Herbert Knittler

title.none: Vertecchi, Wiener Neustadt (Herbert Knittler)

identifier.other: baj9928.0208.016 02.08.16

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Herbert Knittler, Universitdt Wien,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Vertecchi, Giulia. Wiener Neustadt: Studio di una citta di fondazione medievale. Civitates, 3: Urbanistica, archeologia, architettura delle citta medievali. Rome: Bonsignori Editore, 2000. Pp. 102. ISBN: 88-7597-316-4.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.08.16

Vertecchi, Giulia. Wiener Neustadt: Studio di una citta di fondazione medievale. Civitates, 3: Urbanistica, archeologia, architettura delle citta medievali. Rome: Bonsignori Editore, 2000. Pp. 102. ISBN: 88-7597-316-4.

Reviewed by:

Herbert Knittler
Universitdt Wien

Wiener Neustadt, today a medium-sized town of approximately 38,000 inhabitants, is usually regarded as the most prominent example of a town foundation in the area of present-day Austria. The town and its history have already been the subject of numerous studies and descriptions, which also considered building design and structure. Among more recent publications, the article on the town's history by Gertrud Gerhartl-Buttlar, published in the Oesterreichische Staedteatlas (Vienna, 1992), and the innovative publication of Erwin Reidinger, Planung oder Zufall: Wiener Neustadt 1192 (Wiener Neustadt, 1995), should be mentioned. From the viewpoint of an engineer, Reidinger attempts to find solutions for basic problems of town planning and building in the High Middle Ages.

The book under review, by Giulia Vertecchi, is based on her doctoral dissertation in Urban History (Storia della citta) at the Faculta de Archittetura dell'Universita di Roma "La Sapienzia". As described by the author, she mainly concentrates on illuminating the problem of town foundation and planning, which was of major importance within European economic and settlement development during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. By means of the case of Wiener Neustadt, which sets a particular pattern and example for developments in the Danube area and East-central Europe, the consideration of economic/commercial and defensive needs and needs of logistics in town planning and their solution are analyzed. At the same time, the study tries to establish a comparison with town foundations in more distant regions, such as in south-western Germany and in southern France, and to show agreement with the ancient concept of the ideal town in technical planning.

Apart from German, English, French and Italian literature on the general topic of town planning, the book is mainly based on written sources - very limited in number for the early period -, findings of archaeological excavations, town plans (cadastres) and on pictures. The book of the technician Reidinger - mentioned above - forms the main basis for several questions, even though this is not always appropriately acknowledged in the text.

In her introductory remarks on the development of medieval towns in Austria, the authoress describes territorial and economic conditions of town formation, without, however, making full use of the existing literature. Apart from the necessary differentiation in princely, ecclesiastical and aristocratic towns, a reference to the older foundation type of towns with triangular town squares would have been appropriate. Likewise, mention should have been made of the fact that the area of Wiener Neustadt first belonged to the Duchy of Styria. In the Eastern part of the duchy, the development of towns took place usually in two stages, beginning with market settlements along roads. Finally, the short, though for the building of towns important reign of the Bohemian King Ottokar II - between the rule of the Babenberg and the Habsburg dynasties - is not considered. Her remarks on the particular role of the Cistercians (and the monastery of Klosterneuburg did, of course, not belong to this order - cf. p. 20, note 18) are surprising, as it is without any evidence for the Austrian-Styrian countries. However, these are marginal remarks.

It can be regarded as certain that the foundation of Wiener Neustadt in the thinly populated border region between Styria and (Lower) Austria in 1192/94 was determined by economic as well as strategic aims. An already existing network of roads was crucial, particularly the road leading to Hungary and that of the later twelfth century leading from Vienna to Venice (via Semmering). As emphasized by the author, the transfer of the market from Neunkirchen and the mint from Fischau was decisive for Wiener Neustadt's consolidation as a central place. The customs regulations of 1244 reflect the role of the town in the regional and supra-regional trade networks, which however, hardly extended to Padua and certainly not to Hamburg. People from the Veneto region are referred to, but the author's translation of "Patavienses" as originating from Padua however is a misunderstanding, as the term clearly refers to the German episcopal town of Passau on the Danube (pp. 17, 19); also "Heimburgenses", mentioned in 1244, is a reference to the small town of Hainburg, at a distance of approximately 60 km from Wiener Neustadt. Principles of lordship are misinterpreted, too, if subjecting the city of Vienna to the customs of Wiener Neustadt is understood as a step towards economic and administrative independence from Vienna. As a matter of fact, the name Wiener Neustadt has been generally accepted only since the seventeenth century.

With reference to the concrete analysis of the structure of the town plan, which can build on the extensive and creative thoughts of E. Reidinger, the study is more eloquent. It is probably true that for the extension of Neustadt the rule of Leopold VI (1195/98-1230) was of major importance. However, the original planning was already undertaken during that of his predecessor Leopold V (+ 1194). The situation of the parish church (the later cathedral) is mentioned as key for a more precise dating; the church's longitudinal axis is a parallel to the diagonal of the rectangular town ground-plan (685 x 620 m). Its extension links the northern (Vienna) with the western (Fischau) gate and thus forms the north-western part of a rhombus inserted by the principle of squaring. Reidinger explains this situation of the cathedral, on the basis of astronomic calculations, as the direction of the rising sun on July 6th, 1192, and also regards this day as the exact date of the "foundation". Vertecchi's results, based on her own calculations following Giuseppe Bezza (Arcana mundi. Antologia del pensiero astrologico antico, Milano, 1995), lead to a different date (July 3rd), which could be more plausible because it coincided with the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (July 2nd) as the patron of the church. This can be regarded as the most important result of the study.

