Though it gave its name to Styria, this Austrian town is actually in the province of Upper Austria, about a third of the way from Salzburg to Vienna, south of Linz and the east-west Autobahn.
Your first look at the picturesque Altstadt, set on a peninsula formed by the confluence of the Steyr and Enns rivers, will make you wonder what took you so long to get here.
Entrance to the town is through an arched stone gate, part of the wall that protected the city in medieval times. Inside, a broad square is lined with well-preserved Gothic and Renaissance buildings. Further on, the square funnels down to become the town's alley-size main shopping street, the Eisengasse, and eventually passes through another gate and on to where the rivers join.
Most sights are within a five-minute walk of the town square and for information about them use Michelin's Green Guide for Austria or stop by Steyr's amiable and efficient tourist office which is on the square at Stadtplatz 27. Click the links below for our comprehensive coverage of this charming Austrian town.
Town records go back to 980 when the Styraburg—now Lamberg Castle—was built. A fire destroyed Steyr in 1727, but in the middle of the 19th century a local lad named Joseph Werndl came to the rescue. He began to manufacture guns and Steyr became one of Europe's main weapons suppliers, an activity that continued through two world wars. (On a more positive note, Werndl and Steyr are given credit for erecting Europe's first electric street lights in 1884.) Werndl's company eventually became Steyr-Daimler-Puch, a World War II arms producer and the town's industrial installations were heavily bombed in 1944. Until 1955, Steyr was the border town between the occupied American and Soviet zones. These days the city still makes its living in the iron trade: the Steyr-Puch company builds motorbikes and there is also a BMW truck assembly plant.
After flowing through the hilly Traunviertel region of Upper Austria (Oberösterreich), the Steyr and Enns Rivers converge to form a sharp triangle of land where picturesque, walkable Steyr has stood for 1,000-plus years. Rows of arcaded Renaissance, baroque, and rococo townhouses, crammed wall-to-wall, set the harmonious scene. For visual accentuation, massive Schloss Lamberg, dramatically floodlighted after nightfall, commands the heights of an adjacent promontory. The castle's foundations date from the 10th century, when Franconian-Bavarian Babenberger margraves ruled what ultimately became this northerly segment of imperial Austria-Hungary.
Important Steyr Buildings
Trading rights were granted by Duke Albrecht I in 1287, boosting waterborne commerce (the Enns empties into the Danube 30 km/18 mi north of town). Resulting prosperity goes a long way toward explaining rich details noticeable on structures surrounding the elliptical Stadtplatz. Tallest amidst the ensemble: the slender white belfry of Steyr's mid-18th-century Rathaus, a can't-miss landmark featuring a rococo-encrusted façade and ornamental balustrades.
For late-Gothic contrast, cross the cobblestone-paved Platz for close-up looks at the pointy-gabled, impeccably preserved Bummerlhaus, a burgher's residence long ago, then an inn, now a VKB bank. Of 15th-century Gothic vintage, too: Pfarrgasse's Parish Church (illuminated by a brilliant pair of stained-glass windows revering the Virgin Mary) and, on Kirchengasse, the Dunklhof house with its truly Old World courtyard. Two rock-solid gateways—Schnallentor (1613) and Neutor (1573)—"guard" inner-city perimeters. Looming above riverfront embankments, twin clock towers surmount 1647's Michaelerkirche, its curved pediment adorned with an allegorical fresco assuring believers that Archangel Michael vanquished devilish Lucifer. Inside, altarpiece artistry repeats the Archangel theme.
Steyr's compact cityscape, developed over the centuries on three fairly steep terraces, is interconnected by 119 bridges and catwalks, so roaming around always reveals different perspectives and hidden-away nooks and crannies.
Making Music and Forging Iron
A commemorative marker on the Stadtplatz's Paumgartner housefront informs us that Franz Schubert stayed here on three separate occasions (1819, 1823, 1825). The murmuring and splashing of Steyr's two rivers doubtlessly inspired his Trout Quintet, as well as the A-major piano sonata. Six decades later, composer Anton Bruckner enjoyed a sojourn in the Parish Church's rectory, a peaceful-enough time for him to play the organ and complete his monumental A-major Sixth Symphony.
Considering those tuneful grace notes and the picture-perfect urban panorama, Steyr's longtime industrial prominence might come as a surprise. Ironworks, in fact, were established as early as the 14th century. That led to muskets, pistols, and carbines being turned out by the thousands for Europe's military battalions. Herr Werndl made firearms assembly a leading economic enterprise during the mid-19th century and Mannlicher emerged as one of Europe's most-recognized brands.
Tractors, trucks, and (as of 1926) zippy Puch mopeds have been locally produced. In east-side Münichholz, a plant (open for tours) manufactures engines for BMW automobiles. The city's industrial activity came at the price of World War II air raids, the heaviest coming on February 23, 1944. Two Stadtplatz buildings, hit by stray bombs, were destroyed, afterwards replaced by ambitiously blended-in 1950s structures. Streetfront plaques on each of them tell the story.
Toward the war's end in May 1945, the bridge spanning the Enns became the meeting point of the Soviet Red army's 5th guards parachute unit and the 751st tank battalion of the Americans' 71st infantry division. Two months of joint Russian/U.S. occupation followed.