Modern Vienna has undergone several historical incarnations. From 1558 to 1918 it was an imperial city—until 1806 the seat of the Holy Roman Empire and then the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1918 it became the capital of the truncated, landlocked central European country that emerged from World War I as a republic. From 1938 to 1945 Austria was a part of Adolf Hitler’s “Greater” Germany, and Vienna became “Greater” Vienna, reflecting the Nazi revision of the city limits. In the decade following World War II, Austria was occupied by British, French, American, and Soviet forces, and Vienna was divided into five zones, including an international zone, covering the Innere Stadt (“Inner City”). In 1955 the State Treaty, by which the country regained independence, was signed with the four occupying powers, and Vienna became once again the capital of a sovereign Austria.
Observe Vienna’s Schloss Schönbrunn, Gothic St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and postmodern Haas Haus building
Once the seat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Vienna is filled with majestic sights, both old and new.See all videos for this article
Vienna is among the least spoiled of the great old western European capitals. Its central core, the Innere Stadt, is easily manageable by foot and public transportation. In a city renowned for its architecture, many of Vienna’s urban prospects remain basically those devised over several centuries by imperial gardeners and architects. The skyline is still dominated by the spire of St. Stephen’s Cathedral and by the giant Ferris wheel in the city’s chief park, the Prater. The city suffered heavy damage in the last months of World War II, and much rebuilding was done after the war. Nevertheless, the character of Vienna as a whole remains much the same as in the years before 1914.
Tour Vienna’s Rococo, Gothic, and postmodern buildings and learn about the city’s imperial past
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Austria’s capital has avoided many of the problems—financial crises, social unrest, urban decay—that afflict other European cities. Its people enjoy an enlightened health and welfare system, which originated in the reforms of Empress Maria Theresa and Emperor Joseph II in the 18th century. A city of green parks with ponds, cafés, and playing bands; opulent stores and elegant shopping streets; banks, bookshops, and crowded theatres; and boulevards for leisurely sauntering—Vienna is an invigorating distillation of human energy and imagination. Area city, 160 square miles (415 square km); metropolitan area, 1,491 square miles (3,862 square km). Pop. (2011) city, 1,714,227; (2017 est.) city, 1,867,582; urban agglom., 2,157,434.
Physical and human geography
Vienna lies in the northeastern corner of Austria, between the foothills of the Alps and the Carpathians, where the Danube (German: Donau), Europe’s second longest river, has cut its course through the mountains. The city is situated alongside the river, most of it on the right bank. The Vienna basin was a nodal point of ancient trade and military routes. It linked north and south along the “amber route” that ran southward from the Baltic and linked east and west along the Danube. Strategically, Vienna commands the surrounding regions, which include sections of Austria’s border with Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary.
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Lying east of the Alps, Vienna is protected from their climatic influences by a range of hills, the Vienna Woods (Wiener Wald). The city’s weather comes both from the north, the winds bringing cool summers and warm winters, and from the southeast, bringing heat in summer and cold in winter. The result, despite some summer fog and heat and winter snow and ice, is a generally temperate and agreeable climate. Throughout the year the temperature averages above 50 °F (10 °C). The characteristic Lüfterl (“Vienna air”), a light breeze blowing from the northwest and west, provides relief on hot summer evenings. Rainfall is fairly low, averaging 26 inches (66 cm) per year, the greater part of it coming in summer downpours.
Layout and architecture
Aerial view of Vienna with the dome of St. Peter’s (foreground) and the pseudo-Gothic Votive Church (centre right).
Vienna reaches across the Danube on one side and climbs into the Vienna Woods on the other. There it includes the 1,585-foot (483-metre) Kahlen Mountain (Kahlenberg) and the 1,778-foot (542-metre) Hermanns Mountain (Hermannskogel), Vienna’s highest point. The Vienna Woods slope to the river in four roughly semicircular terraces, with the Innere Stadt occupying the second lowest terrace. The city has a mean altitude of 1,804 feet (550 metres), but different sections vary considerably in height.
Danube Canal (right) and Danube River in Vienna.
A stretch of the Danube was straightened and confined in the 19th century to form the Danube Canal, a flood-control canal parallel to the main stream, that flows through the city. An island 13 miles (21 km) long and 750 feet (230 metres) wide was thus created from former floodlands and was equipped as an all-sports park, adding to the city’s already generous recreational space. The Lobau, a wooded section along the river, has, like the Vienna Woods, long been a protected greenbelt area. Since the 1970s the open spaces on the far side of the Danube have been exploited for apartment buildings and factories.
