Linz lies on the Danube at 266m above sea level, where the river breaks between the Kürnberger Wood and the Mühlviertel to enter the plain. The withdrawal of the crystalline between the Kürnberg, Pöstlingberg and Pfenningberg has formed a bay, a semicircle to the North traced by the course of the Danube.
Several terraces lie to the South, up to the point where the Traun meets the Danube around 7 kilometres below the city centre. Of these a higher, well-developed lower terrace served as a terrace for ancient settlers. The castle and the western outskirts are built on higher, early ice-age terraces.
The significance of the settlement has been marked since time immemorial by the East-West path of the Danube, divided by the North-South line which marks the shortest route from the Adriatic to the Baltic Seas. The Linz area has been shown to have been settled constantly since the late stone age (Neolithic period). Early bronze age urn sites and burial sites from the Hallstatt-period on the site currently occupied by the VOEST-Alpine are especially worth mentioning, as are prehistoric ramparts on the Freinberg and the Gründberg.
The Roman name Lentia is derived from the Celtic root *lentos=bendable, curving. So Linz indicates a settlement at the bend of the river (Danube), which indeed coincides with the local realities. No doubt to protect the important transport route over the Danube the Romans built a fort as early as the first century A.D. (in the present courtyard of the Landestheater), the first in the Noricum-Danube region. This was replaced by a larger stone fort in the second century, whose location has not been definitely discovered until now. The core of the civilian settlement, which was never awarded the status of a town, was located west of the main modern traffic route running from the Main Square to the nearer end of the Landstrasse, known as the canabae (camp village) in the Old Town – Hahnengasse. A sacred district with a mithraeum was uncovered in the Tummelplatz. The settlement was destroyed on several occasions by attacks by the Goths in the second century, a residual settlement from the late antiquity on the Martinsfeld withstood the storms of the barbarian invasions.
The settling Bayuvarians preferred the left side of the Traun where it met the Danube for their settlement, and two burial sites from the second half of the 7th century have been uncovered at the present VOEST-Alpine site, bearing witness to the multiple cultural relations to the East (Byzantium) and the South (Italian-Lombards). The settlement at the crossing over the Danube gained in significance as the Duchy of Bavaria expanded its power eastwards across the river Enns in the 8th century. The first documentary mention of Linz occurred in 799, when Count Gerold, Prefect of the Ostland and brother-in-law of Charlemagne received tenure of the St. Martins Church with its ‘castrum’ (fortified settlement) in the ‘Locus Linze’ for his lifetime from Bishop Waltrich of Passau. During the reign of the Carolingans Linz was the central settlement of the Traun province with a market and customs, as entered in the Customs Book of Raffelstetten (903-905).
Linz seems to have lost some significance in the years following the restructuring of the mark system under Ottonians (in the second half of the 10th century). Presumably around 1000 A.D. the focal point of the settlement was transferred from the ‘castrum’ to the west of St. Martin’s Church at the foot of the castle hill to the terrace around the Old Market, which was safer from flooding. This settlement under the castle was transferred from the noble line of the Lords of Haunsperg to the Babenbergs around 1205/06. It was probably under Duke Leopold VI that the city was systematically extended to the south and east with the Main Square as city centre, and the city parish church was built east of the main square. A Jewish community was concentrated around the Old Market in the pre-Babenberg period. Simultaneously Linz was awarded the rank of City in the first half of the 13th century, which was underlined by the investiture of ‘cives’ = citizens (1228), the term ‘civitas’ = city (1236) as well as the presence of a city magistrate and a city seal (1242). As an evolved city Linz neither has its own city charter, neither was there a formal investiture.
The city’s growing fortunes since the 13th century was based on economic factors. The Linz toll counted among the most lucrative sources of income for the Austrian Dukes. The two annual markets, St. Bartholomew’s market which lasted four weeks and the brother parish fair market (known as the Eastern market since 1500) which lasted two, started with the parish fairs of the city parish church as well as the Minorites, who had settled here in 1236, and had the status of international fairs at the start of modern times. They reached their econonomic peak in the middle of the 16th century. Their development was enabled by the Miles and Garnishment Law of 1362, which had evolved into the Reprisals Law by 1785.
With the transferral of the city to the Babenbergs, Linz became a city on the margins of the Duchy of Bavaria and was often the location of noble summits in the period that followed. So the Habsburgs signed the contract with Emperor Louis the Bavarian to seal the acquisition of Carinthia in 1335. The feuds between the brothers Frederick III and Albrecht VI, as well as the numerous wars of the 15th century (the Hussites, Hungary and the Lichtenstein feud) tested the city to its limit, but simultaneously brought the community successes in its relations to the lords of the city. The right to elect a council was won as early as 1369, and the right to propose the city magistrate was conceded in 1424, leading to the separation of the offices of tollmaster and city magistrate. The city was given court rights in 1453.
As early as the beginning of the 13th century the city whose captain was based on the Enns had become the administrative centre of the province. Archduke Albrecht VI made it his temporary residence and set up a mint. Finally the Emperor Frederick III resided here from 1489 until his death (in 1493), making Linz in effect the centre of the Holy German Roman Empire. This residency was decisive in awarding the citizens the right to free mayoral election and a seal in red wax on the 10th march 1490. Simultaneously the city was first named as ‘capital of the Duchy of Austria upstream of the Enns’.
