Bad Kleinkirchheim is a municipality with 1711 inhabitants (as of January 1, 2020) in the Spittal an der Drau district in Carinthia. Known today as a spa and climatic health resort as well as a ski area in a valley in the Gurktal Alps, it was mainly rural in the middle of the 20th century. Although the legend says that the first spa guest already appreciated Bad Kleinkirchheim as a recreational area in the 11th century and the first bathers visited the place in the 17th century, it was only a few decades ago that there was a radical structural change away from the agricultural and towards the touristy Bad Kleinkirchheim a. Today the community is one of the twenty most visited tourist destinations in Austria in both the summer and winter seasons.
Parish Church of St. Ulrich
Parish Church of St. Oswald
Church of St. Catherine
The settlement of the Kirchheim valley
There are no traces of settlement in the region around Kleinkirchheim from the pre-Roman times, and also for the Romans, who from 15 BC onwards. Chr. Carinthia ruled, the remote, densely wooded valley was probably too far from their traffic routes. With the end of the Great Migration, the Roman Empire collapsed and Slavs, coming from the east via the Drau Valley, invaded Carinthia and settled there. Gradually they also settled in the side valleys. The first Baier and Frankish settlers came to the country from the middle of the 8th century.
After the Frankish rule had finally established itself in the first half of the 9th century, the first Bavarian settlers probably also settled in the Kirchheim Valley. It is not known when exactly the first “Capella” was created in “Chirchem”. On July 5, 1166, a pastor named Pabo was mentioned in a document in which the Archbishop of Salzburg, Konrad II, confirmed the donation of the St. Ruprecht Chapel to the Millstatt Monastery - this document is the first documentary mention of Kirchheim. Another document from Pope Alexander III. from April 6, 1177 mentions a place of the same name; this document issued in Rialto in Venice is still preserved and is in the Vienna State Archives. It is assumed, however, that the first church was built much earlier, before the turn of the millennium, in honor of Saint Ulrich, the bishop of Augsburg. The place was only given its current name Kleinkirchheim in the 16th century, in order to be able to distinguish it more easily from the mining town of the same name in Mölltal, today's Großkirchheim.
Slavic settlers soon followed the first Baier immigrants: The place name of today's Zirkitzen indicates that they settled east of the first settlement, because in their language "Circica" means the same as Kirchheim. Double names like in this case, which occur several times in Carinthia, show that Bavarians and Slavs apparently settled peacefully next to each other in this region in the early Middle Ages.
Since 976 the Duchy of Carinthia was an area independent of Bavaria, but the Bavarian landlords still retained the upper hand over their possessions. The Aribones, who had had the hereditary dignity of the Palatine count towards the Dukes of Carinthia since 977, also had large estates in Carinthia. They are the first verifiable masters of the Kleinkirchheim valley. Count Palatine Poto Graf von Pottenstein from this Bavarian family is said to have been the first to experience the healing properties of the spring in Bad Kleinkirchheim in the 11th century after being wounded in battle. According to legend, he bequeathed the healing spring to the Millstatt Abbey, which he founded around 1070, in gratitude. Irrespective of this, from the above-mentioned documentary confirmation in 1166 until the abolition of the monastery in 1773, Kleinkirchheim belonged to the Millstatt rule.
Development of the St. Oswalder high valley
The still densely forested and probably uninhabited high valley of St. Oswald did not belong to the Aribones at that time. It was not until 1197 that the “apud Chirchem” forest came into the possession of the Millstatt monastery through an exchange, which was confirmed in a papal deed from 1207. The Benedictine monks cleared the newly acquired valley and created meadows and fields so that farmers settled down here too. The monks' convent had a church built in the new settlement, which was consecrated to St. Oswald and first mentioned on June 8, 1228.
The clearing activity was continued to the east, the closed Millstätter property extended into the current municipal areas of Reichenau and Gnesau, only after 1500 no more new hubs were created. The oldest surviving Millstätter land register from 1470 also contains a list of 73 properties in the Kirchheim office. Of these, 26 Huben and 28 Schwaigen were in Kirchheim, and one Hube and 21 Schwaigen in St. Oswald. Due to the altitude, the St. Oswalder settlement was mainly kept cattle, which is why the farms at that time were mainly classified as Schwaigen, which had to pay a lower tithe. The land register from 1470 also shows a "Taferne" (inn) that stood at today's Unterwirt country house.
Kleinkirchheim in the late Middle Ages
Emperor Friedrich III. caused Pope Paul II to found an order of
knights in honor of St. George in 1469. Millstatt was designated as
the seat of the Order of St. George, the Benedictine monastery there
was dissolved and its possessions, including Kleinkirchheim, were
transferred to the new order. Its task in the first years of
existence was to protect Carinthia from the Turkish threat, because
at the time the order was founded, a threat to its territory was
getting closer and closer: The Turks, who had conquered
Constantinople in 1453, had then moved across the Balkans and had
reached the Carniola region in 1469.