Administratively, Vienna is divided into 23 Bezirke (districts). At the core is district I, the Innere Stadt, which contains most of the city’s famous structures. Surrounding the heart of the city is the Ringstrasse, or Ring, a circular road lined with grand buildings, monuments, and parks. Beyond the Ring are the inner suburbs (districts II–IX). The many palaces, churches, embassies, and other buildings in this area are elegant, though generally less imposing than those in district I. Leopoldstadt (district II) was the area allotted in 1622 to the Jews, who lived there until 1938. In this district is the famous 3,200-acre (1,295-hectare) Prater, formerly the hunting and riding preserve of the aristocracy but since 1766 a public park whose amenities include a stadium, fairgrounds, racetracks, and many restaurants. Beyond another ring road, the Gürtel, lie the outer suburbs (districts X–XX), which are largely residential. Also beyond the Gürtel is the vast Central Cemetery, where many great musical figures and other famous Viennese are buried. Districts XXI and XXII lie on the far side of the Danube; district XXIII is at the southern edge of the city.
Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna.
Prominently situated in the centre of Vienna is St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom), one of the chief Gothic buildings of Europe. It incorporates remnants of the original 12th-century Romanesque structure, which was destroyed by fire. Reconstruction began in the early 14th century and continued for a century and a half. The northern tower, never completed, was topped off with a Renaissance dome between 1556 and 1587. The cathedral was again burned and partly destroyed in World War II but has since been restored. The 20-ton bell, made from captured Turkish cannons in 1711, was recast and rehung with much ceremony.
Other Gothic churches include the Church of the Augustinians, the Church of Maria am Gestade, and the Church of the Friars Minor (officially the Snow Madonna Italian National Church), all dating from the 14th century. Vienna’s oldest church is St. Ruprecht’s. Dating from the 13th century with parts from the 11th century, it is believed to have originally been erected in 740.
The Church of St. Peter, a Baroque structure thought to be standing on the site of a church founded by Charlemagne in 792, was built chiefly by the architect Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt in 1702–33. Other fine examples of Baroque art are the richly frescoed University Church (1627–31) and the Church of the Capuchins (1632), which contains the crypt of the Habsburg imperial family. The Church of the Scots (1155), together with a monastery for Scottish and Irish monks, was rebuilt in late Italian Renaissance style in 1638–48. The style of most of the finest secular buildings, such as the Harach and Kinsky palaces and the winter palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy, is Baroque, Vienna’s leading architectural style in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The vast complex of the Imperial Palace, the Hofburg (or Burg), lies along the Ringstrasse. It consists of a number of buildings, of various periods and styles, enclosing several courtyards; the oldest part dates from the 13th century and the latest from the end of the 19th. The Hofburg abounds in magnificently appointed private and state apartments. It houses the imperial treasury of the Holy Roman and Austrian empires, the Austrian National Library, the Albertina and several other museums, and the Spanish Riding School. The state apartments in one wing of the Hofburg serve as the offices of Austria’s president. Close by stands the Privy Court Chancery (1716–21), where the Congress of Vienna met after the Napoleonic Wars.
The other important buildings along the Ring are mainly mid-19th-century versions of earlier European styles. They include the Stock Exchange (Börse), in Neoclassical-Renaissance style, and the pseudo-Gothic Votive Church, built by Emperor Francis Joseph after he escaped an assassination attempt in 1853. Nearby is the University of Vienna, the oldest university in the German-speaking world, designed in the Italian Renaissance style. The university was founded in 1365, but its original buildings have disappeared.
Fountain featuring a statue of Pallas Athena, at the main entrance of the Parliament building, Vienna.
Another landmark is the City Hall (Rathaus), in neo-Flemish Gothic with Renaissance touches, and facing it is the Burgtheater, in a mixture of neo-Italian High Renaissance with Baroque indulgences. The Neoclassical Parliament building lies adjacent to the Palace of Justice, built in 16th-century German Renaissance style. The neo-Renaissance Natural History Museum and the Kunsthistorisches Museum stand in front of an exhibition centre, formerly the royal stables. Across the Ring from the museums is the Hofburg’s last extension, the Neue Hofburg, and eastward is the magnificent Vienna State Opera House, built in 1861–69. Purporting to be French early Renaissance, the State Opera is actually a conglomeration of imitative architectural styles, of pinnacles, arcades, colonnades, and heroic statuary, yet it somehow achieves a serene and noble harmony.
On the eastern side of the Innere Stadt lies the City Park, rich in monuments. The Innere Stadt and its immediate neighbourhood are still, unlike the older parts of most European cities, the fashionable quarter, containing the government offices, the principal hotels, embassies and legations, and many other fine buildings. The Schönbrunn Palace, the summer residence of the Habsburgs, with its splendid rooms decorated in Rococo style and its great formal park, lies to the southwest in the suburb of Hietzing.
