Pagans In Tirol: Bergisel

(Source: Bing Maps)

Fellow blogger Zeitspringer recently bemoaned the fact that the sacrificial burning site in Gauting, Bavaria, has little information about it posted in the Web, and nothing at the site itself, and contrasts that lack of information with the excellent resources about the Goldbichl here in Tirol. While he is right to wish for more in Bavaria, I offer up here a similar site which has been all but forgotten, on the large hill here known as Bergisel.

Bergisel is known today as the site of one of the “Four Hills” ski jumps (and a very nice one at that). Historically, it’s connected with Andreas Hofer and the battles fought there in the early 1800s, and as the location of the new Tirol Panorama Museum. There is also a pretty trail along the Sill Gorge, on the back side of the hill. But there are other interesting things about it.
Bergisel was in fact known to be a significant archaeological site, if at first only the northern spur, since at least the 1840s. The partial collection of a large treasure find is housed in the Tirol State Museum Ferdinandeum, the other part having been “carried off by the wagonful and sold by weight to bellmakers.” The exact location of the discovery was not given, however the most likely place is the current site of the Kaiserjäger Museum, as that was the only area where extensive digging and construction had been conducted at the time.

Deposits of ritual offerings have been found in other parts of the Alps, for example in nearby Fliess, west of Innsbruck. These offerings were destroyed, smashed, bent or cut into pieces, but are rarely found with burn marks. In Ancient Greece, cult images were draped with fabrics which had to be replaced periodically. Holy apparel and it’s trimmings, such as metal clasps, could not simply be thrown out, and so chambers were dug into the earth on or near sacred ground, where these items could be deposited. A tour around the early history exhibits in the basement of the Ferdinandeum will show a large number of these clasps having been found all over Tirol, which points to a similar practice. Also — in prehistoric graves found north of the Alps, the dead were outfitted in their finest, including metal objects such as clasps and armbands. The inhabitants of Tirol did not do this, which leads to the idea that their belongings were then offered to their deities for the common good.

(Source: “Ur- und Frühgeschichte von Innsbruck”, Katalog zur Ausstellung im Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum 2007.)

More recent excavations (between the demolition of the old ski jump in 2001, and the construction of the new one) have uncovered a site for burnt offerings near the highest point of the hill, just a few meters east of the ski jump tower. Animal bones were found which had been burnt at a temperature of over 600°C. Of course when the old jump was built in the 1960s, a large swath of earth had been removed, and a great deal of archaeological evidence went with it. But the eastern side seems to be relatively intact, and awaiting additional future, as-of-yet unplanned excavations. The articles found have been dated to as early as 650 BC to as late as 15 BC, when the Romans arrived.

This information is all public, either via the internet or from Ferdinandeum publications such as the one named above. However, there is absolutely NO information at the site itself. There are barely trails — practically dog paths — up the steep grades. I only made it up (and down) by grabbing onto tree roots and watching very carefully where I stepped. Autumn’s leaves, needles and pine cones added a certain slipperiness to the adventure. (The sites, such as they are, are on the outside of the fenced-in ski jump area, so you can’t just take the incline.)

The altar mound as seen today, on the highest point of the hill.

The fence around the sport area runs through the mound, which seems a little unfortunate. Below: the man-made terraces on the north side of the hill, found above the old shooting range. Evidence of housing (from different eras) was unearthed on them, possibly for whomever tended to the holy sites.

In the museum book, it is noted in summary that no other area of excavation in central Europe has revealed so much sacred activity — the Raetians, from the evidence found, seemed to have devoted more of their time to religious rites than any other tribe, and for over 600 years.

Pagans In Tirol: Schalenstein

My best blogposts lately have been inspired (stolen) from others’ efforts, and this one will be no exception. Earlier this month fellow blogger Paschberg went exploring on the newer trails carved out by the mountainbikers, and came across a rock cliff with cup markings carved into the top. This would be the second set found, after the boulder near Tantegert. Naturally, I needed to go find this for myself, and so, equipped with a marked google earth map graciously sent to me, I set out to find the Schalenstein.

After wandering around the general area (there are all sorts of named and unnamed tracks criss-crossing around over there), I circled back and came across this rock face, part of a longer ridge that cuts through the woods.

And sure enough, at the top was a flat, square-shaped boulder, with three cup markings bored into the surface. I was delighted to find it, and at the same time wanted to kick myself for passing so close to this area regularly for nearly two years, and never looking around over this way. This Schalenstein was practically in front of my nose, or better said, over my head.

Behind the rock is a kind of partly enclosed ledge, big enough to sit on. That’s where I noticed the bolt anchors — there are several of them driven into the rock at different heights. Clearly, this cliff is being used for rock climbing practice.

And at the so-called “witch’s cottage”, just a minute or two down the path, it became a little clearer that the climbing practice has some connection to whoever uses the cottage now. Note the climbing holds decorating the wall, and the photograph next to the door.