Since Carinthia had already found out about this a few weeks earlier, the passports in the south of the country began to be sealed off and the castles, monasteries and churches were secured. A body tax was levied in the country to raise funds for defense. In Millstatt the Knights of St. George built a fortified order castle next to the old, "desolate due luggage" of the monastery.
At the end of September 1473 the Turks invaded Carinthia for the first time and marched through the valleys, robbing and pillaging; the Kleinkirchheimer Tal was spared this incursion and a second raid three years later. The people of the country had to watch impotently as their rulers fled from the Turks and withdrew behind the expanded walls, while entire valleys were reduced to rubble. As a consequence, some Kirchheim farmers also joined the farmers' union founded by Peter Wunderlich in Spittal in 1478, which was directed against the Turkish tax, but also prepared to fight the invaders.
In Kleinkirchheim the farmers tried to organize themselves against the threat because they did not want to rely on the St. George Knights. In Zirkitzen there is a large cave in a rock wall, the front of which the inhabitants walled up with rocks. This "Wihrwand" - the remains of which can still be seen today - was completed just in time, because on June 25, 1478, the Turks attacked the country, this time coming from Friuli. The farmers' union was only able to provide 600 men and was overwhelmed, the Millstatt knights entrenched themselves, as had been feared, in their castle. After the Turks set Radenthein on fire, they moved to the Kirchheimer Tal. When the first houses in Zirkitzen were set on fire, the farmers tried to defend themselves with arrows and stones. Although they were able to defend their position against the attackers, they were unable to prevent further farmsteads from being burned down. The valley was spared from further attacks by the Turks, but the Hungarians invaded Carinthia as early as 1480 and also came as far as Kleinkirchheim. In 1490, after the death of Matthias Corvinus, the Hungarian occupation ended.
Reformation and Counter Reformation
After the Knights of St. George had already failed in their task of defending their country against the Turks, their leadership in the decades that followed was characterized by disorder and arbitrariness. Despite the use of imperial administrators, the mismanagement in the Millstatt rule increased and with it the discipline of the subjects decreased. The order faced dissolution during the 16th century. The ideas of the Reformation found fertile soil among the population, who were also impoverished as a result of taxes, raids and occupation. In addition, the Carinthian nobility supported the renewal of faith in their endeavors for more independence from the provincial duke, who belonged to the strictly Catholic Habsburgs. Towards the end of the 16th century, most of the farmers in Kleinkirchheim were of the Lutheran faith after the duke had assured them freedom of religion.
However, the religious conditions changed radically in 1595 after Ferdinand II came to power. In 1598 he handed over the properties of the Millstatt Order to the Jesuits, to which he himself belonged. They declared Millstatt a residence, which was run by a superior. Since they had the imperial mandate to financially support the newly founded University of Graz, and the finances were on the ground due to the mismanagement of the George Knights, they imposed high taxes on the farmers.
At the same time, the Counter-Reformation of the Catholic Church
began, the population - around 1500 subjects between Liesertal and
Turrach were summoned to a commission in Millstatt in 1600 - were
given the choice of either becoming Catholic or emigrating within
three months. Books labeled heretical were burned, preacher's houses
and churches destroyed. In spite of these hardships, many of those
who took the Catholic religious oath in order not to have to leave
their homeland retained their faith. Protestant books were smuggled
in and secret meetings were held. Despite all efforts by the
authorities to prevent this, secret Protestantism was still
widespread in the region between Spittal and Gnesau, which also
includes Kleinkirchheim, even in the middle of the 18th century. A
councilor, who traveled and studied the country on imperial orders,
reported in 1751: "Almost all of Upper Carinthia is mixed with
non-Catholic people." As a result, there were further expulsions of
the "sectarians"; Nevertheless, a comparatively high proportion of
the population of Kleinkirchheim - as in other rural areas of
Central and Upper Carinthia - has remained true to the Protestant
In 1773 the Jesuit order was abolished by papal bull. With the tolerance patent of Emperor Joseph II of 1781, Protestants and Jews in Austria were given almost full equality with Catholics. Wherever 100 families or 400 people of their faith lived together, they were allowed to form a parish, build houses of worship and schools and build a cemetery. Since Kleinkirchheim did not meet this requirement - 228 Protestants lived in Kleinkirchheim in 1820 and 55 Protestants in St. Oswald - the community in Feld am See was initially affiliated with, and later Wiedweg became the parish responsible for Kleinkirchheim.
During this time, further reforms fell: serfdom was abolished, the land register patent was re-measured and taxed, the cadastral communities of Kleinkirchheim, Zirkitzen and St. Oswald were formed and the farmers were given free rights of disposal over their property.
The French Wars
From the end of the 18th century, the consequences of the French Revolution were felt in Carinthia: Napoleon's coalition wars reached Carinthia for the first time in March 1797 and again in 1799 and 1805 after the Austrians had been defeated by the French. The wars had mainly economic consequences: inflation, war taxes and levies on the occupiers burdened the peasants. In the Peace of Schönbrunn, among other things, the western part of Carinthia fell to France in 1809, the border ran just a few kilometers east of Kleinkirchheim near Patergassen. A new kingdom under French rule, the Illyrian Provinces with the capital Laibach, was formed, which also included Kleinkirchheim. The place was assigned to the main community Feldkirchen, but received its own Mairie.
