The historic city of Innsbruck is nestled in between two Alpine mountain ranges. The Brenner Pass, an easily crossed path through the Alps, made the position of the town a strategic location. The importance of the valley eventually gave rise to the ultimate evolution of Innsbruck into a cultural and commercial hub.
The history of the town began very early. Archeological evidence shows that Innsbruck was first populated in the early Stone Age. The area was prized for the geographic location in a valley that offered protection from the cold winters. The area remained in relative peace until around 15 BC when the Roman’s began a rapid European expansion. Because of the importance of protecting the Alpine pass, the Roman soldiers set up a military town.
Roman control ceded to a Bavarian invasion in the 6th century. The Bavarians continued to rule for several hundred years until 1027 when control of Innsbruck was bestowed on the Counts of Andechs. Under the rule of the counts the town flourished into the cultural and social center of Tyrol. A thriving market and the inn bridge were constructed in 1187. This gave the town a new economic status and the present day name of Innsbruck, meaning bridge to the inn.
The reign of the Hapsburgs, which began in 1363, ushered in a new age of glory for Innsbruck. Under the rule of the Hapsburgs the city flourished. The era saw an increase in trade and mining. Emperor Maximilian I named Innsbruck as the capitol of Tyrol, and took the already flourishing city and increased the prestige and power of the region. As a legacy, he left the golden roof. A shining architectural feature composed of thousands of copper tiles. He also began construction on an elaborate tomb that would only be completed after his lifetime. The Hapsburg successors continued to add to the glorious reputation of Innsbruck by building architectural marvels such as Hofgarten, Ambras Gardens, the Arts and Wonder Chamber, the Arms Halls, the Jesuit church and Tyrol’s first opera house. Most of these structures remain as a monument to the reign of the Hapsburgs.
The Tyrol region went through a period of strife during the Napoleonic wars when Bavarian occupation placed strict rules on social conduct and religious behavior. Tyrol was restored to Austria in 1814. The citizens of Innsbruck showed great courage during the relentless bombings of World War II. Several historic treasures and buildings were protected from damage through their efforts. The golden roof built by Maximilian was saved from the shells by encasing it in a bunker and today serves as a museum dedicated to the history of Innsbruck.
Modern Innsbruck has seen a focus on games and winter sports. The beginning of Austrian chess was born in Innsbruck at the 1929 chess championship. In 1964, the winter Olympic games rejuvenated the economy of Innsbruck. The games drew international attention to the area as a prime winter sports haven. Several luxury resorts and winter sports arenas were built to accommodate the influx of visitors from around the world. The town hosted the winter Olympics a second time in 1976.