Maribor rose to prominence in the Middle Ages when a fortress called Marchburg was built on Piramida, a hill to the north of the city, to protect the Drava Valley from the Magyar onslaught. The settlement that later developed along the river grew wealthy through the timber and wine trade, financed largely by the town’s Jewish community, and the waterfront landing (Pristan) in the Lent district became one of the busiest ports in the country.
The town was fortified with walls in the 14th century to protect it against first the Hungarians and then the Turks; four defence towers still stand along the Drava. Though its fortunes declined somewhat in later centuries, the tide turned in 1846 when the railroad from Vienna reached here – the first town in Slovenia to have train connections with the imperial capital. Maribor became the centre of Slovene-speaking Styria – a kind of counter-balance to German-speaking Graz in Austria – and began to industrialise.
Air raids during WWII devastated Maribor, and by 1945 two-thirds of it lay in ruin. New areas were opened up on the right (south) bank of the Drava, and in the 1950s Maribor was one of Slovenia’s most ‘proletarian’ cities, which is still evident from the factory buildings and housing estates south of the river.