After the Wars of Liberation in 1813/14, Emperor Franz I put the Illyrian provinces back into the possession of the Austrian Empire with a patent dated July 23, 1814. The old subservience as it existed before 1809 was not reestablished for Upper Carinthia. This meant that the personal liberation from manorial rule, in particular the decree from all robot services that the French occupation had brought with it, continued to exist, even if this did not mean the end of the material dependence on the landlords for the peasants.
March Revolution and Church Planting
The Viennese March Revolution of 1848 resulted in liberal and democratic changes, the peasants now also received complete personal and civic freedom by abolishing all payments and taxes to their landlords. On March 4, 1849, Carinthia again became an independent crown land with its own state parliament and state government in Klagenfurt. On March 17th, the new Reichstag in Vienna passed a provisional municipal law, which resulted in the foundation of many municipalities in what is now Austria. In the course of this, the community of Kleinkirchheim was founded in 1850, and its dimensions have hardly changed to this day. Franz Ebner, who held this office for a total of 16 years, was elected the first mayor.
With the reign of Franz Joseph I, who ascended the imperial
throne in December 1848, a lot changed for Kleinkirchheim as well:
Religious freedom was confirmed as early as the beginning of 1849,
and the formerly known "Old Catholics" could now call themselves
followers of the "Evangelical Confession" . The gendarmerie was
founded in June, but a local post did not exist until 1894.
Kleinkirchheim was given its own post office in 1885, and until then
Millstatt, 20 kilometers away, was the closest post office. In the
same year a volunteer fire brigade was established in the village.
On August 15, 1897, the savings and loan association was founded,
from which the Raiffeisenkasse emerged in 1944.
Development into a health resort and vacation spot
The warm spring of Kleinkirchheim was discovered and used at the time the place was built. Wooden troughs were set up along the drain to catch the water. To protect the spring, the Millstatt Monastery built a chapel above it in 1492 and consecrated it to Saint Catherine (ancient Greek for "The Cleansing"). In the 17th century, next to the chapel, which has been preserved to this day and is located above today's thermal baths of the same name, “Sankt Kathrein”, a second spring was taken and led via wooden pipes to a “bath house” below the Kathrein church, where the water is heated and was filled in bathtubs. The oldest written mention of such a bathing establishment comes from the year 1670. A bathing regulation from 1762, which describes the use of the baths for a three-week spa stay, is around a hundred years younger. Bad Kathrein near Kleinkirchheim was advertised in an advertisement in the Klagenfurter Zeitung in 1831, and overnight stays were offered in different price ranges. The “Zum Badwirth” inn, as it was called in 1884, was probably the only larger accommodation facility in the town at the turn of the century before last.
In 1909, Hans Ronacher took over the bath house and instead built a new building with an attached hotel that could accommodate 50 guests. During these years a railway line (“Area Valley Railway”), which should also run through the Kleinkirchheim Valley and would have meant a connection to Millstatt, was discussed. However, the first plans were interrupted by the First World War and were no longer taken up due to the subsequent economic crisis. The thermal bath was reopened in 1922 and investments in tourism continued in Kleinkirchheim. A tourist association was founded, which advertised the resort with a year-round brochure. From 1928 a post bus line was also set up from Spittal an der Drau via Radenthein to Bad Kleinkirchheim, which initially served this route once a day, from 1939 a second bus was used. On July 22nd, 1934, the thermal open-air swimming pool was put into operation and in 1936 the small community with 1,100 residents was able to offer 400 beds for guests. Due to the political circumstances and the Second World War, tourism then came to an almost complete standstill.
After the war, the resumption of tourism was out of the question, especially since a storm in 1946 caused great damage in the valley. The roads were badly damaged by floods and mudslides, and for months it was only possible to reach Kleinkirchheim by horse-drawn carts. The road to Radenthein was completely rebuilt and cars could not use it again until 1949. This was followed by a renewal of the section to Patergassen. In 1954, a supply system was set up and house connections made in the village, which had previously only been supplied with electricity by the smallest hydroelectric power stations, as part of the KELAG electrification program. In the same year, work began on a community-wide water supply, the full development of which was not completed until the early 1980s.
In 1956/1957, a ski lift was put into operation in Kleinkirchheim, which at the time was also the longest in Carinthia at 620 meters, to attract ski tourists to the place. In the meantime, a network of slopes with a total length of over 100 kilometers and 26 lifts has developed in Bad Kleinkirchheim, almost all available slopes can now be artificially snowed in when there is not enough snow. In the 1960s, a thermal indoor pool was built in addition to the complete new construction of the facilities. In 1977 Kleinkirchheim was finally given the official designation “thermal baths” by the state government, and the community has been called Bad Kleinkirchheim since then. With the "Römerbad" a second thermal bath was opened in 1979. In 2007, the Römerbad was completely expanded and renovated to accommodate even more bathers.