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Graz, with a population of 287,723 as of 2006 (of which 250,099 have principal residence status), is the second-largest city in Austria after Vienna and the capital of the federal state of Styria (Steiermark in German). It has a long tradition as a student city, with six universities with over 40,000 students. Graz's "Old Town" is one of the best-preserved city centers in Central Europe, and in 1999 was added to the UNESCO list of World Cultural Heritage Sites.
The city is situated on the Mur river, in the southeast of Austria. It is approximately 2.5 hours south of Vienna by train or 2 hours by car. Graz is the capital and largest city in Styria, a green and heavily forested area. The city itself is surrounded by low hills on 3 sides, thus making it predisposed to haze in the warmer months.
From the earlier part of the 15th century Graz was the residence of the younger branch of the Habsburgs, which succeeded to the imperial throne in 1619 in the person of Emperor Ferdinand II, who moved the capital to Vienna. New fortifications were constructed on the Schlossberg at the end of the 16th century. Napoleon's army occupied Graz in 1797. In 1809 the city had to withstand another assault by the French army. During the course of this attack, the commanding officer in the fortress was ordered to defend it with his men against Napoleon's army, which numbered about 900 and 3,000 respectively. He successfully defended the Schloßberg against 8 attacks, but they were forced to give up since the Grande Armee conquered Vienna and the Emperor ordered to surrender. The fortress of Graz is seen as the strongest fortress ever built. Following the defeat of Austria by Napoleonic forces at the Battle of Wagram in 1809, the fortifications were demolished using explosives, as stipulated in the Peace of Schönbrunn of the same year. The belltower and the civic clock tower, often used as the symbol of Graz, were allowed to survive this fate after the people of Graz paid a ransom for their preservation.
In the last few years some groundbreakingly modern new public buildings have been erected in the city. The most famous of these include the Kunsthaus (house of modern art) designed by Peter Cook and Colin Fournier, a museum constructed right next to the river Mur, and the "Murinsel" (island in the Mur), an island made of steel, situated in the river. It was designed by the American architect Vito Acconci and contains a café, an open-air theatre and a playground.
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