In the following sections of the book, the author locates comparative and contrasting examples for the architectural and urban principle of the "veduta angolare" identified for the cathedral in Freiburg/Breisgau and in Modena and Trent. This comparative approach is illustrated by substantial picture documents. In general, there are extensive references to maps, ground plans and old pictures in the study; however, the conclusions remain rather vague due to a rather arbitrary selection of examples.

Clearer identities can be shown by the examination of the frequency of large rectangle market squares with crossroads and archways which can be found particularly in towns of Central and East-central Europe during the thirteenth century, but hardly in the Western German area, as Pierre Lavedan and Jeanne Hugueney (L'urbanisme au Moyen Age [Geneva, 1974]) already concluded. Whether this building structure was exported towards the east as a colonial type or was developed independently in Bohemia, Silesia or Poland (certainly not in "Slovenia" - p. 31) cannot be judged. Jihlava in Moravia and Novy Bydov in Bohemia are particularly well chosen comparisons. The frequent switching to so-called "Zaehringerstaedte" (town foundations by the Dukes of Swabia, e. g. Villingen, Rottweil and others), however, is not adequate, as these do not seem to be characterized by the typical crossroads nor by a system of several parallel streets (without large market squares) either. As has been shown, a formal relation to the bastides in Southern France is difficult to ignore with reference to the geometrical pattern with a central market square (cf. the chapter "Les villes neuves" in Jacques Heers, La ville au Moyen Age en occident [Paris, 1990], 96-121). The evident connection to the Cistercians and their building style in this region, however, should not be postulated for the Danube area in an unreflective manner (see below).

The main square of Wiener Neustadt is characterized by a partial building structure at the western side, termed "Graetzl" (from Slavic "gradec" - fortress) since the middle of the sixteenth century, the establishment of which remains without satisfactory explanation. The chapel of St Nicholas is situated at its centre. Originally, it probably served as market church. It does not represent a parish church established prior to the cathedral, in spite of the fact that it was linked to a small cemetery. This building type has not been systematically investigated by supra-regional comparison, but can frequently be found in market squares of the colonization area, and the majority of secure hints refer to a connection towards elements such as shop, market hall, city hall etc. In addition, shifts of function, as in Neustadt, have to be considered as well. The correspondence of the Graetzl with the "main bordering points of the planned establishment of the medieval town" (Barbara Tober, following Reidinger) remains a hypothesis.

Since the book's next chapter, on the city walls, is based on considerations of Reidinger in main parts and since the section on the tower offers only limited information, as evidence for Neustadt is scarce, I shall turn to the concluding chapter titled "Profili progettuali". It opens by putting the question of geometric and technical knowledge as preconditions for town planning and town building in the High Middle Ages. In correspondence with the discussion of the recent decades, the answer has to be described in terms of a number of possibilities. Basically, builders and engineers were practical workers without any proper scientific education. Several treatises on building did have influence, but their range remained limited because they were written in Latin. Astronomy and astrology were influential as many reports show, describing the connections between celestial phenomena and town foundations. For the case of Wiener Neustadt, the hypothesis of the situation of the cathedral according to the position of the sun in July 1192 won over older assumptions regarding the position of a ground layer containing water (Wendelin Boeheim). This can be supported.

This is not the case with regard to the author's assumption of a cooperation between Cistercians and town builders on a broad regional basis. It seems likely for several southern French bastides of the thirteenth century. In many cases, the economic change caused town foundations on the sites of dissolved granges. Lordship was shared between counts and monasteries by means of treaties. (Towns of the Austrian lands erected on the area of monasteries under the title of a princely advocate, e. g. Voitsberg, do not form a proper comparison in this respect.) Already the assumption of a continuity of quadratic cloisters of Cistercians (only theirs?) in the form of quadratic town squares surrounded by arcades exaggerates the meaning of the formal aspect. Functionally, there is no overlap whatsoever, as the cloister garden was mostly a burial place for the monks. With reference to Central Europe and in particular to the example of Wiener Neustadt, sources give no hint whatsoever of the involvement of Cistercians in the establishment of the town. First, one has to consider the chronological aspect. The foundation of Wiener Neustadt predates the settlement of Cistercians in Lilienfeld by one and a half decades. In the case of Zwettl in the Lower Austrian region of Waldviertel, where the town building followed the foundation of the monastery, the triangular town square counters the hypothesis that urban structures with quadratic structure of the city walls and town square refer to Cistercian projects (p. 87). The author mentions that Lilienfeld was given a building area exempt from taxes in Neustadt in 1209; it should be mentioned in this respect that the monastery was donated equivalents in Krems and Vienna respectively at the same time. Finally, the establishment of the Kehrbach, an artificial water flow established in 1198 serving the moat and the town's water supply, could as well have been to work of Dutch dyke builders.

In spite of obvious strengths of the treatment of the topic town foundation/town building uniting several disciplines, one has to be cautious with reference to several conclusions of the volume.