Introduction to the History of the Town of Bludenz

Translated by Catarina Pastella


The earliest inhabitants of Bludenz, who left their mark in the form of pottery shards, lived on the Montikel in the first half of the second millennium BC, during the early Bronze Age. Excavations in the 1930’s at the “Kleiner Exerzierplatz” revealed the existence of a 3300-year-old village, a remnant of the Urnfield culture.


From 400 BC on, during the so-called “La Tene” period, Bludenz was one of the most important settlements in the region now known as Vorarlberg. The finds from this period are characterized by a strong Celtic influence. Armories and blacksmiths were certainly present in the region, as numerous weapons and tools of bronze and iron have been found in the Unterstein, suggesting a trade center. It is therefore likely that mining in and around Bludenz, and in the nearby Montafon Valley, played an important role during these early times. The charred remains of burn victims found in the region suggest that Bludenz was once the center of a cult.


By 15 BC, the area had been conquered by the Romans, making Bludenz a part of the Roman Empire. The residents of Bludenz even began speaking the Roman language, a form of vulgar Latin, making clear the strong influence Roman culture had on the area.

This vulgar Latin eventually evolved into the Romansh language, which was spoken in Montafon well into the early modern period, and whose influence can still be seen in the names of nearby towns, mountains, and valleys. The name Bludenz, however, has even older origins, likely coming from the Indo-European root “pleud”, meaning, “to flow”. From the 3rd century on, the Alamanni made numerous forays into the Rhine Valley, likely using the Montikel to make strategic retreats. These raids only marginally affected Bludenz.


Bludenz is first mentioned by name in the 842-43 “Churrätischen Reichsurbar” (a Raetian Urbarium), first as “Pludono” and later on as “Pluteno”.


After the founding of the town of Feldkirch, around 1200, Hugo the First of Montfort supported the creation of roads leading to the Arlberg, which certainly benefited the conveniently located village of Bludenz. It is possible that that village was not located exactly where today’s Altstadt is, but rather in the Obdorf.


In 1258 there was a sharing of the inheritance of the Montfort dynasty, out of which arose the Countship of Werdenberg. This territory had no municipal centers, and so the towns of Sargans and Bludenz were founded. Eventually, two brothers of the Countship, Hartmann von Werdenberg-Sargans and Hugo the First of Werdenberg-Heiligenberg decided to split the land between them, Sargans going to Hartmann and Bludenz and the Montafon Valley to Hugo. Bludenz underwent the final stages of the town-founding process between the years of 1259 and 1269.


In 1391, Count Albrecht III of Werdenberg-Heiligenberg formed the “Vorarlberger Eidgenossenschaft” (Confederation of Vorarlberg) with the town of Feldkirch, which at that time was already under Habsburg rule. The formation of this “Vorarlberger Eidgenossenshaft” led to the emergence of the “Vorarlberg Landstände” (federal representative body) and anticipated the connection of the region with Hapsburg Austria.


In 1394, Count Albrecht III, also called the “friedfertige” (peaceful) and the “leutselige” (affable), sold the town of Bludenz to the Habsburgs because he had no male heir. However, the exchange would take place only after the death of the Count. In 1405, in the midst of the Appenzeller War, the people of Bludenz joined the “Bund ob dem See” (Covenant upon the Lake), though only after pressure from the Count. Albrecht himself retreated to safety in the Allgäu region, returning to Bludenz in 1408.


In 1416, Duke Frederick IV of Austria was cordially received in Bludenz and led over the Arlberg. The Count had fallen into disfavor with King Sigismund at the “Konstanzer Konzil” (Council of Constance) and was subsequently ostracized. Loyalty to “Friedel mit der leeren Tasche” (Frederick With the Empty Purse), as he was mockingly called by his opponents, eventually paid off in 1420. In the meantime, King Sigismund lifted the “Reichsacht” (Imperial ban) on Frederick, and the Duke officially confirmed the freedoms allowed to the people of Bludenz by the recently deceased Albrecht III in a contract. A painting of Duke Frederick with this contract can be seen above the “Obere Tor” (The Upper Gate) in Bludenz today.


The first mentions of the “Amt des städtischen Baumeisters” (office of the town building contractor) appeared in 1442. From the 17th century on, the “Baumeister” was known as the “Bürgermeister” (Mayor). Also in 1442, Bludenz received a visitor of great importance: King Frederick III, the future emperor.


In 1444, a fire about which very little is known raged through Bludenz. In 1448, Archduke Sigismund “der Münzreiche” (the Rich), passed the rule of Bludenz to his wife Eleanor of Scotland (1480)


The “Spitalskirche” (The Hospital Church) is first mentioned in 1472.