Another noble structure is the Belvedere, which is actually two Baroque palaces at either end of a terraced garden. It was built by Hildebrandt for the soldier and statesman Prince Eugene of Savoy. The Lower Belvedere (1714–16) was a summer garden palace, and the Upper (1721–24) was designed as a place of entertainment. Both now house museums of Austrian art. The Austrian State Treaty, which ended the four-power occupation of the country, was signed in the Upper Belvedere on May 15, 1955.
The Church of St. Charles, a vast structure dedicated to St. Charles Borromeo, was erected just outside the city walls in 1716–39. This Baroque edifice is fronted by a severely classical porch of columns in ancient Roman style, and before it stand spirally decorated twin columns carved with scenes from the saint’s life. A few streets away from the Church of St. Charles is the Theater an der Wien, built between 1789 and 1801. Mozart conducted the first performance of The Magic Flute in 1791 in the theatre’s wooden predecessor, and Beethoven’s Fidelio had its premiere in the newly constructed theatre in 1805. All of the celebrated operetta composers of the 19th century presented works on its stage. In 1962 the municipality bought the dilapidated house, restored it, and now operates it as an orchestra hall.
Two monuments—built by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach and greatly esteemed by the Viennese—were thanksgiving offerings. One is the 69-foot (21-metre) Trinity Column, or Plague Column, on the fashionable shopping boulevard the Graben; it commemorates the cessation of the plagues that struck the city in 1679 and 1713. The other, in more sober Baroque style, is Joseph’s Fountain, a votive column and fountain in the Hoher Market, donated by Emperor Leopold I for the safe return from battle of Joseph I, his firstborn son and heir.
The people of Vienna
Before and during World War II a number of Vienna’s citizens, most notably more than 100,000 Jews, emigrated to the West in order to escape the Nazis. Following the war, Vienna’s population decreased when part of Greater Vienna was reintegrated with the province of Lower Austria. There were also moves in population from eastern to western Austria connected with the German annexation of Austria from 1938 to 1945 and the presence of Soviet troops from 1945 to 1955. Altogether, Vienna’s population decreased by approximately 15 percent between 1934 and 1951. With the demise of communist regimes in eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early ’90s, however, emigration to Vienna increased the city’s population to more than 1,600,000, roughly the same figure as in 1900.
Vienna has a disproportionately large number of elderly, most of whom live alone in the older neighbourhoods. Characteristic of most major cities, however, Vienna’s population is shifting outward to the periphery. Although Vienna has a low birth rate and a small average family size, new housing in the periphery helps to alleviate problems caused by the city’s high percentage of pre-World War I residential buildings.
Ethnicity and language
The Viennese are the product of centuries of cross-fertilization between mountain and plain, between the Balkan strain from one direction and the Germanic from the other. The ancestors of one Viennese in three have come from Bohemia, one in five from Hungary, one in seven from Poland, and one in eight from the Balkan Peninsula. Along with those whose families migrated from Germany and other parts of Austria, this mixture makes up the melting pot of Vienna. With the influx of immigrants in the 1990s, Vienna’s cultural melting pot once again flourished. At the beginning of the 21st century nearly one-fifth of the city’s residents had been born in foreign countries.
Wienerisch, the Viennese speech and accent, reveals social levels and origins. It also demonstrates that the people of Vienna have in their time been governed by Romans, Italians, Spanish, French, Magyars, and Slavs and have absorbed Turkish and Yiddish words into their German tongue in a way that renders the original unrecognizable. Their speech is in many ways closer to that of their neighbours to the south and east than to the German north, and one of its functions is to announce that “we are different.” If the people have any leaning toward pomposity, it is balanced by a habit of self-mockery, as expressed in their saying, “The situation is hopeless but not serious.” The famed Gemütlichkeit (untranslatable but akin to “coziness”), upon which the city’s tourist trade thrives, is—like the nostalgia for wine, women, and song—part of a sentimental image of the Viennese. Britannica QuizWorld Capitals Quiz
Vienna is the seat of a Roman Catholic archbishop and a Protestant bishop. Two-thirds of the city’s population are Roman Catholic and only a very small percentage Protestant. (Considerable numbers profess no religion.) The number of practicing Roman Catholics, however, is estimated to be only a small percentage of the population; like other modern capitals, Vienna is highly secular.
Nazi storm troopers guarding a Jewish-owned business in Vienna shortly after the Anschluss. The graffito on the store window reads, “You Jewish pig, may your hands rot off!”
Before World War II the Viennese Jewish minority, which numbered more than 160,000, played a prominent role in the city, culturally and economically. It is estimated that two-thirds of all Jews emigrated to escape the Nazi occupation. Except for a small remnant that survived, either in hiding or in the concentration camps, the remainder of the Jewish Viennese were exterminated by the Nazis. They now make up less than 1 percent of the population.
The economy of Vienna
A display of pastries at the Demel café, a favourite stop for tourists in Vienna, Austria.
