Maienfeld, Heididorp and Walser
31 July 2023
You pass them so quickly, all those beautiful villages, towns and nature in Switzerland. Some have a well-known tourist attraction or another reason to stop, like Maienfeld (canton of Graubünden), at the foot of the Heidi village.
Heidi, who doesn’t know her? The writer Johanna Spyri (1827-1901) created her and her village in 1881. Who, however, knows Maienfeld? In Roman times, it was already a place of significance with the name Magia and listed as such on the Peutinger map.
For centuries afterwards, the town was the seat of the region’s most influential families and bishops for the Diocese of Chur. This bishopric was one of the first and most important north of the Alps and stretched as far as Vintschau (South Tyrol in Italy), Vorarlberg (Austria) to Lake Constance (Bodensee).
Through the course of history, Maienfeld was an Untertanengebiet of Freestate of the Three Leagues (Freistaat of the Drei Bünde from 1510-1798 (French invasion and the Helvetic Republic, 1798-1803). Since 1803, it has been a municipality in canton of Graubünden. Picture: the appointment of the last bailiff in 1797.
Maienfeld received city rights from the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire as early as the 11th or 12th century. It also indicates the town’s significant political and economic role. The first castle was built in the 10th century by the Counts of Bregenz. Other owners were successively the Counts of Tübingen, the Freiherren of Vaz, the Freiherren of Aspermont (they built the current castle in the 13th century) and the Counts of Toggenburg. The Freiherren of Brandis acquired the castle in 1438, and has been called Brandis Castle ever since. Today, the castle is privately owned and operated as a restaurant.
Brandis Castle, the ancient city wall, and the wall of the monastery court
The famous “Waltensburger Meister” painted one of his Gothic murals on the castle walls. The medieval town centre, town hall, Amandus (11th century), Luzi (1457), and several monastery buildings deserve special attention. Maienfeld did not have a monastery, but Churwalden (Hinterrhein) monastery had some buildings and a monastery court.
The castle and the church
The Bruder Klausen chapel in Protestant Maienfeld
The ‘Klostertorkel’ is a reminder of this period. A Torkel is where grapes were pressed, and monks stored wine. However, the reformation in the 1529s marked the end of their presence. Citizens continued the Viticulture, however. Until the sixteenth century, Romanish was the spoken language, and the town was called Maiavilla. The Germanisation followed soon afterwards.
The vineyards are not only outside but also inside the town. Sheep feast on the grassy meadows. As in many Swiss villages and towns, Maienfeld has developed its specialised industries. The timber industry is this, with a creative entrance as its gateway.
The Heidi Village is within walking distance. The village gives an insight into farm life in the nineteenth century. A special feature is the Walser origin and influence, as seen on the town hall wall (Rathaus). After all, Graubünden was an important destination for immigrant Walser in the late Middle Ages. For instance, Davos, the capital of the Zehngerichtenbund, was a Walser town!
(Source and further information: Commune of Maienfeld)
Johanna Spyri (1827-1901) in the Johanna Spyri Haus in Maienfeld
Heidi Village (Heididorf)
The town hall (Rathaus) with the Walser dedication
Impressions of the Rhine Valley near Maienfeld
Pfäfers Monastery near Bad Ragaz (canton St. Gall)