The first settlement in the area of Celje appeared during the Hallstatt era. The settlement was known in the Celtic times and to Ancient Greek historians as Kelea; findings suggest that Celts coined Noric money in the region.
Once the area was incorporated in the Roman Empire in 15 BC, it was known as Civitas Celeia. It received municipal rights in AD 45 under the name municipium Claudia Celeia during the reign of the Roman Emperor Claudius (41-54). Records suggest that the town was rich and densely populated, secured with the walls and towers, containing multi-storied marble palaces, wide squares, and streets. It was called Troia secunda, the second; or small Troy. A Roman road through Celeia led from Aquileia (Sln. Oglej) to Pannonia. Celeia soon became a flourishing Roman colonies, and many great buildings were constructed, such as the temple of Mars, which was known across the Empire. Celeia was incorporated into Aquileia ca. 320 under the Roman Emperor Constantine I (272-337).
The city was razed by Slavic tribes during the Migration period of the 5th and 6th centuries, but was rebuilt in the Early Middle Ages. The first mention of Celje in the Middle Ages was under the name of Cylie in Wolfhold von Admont's Chronicle, which was written between 1122 and 1137.
The town was the seat of the Counts of Celje from 1341 to 1456 It acquired market-town status in the first half of the 14th century and town privileges from Count Frederick II on 11 April 1451.
After the Counts of Celje died out in 1456, the region was inherited by the Habsburgs of Austria and administered by the Duchy of Styria. The city walls and defensive moat were built in 1473. The town defended itself against Turks and in 1515 during great Slovene peasant revolt against peasants, who had taken Old Castle.
Many local nobles converted to Protestantism during the Protestant Reformation, but the region was converted back to Roman Catholicism during the Counter-Reformation. Celje became part of the Habsburgs' Austrian Empire during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1867, after the defeat of Austria in the Austro-Prussian War, the town became part of Austria-Hungary.
The first service on the Vienna-Trieste railway line came through Celje on 27 April 1846. In 1895, Celje secondary school, established in 1808, began to teach in Slovene.
At the end of the 19th century and in the early 20th century, Celje was a center of German nationalism which had repercussions for Slovenes. The 1910 census showed that 66,8% of the population was German. A symbol of this was the German Cultural Center(German: Deutsches Haus), built in 1906 and opened on 15 May 1907, today it is Celje Hall (Slovene: Celjski dom). The centuries-old German name of the town, Cilli, sounded no longer German enough to some German residents, the form Celle being preferred by many.
Population growth was steady during this period. In 1900, Celje had 6,743 inhabitants and by 1924 this had grown to 7,750. The National Hall (Narodni dom), which hosts the Mayors Office and Town Council today, was built in 1896. The first telephone line was installed in 1902 and the city received electric power in 1913.
Slovene and German ethnic nationalism increased during the 19th and early 20th centuries. With the collapse of Austria-Hungary in 1918 as a result of World War I, Celje became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later known as Yugoslavia). During this period, the town experienced a rapid industrialization and a substantial growth in population.
Celje was occupied by Nazi Germany in April 1941. The Gestapo arrived in Celje on 16 April 1941 and were followed three days later by SS leader Heinrich Himmler, who inspected Stari pisker. During the war the city suffered from allied bombing, aimed at important communication lines and military installations. The National Hall was severely damaged.
The toll of the war on the city was heavy. The city (including nearby towns) had a pre-war population of 20,000 and lost 575 people during the war, mostly between the ages of 20 and 30. More than 1,500 people were deported to Serbia or into the German interior of the Third Reich. Around 300 people were interned and around 1,000 people imprisoned in Celje's prisons. An unknown number of citizens were 'forcibly' conscripted into the German army. Around 600 "stolen children" were taken to Nazi Germany for germanization. A monument in Celje called Vojna in mir (War and Peace) by the sculptor Jakob Savinšek, commemorates the World War II era.
After the end of the war, the remaining German-speaking portion of the populace was expelled. The new communist government took advantage of existing anti-tank trenches, dug around Celje by the retreating German army, by using them as mass graves. They were filled with Croatian, Serbian, and Slovenian militia members who had collaborated with the Germans, as well as civilians who had opposed either the national liberation movement or the communist revolution during the war, civilians of German descent or simply individuals accused or suspected of anti-communism. The purpose was to physically eliminate any potential political opposition, on the pretext of collaboration with the enemy. The Yugoslav National Army executed more than 80,000 - mostly Croat, German and Slovenian - prisoners in the Celje area, without any judicial process. The bodies were buried in hidden mass graves in Celje; the exact number is still not known. At the concentration camp at Teharje, some 5,000 Slovenians, hundreds of them minors, were murdered within two months after the end of the war, again without trial. Furthermore, refugee trains carrying German civilians from the "Rann triangle" area were halted near Celje on August 5, 1945 and their passengers sent to a concentration camp at Teharje. After the camp was closed in 1950, the local authorities established a huge industrial dump over the graveyard there, concealing the evidence of killings under a mound of toxic waste. In the middle 70s, 30 years after crimes, the local authorities build preschools, schools, blocks, halls and other objects on mass graves. In 1991, when it became possible again to discuss the facts pertaining to the massacre, the Slovenian government decided to build a memorial to the victims of Teharje.
Celje became part of independent Slovenia following the Ten-Day War in 1991. On April 7, 2006, Celje became the seat of a new Diocese of Celje, created by Pope Benedict XVI within the Archdiocese of Maribor. The town's tourist sights include a Grayfriars' monastery founded in 1241 and a palace from the 16th century.
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