Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Urban Bestiary (1)

Becket, August 13, 2013

Sometimes it's not that easy to establish the foundational origins of cities.  The historical record is often sketchy or even contested.  But many cities have developed mythical origins that are as interesting as the actual facts, if not more.

Take for example the Austrian city of Klagenfurt, the capital of Carinthia.  In the middle of a small square in the center of town stands the statue of Berhard von Spanheim, the Medieval duke who moved the settlement to its present location and is considered the founder of the city.  But walk just a few steps to the adjacent main square and you'll be in front of a much larger monument, a Renaissance fountain with the figures of Hercules and a dragon.  It depicts the 13th century tale of brave men that slew the "Lindwurm"--a winged dragon that lived at the edge of the nearby lake on a steady diet of local virgins--after luring him with a bull chained to a fortress tower.

I'm always curious to learn how tales like this originate, the actual history of the legend.  Some versions of the story make the "Lindwurm" responsible for the flooding of the area, so it may be related to the actual land works involved in the settlement of Klagenfurt.  In any case, the story of the winged dragon became the source of a very real iconography for the city and, in turn, a focal image for its main urban space.

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