigen. Besonders liebevoll wurden die Gebäude am westlichen Ortsrand instand gesetzt.
A symbol of the settlement is a shot tower that was built in 1814 as the first bullet factory of the monarchy and produced lead bullets through 1975. It measures 57 meters and surmounts and asymmetrical church right of the village square, which is bordered by several blocks of apartments. The buildings date back to the Nazi era and were built for the “Kanaltaler” (the German-speaking Italians who were relocated to the German Reich). Later workers of the Bleiberg Mining Union were housed in the apartments. These were the original organizers of the Gail Valley fair, and their descendants still handle the organizing.
In the 1990s, the village was the site of the biggest environmental scandal in Carinthia. Decades of toxic waste was found on the premises of the Bleiberg Mining Union (BBU). In all, thousands of tons of hard-metal waste and sulfuric oxide were discovered being dumped into the Gail River, contaminating the entire area and making the river uninhabitable. In addition, they had emitted 200 tons of lead dust and other toxins through their chimneys which damaged the local vegetation and put the entire population at a serious health risk. Because of the enormous risk, the company housing had to be deserted, the playgrounds closed and the consumption of local vegetables banned. In 1993 the BBU ceased production. Today the surrounding environment has mostly recovered and several recycling companies have replaced the BBU.
Arnoldstein has been an industrial center since the end of the 15th century when the Bleiberg miners built a smelting hut (for the extraction of precious metal through the addition of lead). In 1797 the first lead factory was built followed by a litharge factory shortly after. The BBU was founded in 1867 and was the largest employer in the area for most of its existence- however, devastating working conditions and low wages led to several labor disputes. Since the 1930s Arnoldstein has therefore been seen as a “red” stronghold. At the local cemetery there is a monument to the resistance fighters and victims of the Nazis, one of the few of its kind in Carinthia.
The town’s Slovenian name is owed to the Benedictine Monastery, built in 1106. It soon became one of the most powerful monasteries in the country, however it fell back into poverty after the 1348 landslide. In the 15th and 16th centuries the monastery was once again brought down by Turkish raids and peasant uprisings. In 1783 Josef II decreed that the monastery be closed. 100 years later the structure burned down and fell into a regretful condition. In the 1990s the “Revitalization of Arnoldstein Monastery Ruins Club” was founded and began renovating the ruins. Since then, the “rubble pile” has blossomed into a remarkable cultural monument whose observation decks offer magnificent views of the surrounding area. The former granary of the monastery is also the site of a nice museum.
Underneath the monastery ruins lays a mostly intact mansion from the 15th century, which served mostly as a post office. In the 16th century it was also the site of a witch trial. The most interesting monument in the community is the so-called “Kreuzkirche” from the 16th or 17th century on the eastern outskirts of the village. The architectural rarity consists of two super-imposed chapels, which are divided in half by the road. The upper chapel is perched on a rock and can only be reached through an arch bridge.