Historical view Zell am See

Rainer Hochhold about the town square, Vogtturm and parish church

The history of Zell am See

The history of Zell am See dates back to the 5th millennium BC. Although the place was first mentioned in writing in the 8th century, but there are ceramic finds already from the European Celtic period 3000 years ago. A special find, copper pottery from Roman times, proves that already in Roman times there was a trade route to the south. Trade played a big role for Zell am See. The people on the shores of Lake Zell and along the mountains had a livelihood to form a larger village, including cult place.

Plan sketch from the year 1709 of  Zell am See
Plan sketch from the year 1709 of Zell am See

Town square, Vogtturm and parish church

In all the years of its existence, the triangular base of today's town square has never changed; its appearance, however, a lot. In earlier days, even a little creek ran over the place where there were also a fountain and a proud lime tree. 

The market square in the early 19th century
The market square in the early 19th century

Numerous representations of renowned landscape painters that came to the region in the 19th century and found worthwhile motives not only in the beautiful nature but also at the town square of Zell impart this knowledge to us through their paintings. The fountain was first decorated with a simple wooden column that was replaced with a statue of the Virgin Mary around 1840.

Zell am See market square 1845
Zell am See market square 1845

With the installation of regular water supply, the fountain became obsolete and was eventually removed in 1894. The big lime tree had fallen victim to a storm already 20 years before. Thus, the town square appeared a little austere around the turn of the century. Only a lamppost was mounted but replaced by a weather house

The weather house on the market square
The weather house on the market square

The district commissioner at the time, Ernst Ritter von Pachmann, lamented in 1923: „One could cry when comparing the market place of today with the one from fifty years ago and one should not believe possible that a lack of love for one's hometown and sense of beauty could destroy such a historic and honorable image in such a short time.“

The town square with parish church
The town square with parish church

Market square, town square, venue...

Five years later, in 1928, Zell am See received its own town charter and the market square became the town square. Unfortunately, this changed its appearance only a little. It was not before the 1950s that the 'sense of beauty' of Zell's population came back to light and a new marble fountain was erected. In 1973, the center was declared car-free and became a pedestrian area, one year later, for the first time in more than 100 years, another lime tree was planted and since then the town squares shines in all its glory.

The city square in a new light
The city square in a new light

You can easily see how the town square slopes down from the Vogtturm to the church by looking at the window facade of the building of the District Commission. This is owed to several mudslides that have been brought to town by the Schmittenbach over the course of the centuries. Therefore, today the main entrances of the church are accessible only by stairs, in order to balance the level difference.

Fountain in front of the District Commission
Fountain in front of the District Commission

Ever since, the town square has been the center of all town events. Today it is a venue for concerts, markets or parties but before it was also a venue for town meetings, an important commercial intersection and even a place of tortures and executions. Twice a year, the land judge (the so-called pfleger) read to the local people the 'Taidinge': their rights and especially their obligations towards the authorities.

Most certainly, the beautiful ensemble of buildings including the Vogtturm, the church and the former building of the land judge was planned and realized as it is today. However, there are different opinions about who gave order for this project. Maybe the counts from near-by Bavaria that had founded the monastic cell already before? Or even the duke himself?

Historian Rainer Hochhold
Historian Rainer Hochhold

The mysterious Vogtturm

Also the Vogtturm still poses a riddle to historians. We neither know exactly when the tower was built nor who gave the order to do so. It is likely that it was built before the 9th century and by one of the numerous wealthy noble houses. Because of their activities in Zell am See and the surroundings, the 'Lords of Pinzgowe' could have been possible financers. Another theory is that the Vogtturm was built as a fortified tower for an adjacent private monastery. The arch bishops of Salzburg, however, can safely be eliminated as the creators because until the 12th century it was forbidden for the church to construct such towers.

The city centre of Zell am See with view to the Vogtturm
The city centre of Zell am See with view to the Vogtturm

Whoever built the tower, they gave Zell am See one of its most remarkable buildings. In the centuries of its existence, the tower had many functions and owners. Among others, it was used as a grain silo, was the home to bailiffs and until recently also the town museum. The museum was temporarily closed in 2017 because the tower did not meet the security requirements anymore. The building, however, since 1984 owned by the banking house Carl Spängler & Co AG, shapes the townscape and is a dignified opponent to the mighty parish church.

1789: Ensemble Rosenberg Castle, parish church and Vogtturm
1789: Ensemble Rosenberg Castle, parish church and Vogtturm

The parish church

Similar to the Vogtturm, we don't know much about the erection of the parish church. During a renovation of the church in the 1970s, a Celtic-Roman relief stone appeared. In the early days, it was often immured as a symbol for the Christian victory over the pagans. This leads to the assumption that already during Antiquity a pagan place of worship was located at this place.

Zell am See town square with parish church
Zell am See town square with parish church

Hippolytus and Mary

It is very likely, that the monastic cell that gave the name to Zell am See, was founded by a Bavarian noble family in the 8th century AD. The church to the monastery was very likely located at the same place as today. It is dedicated to Saint Hippolytus of Rome, a saint that only rarely appears as a saint in Austria and is better known in the Bajuwaric area. Next to today's parish church, the monastery church at the time, there was another (people's) church, dedicated to 'St Mary in the Wood'. This church however, fell victim to the big fire of 1770 and was not reconstructed. The small chapel 'Marienkapelle', built four years later at the same place, reminds of the church.

Marienkapelle
Marienkapelle

Another impressive tower

The parish church delights not only with its mysterious history but also with its mix of styles including Roman and Gothic elements. Between the 9th and the 15th century, the church was converted and re-built several times. The big west tower was presumable constructed at the end of the 15th century and on behalf of the arch bishop Leonhard von Keutschach from Salzburg. Only in 1480, the region Pinzgau was eventually assigned to the archdiocese of Salzburg and the generous west tower could have been a symbol for the from then on reigning power of the arch bishop.

the parish church once and now
the parish church once and now
Zell am See–Kaprun