In 1473, Egli Neyer of Bludenz was seriously injured by Count von Sonnenberg. It was this event that led to the storming and subsequent conquest of Schloss Sonnenberg (Castle Sonnenberg) by Archduke Sigismund, and thus the Sonnenberg Countship became part of Habsburg Austria.


In 1490, Emperor Maximilian reaffirmed the privileges of Bludenz. Maximilian stayed twice in the town, once in 1510 and again in 1515.


In 1491 a terrible fire destroyed Bludenz, including St. Lawrence Church and the castle.


During the Reformation, the desire for civil liberty reached new highs. Under the influence of Bludenzer Luzius Matt, who had studied in Wittenberg and become acquainted with Martin Luther, a large part of Bludenz’s population began to tend toward Protestantism. Because of the influence of the protestant chaplain Thomahs Gasser, several nuns elected to leave St. Peter’s Monastery. In 1525, Luzius Matt was banished and Thomas Gasser fled to Lindau.


In 1584, yet another terrible fire swept through Bludenz. Four years later, Barbara Gantner was charged with starting the fire and was sentenced to death—she was subsequently sewn into a sack and drowned. On the evening of November 1st, 1638, the greatest disaster of the early modern period occurred. An enormous fire spread throughout the town—only the Upper Gate, the two houses next to it, St. Lawrence Church, and the castle survived. Two or three women suffocated, and a man was struck and killed. The suspected arsonist, Martin Ratgeb from Bürs, was sentenced to death and executed; after he was nearly strangled, explosives were placed around his neck and he was burned at the stake.


At the end of the Thirty Years’ War, after the Swedes had conquered and destroyed Bregenz in January 1647, Swedish commander Karl Gustav Wrangel threatened the same to Bludenz. Only by paying a high “Brandsteuer” (“fire tax”—a threat to burn down the town without payment) to the Swedes could Bludenz be saved. The Scandinavians had to be temporarily quartered in Bludenz, and according to the Town Council, were dissuaded only with great difficulty from plundering St. Peter’s Monastery.


The Church of St. Lawrence had been rebuilt in the Gothic Style after the fire of 1491, though it still lacked a church tower. A Baroque bell tower was finally built in the years 1667-1670, and the tower remains still today one of the emblems of the town of Bludenz.



In 1682, yet another fire was started, this time by one woman’s carelessness in the kitchen; out of one hundred houses, only seventeen were spared. The interior of the “Spitalskirche” was also severely damaged by the fire, but was later repaired and was newly consecrated in 1686. Some noteworthy additions to the Church during its repair were the artful Baroque carvings of sculptor Melchior Lechleitner from Grims in Stanzertal.


In the year 1744, Empress Maria Theresia converted the “Pfandherrschaft” (some sort of monetary pledge lordship) of Baron von Sternbach into a hereditary fiefdom. In the following years (1745-1752), the old castle of Bludenz was converted into a Baroque castle.


On December 26th of 1805, at the Pressburg Peace Conference, Vorarlberg was handed over to Bavaria. In 1809, Christian Müller, the owner of Gasthaus Adler in Bludenz, got into contact with the Tyrolean rebels led by Andreas Hofer. Along with Bernhard Riedmiller, Müller—unlike Dr. Anton Schneider—took a hard stance on the issue. On July 7th of 1814, Vorarlberg once again became a part of Austria.


In 1848, as a revolution swept through Europe, though only marginally affecting Bludenz, the fountain builder Anton Neyer (called “Bücheltonis Toni”) became the first man to climb to the top of Mt. Zimba.


As a result of the establishment of the company Getzner, Mutter & Cie’s mechanical weaving mill, “Bleiche”, the demand for factory workers in Bludenz greatly increased. This demand was met largely by immigrants from “Welsch Tirol” (“Welsh Tyrol” refers to Trentino, Italy). Many “Welsche” were also hired as construction workers for the railways linking Bludenz to Bregenz (finished 1872) and Bludenz to the Arlberg (finished 1884).


In 1881, the Fohrenburg Brewery was founded, and in 1888 a new branch of Suchard was established. This branch has remained in the same location since 1890. In 1891, a public school (Hauptschule) was opened for the people of Bludenz. In 1894, the first telephone network began operation in Bludenz. In 1895, the first local Social Democratic Party group was established. In 1901, the town’s first electric power plant began operation, and the emergency department of the Red Cross was founded. In 1905, Bludenz celebrated the grand opening of the Montafon Railway.