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Mittenwald is located approximately 16 kilometres to the south-east of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. It is situated in the Valley of the River Isar, by the northern foothills of the Alps, on the route between the old banking and commercial centre of Augsburg, to the north, and Innsbruck to the south-east, beyond which is the Brenner Pass and the route to Lombardy, another region with a rich commercial past and present.
Mittenwald, along with Garmich-Partenkirchen to the west, was acquired by the Prince-Bishopric of Freising in the late 14th century and the "crowned Aethiopian" head that is part of Mittenwald's coat of arms recalls that 400-year association that ended when the Prince-Bishopric was secularized in 1802-03 and its territory annexed to Bavaria.
Coat of arms of the Bishop of Freising
Mittenwald's location as an important transit centre on a relatively low (and therefore predictable) transalpine route has been a defining feature of the area for at least two thousand years: during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries traffic was boosted by large treasure trains sent regularly from Spain to pay troops in the Netherlands, the more conventional sea route having been rendered unreliable by the (usually) discreet but effective sympathy with which the English Protestant establishment favoured the Spanish king'srebellious Dutch subjects.
The most significant landmark in the village is the pink colored Roman Catholic church of Saints Peter and Paul, which is typical of the region. The church and many of the surrounding buildings, both businesses and private residences, are decorated with elaborate paintings on the exterior walls.