Maximilain I and his grandson Ferdinand I often resided in Linz. Both raised the privileges of the citizenship. Above all the bridge letter which was awarded in 1497 led to the construction of a bridge over the Danube, the third in Austria after Vienna and Krems, which led as much to the thriving of the Linz markets as the establishment of a mint (1526). Ferdinand I married Anna of Hungary in Linz in 1521. This wedding smoothed the way for a ‘Monarchia Austriaca’ after 1526. The city also remained the preferred refuge of the court in case of epidemics (the plagues) and threats of war (above all the Turkish wars), but also served as an abode for members of the ruling family (Queen Katherina of Poland, Archduke Matthew).
The first beginnings of the reformation are to be seen in Linz after 1521. First it was the movement of the Anabaptists, who found craftsmen especially receptive. The Lutherans put up their first mayor in 1542, and protestant preachers arrived in the 1670s. The Minorite monastery, which had gone under during the reformation, was handed to the craftsmen in 1562. They subsequently constructed the Landhaus (1564-71) in the renaissance style as a demonstration of their influence. The Landhaus was also the location of the country school, which was moved from Enns to Linz in 1574, where among others Johannes Kepler was teacher between 1612 and 1626.
The Jesuits led the counter-reformation in Linz in 1600; they were supported by the Capuchins after 1616. The passage of the army of Passau under the leadership of Ramee (1611) provided the city with major difficulties, which then had to withstand a nine-week siege by the peasants under Stefan Fadinger during the Peasant Wars of 1626. The suburbs were razed to the ground. The city was pledged to the Bavarians between 1620 and 1628.
The city was to be elaborately extended and fortified at the turn of the 16th/17th centuries. The scheme was not completed. After 1600 the castle was monumentally expanded. After the Thirty Years War the face of the city became more baroque in character. In addition to the citizenry, this was driven by the nobility (the free houses), the church and the orders which entered the city in waves (Carmelites 1672, Ursulines 1679, Carmelines 1709, Elisabethines 1745, Brothers of Mercy 1756), whose monasteries left their mark on the city which can be seen to this day. The founding of the woollen mill (1672), which was nationalised in the 18th century, and at one time employed more than 50,000 people, owes its origins to the idea of mercantilism.
The reform measures undertaken by EmperorJoseph II led to Linz receiving its own diocese (1783), new parishes and numerous charitable foundations that exist to this day (the citizens’ hospital, the Pruner foundation, Theresia foundation, brothers house, cellared orphanage).
In the war of the Austrian succession of 1741/42, during which Linz was occupied by Bavarian and French troops, the suburbs were burnt when the Austrian forces reoccupied the city. In the Napoleonic Wars against France the city was reoccupied by French and Bavarian forces in 1800/01, 1805/06 and 1809, with a bloody battle fought at the crossing of the river Traun where Ebelsberg stands today on the 3rd of May 1809. In 1800, as an indirect result of the Napoleonic Wars a huge fire ravaged the castle, the Landhaus and great parts of the old town. During the following years the now useless fortifications were torn down. Upon an initiative of Archduke Maximilian d’Este Linz received a new defence in the form of a fortified camp (1831-37) whose defensive capabilities were never put to the test, however.
The 19th century brought technological innovations, such as the introduction of steam boats on the Danube (1837/38) and the construction of the horse-drawn railway, the first railway on the continent, from Linz to Ceske Budejovice (1832) and Gmunden (1836). The construction of the Empress Elisabeth-railroad between Vienna, Linz and Salzburg (1856-60) and Passau (1861) created a connection to the Bavarian rail network.
The industrialisation that started in the second half of the 19th century (shipyard, locomotive factory, textile, food and luxury food industries) happened away from the city centre. The rising population was countered by division into parishes (1873 Lustenau and Waldegg, St. Peter in 1915, Urfahr and Pöstlingberg in 1919 and Kleinmünchen in 1923) and the layout of the new district in the style of the time. The erstwhile western part of town received a city-like character through the construction of a new cathedral (the Cathedral of the Holy Conception). In 1880 a horse-drawn railway was installed (which was made electric in 1897), and the rail to the Pöstlingberg with its Pilgrimage Church was opened in 1898 (as steepest adhesion railway)
On the 12th February 1934 the uprising of social democracy against the authoritarian path taken by the government began in Linz, ending in a national civil war. The expansion of the city, which continued in leaps and bounds from 1938 (Eblelsberg and St. Magdalena are incorporated) occurred in connection with Adolf Hitler’s intention of making Linz an industrial, administrative and cultural centre. The development of the war stalled the majority of the ambitious plans, which mainly came into effect through the construction of the industrial plants, residential buildings, with the monumental plans for the Danube waterfront and the main boulevard barely realised. As a centre of the armaments industry, Linz experienced air raids in 1944/45 with large-scale destruction.
During the occupation, which lasted until 1955, Linz was a city divided in two. The horrendous shortage of housing was remedied at the end of the sixties. The post-war period finally made Linz a city of learning, with the founding of the Johannes Kepler University (1966), the Fine Arts Academy (1973) and of a theological faculty. The Brucknerhaus (1974), the Ars Electronica Center (1996), the Lentos Kunstmuseum (2003) and the selection of Linz as European capital of culture for 2009 are the expression of the city’s cultural ambitions, which today – with about 200,000 inhabitants and an area of roughly 96 square km - sees itself as an industrial and cultural city on the Danube.