I walked further uphill along the ridge to inspect more boulders, but they are all covered with thick moss and tree roots. There’s just no telling what’s underneath them. The Schalenstein was the only rock that was somewhat free of moss — which leads me to believe that it’s being somehow, anonymously, maintained.
I once asked an archaeology-minded friend about the cup markings in the rocks here, and she responded with cynicism. There are fakes, there’s no proving their antiquity. She has a point, and the rocks don’t seem to be of interest to anyone official (Not that I can see. Maybe I’m wrong about that.) But they are there. The sacrificial altar sites at Goldbichl and Bergisel are not all that far away, nor is the possibly-Pagan “Judenstein”. It is said there are other marked stones in the area, hidden away in the woods, waiting to be visited.

Forgotten Innsbruck: A Photo Book

Recently an old, tattered copy of a photo book on Innsbruck by one Adolf Sickert (Innsbruck: Ein Farbbildwerk, published by Meinhold Verlagsgesellschaft, Dresden 1943) fell into my hands, and some of the photographs I found interesting enough to scan and post here. For example this view of the Serles over the snow-covered rooftops of the old town, with its swastika-draped facades.

This town square still looks pretty much the same — the fountain is still there, and the grass, and even that nice big tree. The old ladies are gone, replaced by young homeless men and their dogs. The name of the square, too — at the time it was Adolf-Hitler-Platz, but it went (back?) to Theaterplatz after all that business ended.

The old Hungerburgbahn — would this be one of the original cars? — had open windows from which one could lean out. This track is no longer used since the new line was built, but the bridge is still there.

The arch, where Maria-Theresien-Strasse meets Maximilienstrasse. The gun shop is now a bakery/lunch counter. The “oldtimer” trams, like the one shown here, are pulled out and run every so often.

Pagans In Bavaria: Leutstetten

The church of St. Alto, in Leutstetten, north of Lake Starnberg. This church has a curiosity in its sanctuary.

This 1643 oil on wood painting features three unusual saints: Ainpet, Gberpet and Firpet. These are local, alpine-regional deities, so to speak. They’re not on the official register of Roman Catholic saints, and it has been postulated that they are pre-Christian, reformed into good Catholics simply by putting new stories on them and calling them the Three Virgins. Other paintings of them are found in scattered churches, and one is (was?) in the church of St. Vigilius, in Obsaurs, Tyrol. I have not been there and can only refer to it. This painting here was not always at St. Alto — it originally hung in the chapel in the village of Einbettl (Ainpet, Einbettl) which was torn down in the 19th century.

Here the chapel at Petersbrunnen, or St. Peter’s fountain; however, the name may well stem from “Betenbrunnen”. In any case the water was long considered to have healing properties, and in the 16th century Duke Wilhelm IV had the chapel built, alongside facilities for cure-seekers (to keep the riffraff separate from the paying guests). The baths are gone, the chapel is still there. In his book “Romerstraßen und Kultplätze” (Roman Roads and Ritual Sites), Martin Bernstein sees an irony in the fact that the chapel, built over a possible heathen holy site, has to be renovated frequently due to problems with moisture. The revenge of the Beten, perhaps.

The Villa Rustica (country villa and farm), built in 150 AD, excavated in 2002. The glass structure covers the part of the house which had heated floors (Hypocaustum) and a bath. Nearby Gauting (then Bratananium) was where the Roman road crossed the river Würm (Starnberger See was once the Würmsee. It began its name change in the 1800s and made it official in 1962.) Evidence of crops and livestock raising were found. Romans were good at adapting to what grew here already (spelt, emmer-wheat) and introduced wheat and rye. From other Roman farm excavations it is certain there were also animal stalls, silos, barns, and lodging for the farm workers. A millstone was found near this site, indicating a flour mill.
The method used to heat the floors allowed smoke to escape from behind the walls, thereby also heating the rooms to a comfortable temperature. To realize that, even over a thousand years later, kings were living in cold drafty castles, drives home the meaning of the term Dark Ages.

Finds from the nearby spring, most likely offerings, all copies for display here: two house keys, pottery, a slate writing tablet. The large stone is a copy of a Roman gravestone which is believed to belong to the owner of this villa. It is written that he came from Braga (northern Portugal), had a long military career, and that his loving wife erected this stone for him. The original stone was discovered to have been built into the side altar in the above-mentioned St. Alto church (where it remains today), presumably hauled off from one of two Roman urn graves nearby. Whether the stone, the graves and the villa all deal with the same 2 people is speculative, but highly probable. This spring, incidentally, provided the means of determining the date that the farm was in use — the farmer had had a wooden, box-shaped well built on it, which was nicely preserved upon discovery. The wood fragments of the well itself — plus other pieces which had been used to fill it when the farm was abandoned — were then dendochronologically dated.
The Villa Rustica is not directly accessible by car, but one can walk there along the bike path — from the above-mentioned village of Einbettl. And with that, the circle is complete.