Commerce has been the lifeblood of SZOMBATHELY ("Saturday market") ever since the town was founded by Emperor Claudius in 43 AD to capitalize on the Amber Road from the Baltic to the Mediterranean. Savaria, as it was then called, soon became the capital of Pannonia, and a significant city in the Roman Empire. It was here that Septimus Severus was proclaimed emperor in 193 AD and Saint Martin of Tours was born in 317. Under Frankish rule in the eighth century, the town, known as Steinamanger, prospered through trade with Germany. Nowadays, it is Austrians who boost the economy, flooding across to shop, get their hair done or seek medical treatment in the town which they have nicknamed "the discount store".
From a tourist's standpoint, the chief attractions are the outdoor Village Museum (Skanzen) and Roman ruins, and a Belváros stuffed with Baroque and Neoclassical architecture. Szombathely is also the base for a side-trip to the beautiful Romanesque church at Ják and, further out, the spa and castle at Sárvár, home of the infamous "Blood Countess" Báthori. If you're here at Easter time, there are colourful religious processions in Szombathely and other towns in the region.