Although commerce and industry form the base of Vienna’s economy, government and public administration on all levels is also a major employer in the Austrian capital. The federally owned theatres alone employ several thousand people. Tourism is also an important economic activity with some two million travelers visiting the city annually. Vienna provides approximately one-fourth of the jobs in the country and produces almost one-third of the gross national product. The steady reduction in numbers of active workers (due to the rising proportion of older people) has necessitated the recruitment of a foreign labour force, primarily in the service sector and in menial occupations.
Industry and trade
Vienna produces more than half of Austria’s capital goods and almost half of its consumer goods. Leading industries include the manufacture of machinery (primarily electrical machinery and transportation equipment), electrical products, chemicals, and metal products. In the Vienna area oil processing, cement works, and brickmaking are important as well. Special Viennese products are silk, velvet, linen, ceramics, jewelry, scientific and musical instruments, watches, cutlery, leather goods, furniture, paper, and carpets. The service industries in Vienna, including banking, account for half of Austria’s total employment in this sector. The proportion of white-collar workers, public employees, and civil servants in the total labour force continues to grow.
The Vienna international trade fair, which takes place twice a year in March and September, is of special importance to the economy of Austria. The fair attracts exhibitors from both European and overseas countries and is attended by several hundred thousand visitors annually. Several hundred American, German, Japanese, and British firms, as well as many firms from eastern European countries, use Vienna as a base for trading operations. Approximately 10 percent of Austria’s exports go to the eastern European countries.
One of Vienna’s historic trams passing in front of the Vienna State Opera.
In the 19th century tens of thousands of immigrants from all parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire arrived at Vienna’s six major railway terminals. Today only two important stations are left, the West Railway Station and the Main Railway Station; the latter serves as the main hub for regional and international rail travel. The city’s busy international airport, Schwechat, is served by more than 30 airlines, and motorways radiate in all directions. Freight transport down the Danube to the Balkan states, Romania, and the Black Sea, and via the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal to northwestern Europe, has grown in importance. More From BritannicaLudwig van Beethoven: Vienna
After World War II Vienna chose to retain its tramway system instead of converting to buses. The old system, modernized and updated, continues to be an important low-cost form of public transportation. The extensive underground network has also been expanded. Consequently, within the city, most people travel by public transportation or on foot.
Administration and social conditions
Because of the dual character of Vienna as the capital city and a federal state (Bundesland) of the republic, the municipal and the state administrations are in the hands of the same elected representatives acting in institutionally separate capacities. The affairs of the city’s 23 municipal districts (Bezirke) are managed by appointed magistrates, and the city is governed by a mayor, who is assisted by two deputies, and a city council composed of 100 members. The mayor, who is elected by the city council, also serves as the governor of the federal state. Representatives to the city council are elected every five years by proportional representation. Vienna sends 28 members to the National Council, the lower house of Austria’s legislature, and 11 members to the Federal Council, the upper house.
The government not only runs the city but also operates a major business, the Vienna Holding, a combination of state and private enterprise. Its firms include low-cost restaurants, a major publishing house, an insurance company, a cold-storage depot, shopping centres, cinemas, and the large, multifunctional Stadthalle (“City Hall”), with a seating capacity of 16,000, for sporting events, concerts, dances, exhibitions, and swimming. The old Theater an der Wien and the traditional Viennese porcelain factory, which was closed in 1864, were rescued from extinction by this enterprise.
Health and welfare
Vienna’s hospitals and medical training have been widely esteemed since the mid-18th century. Emperor Joseph II founded the General Hospital in 1784, and in the 19th century Viennese medicine led the world. Vienna claims several renowned medical scientists, among them Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis, discoverer of the cause of puerperal fever; Theodor Billroth, a pioneer in abdominal surgery; Karl Landsteiner, discoverer of the blood groups; and Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis.
For many reasons the city’s public health care system is regarded as one of the world’s best. The number of doctors in proportion to the population is high; there are more than 40 general and special hospitals and numerous geriatric facilities. In addition to providing model health services, the municipal government has been among the world’s pioneers in public welfare and social insurance. Vienna is also renowned for its clean drinking water, which comes from springs in the mountains around the city.
Vienna has a much higher proportion of high-school and university graduates than the other Austrian states. Of the 12 universities in the country, five are located in Vienna: the University of Vienna, the University of Technology, the University of Agriculture, the University of Veterinary Medicine, and the University of Economics in Vienna. Other notable institutions include the Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, the Academy of Fine Arts, and the Academy of Applied Arts. There are also a Roman Catholic academy, several scientific societies, and many research institutes, as well as the venerable Austrian Academy of Sciences. Vienna’s teaching of music, medicine, law, and the arts attracts many foreign students, who make up about 10 percent of the total student population.
Music and theatre
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Vienna is the undisputed cultural centre of Austria and one of the world capitals of music. Even the Salzburg and Bregenz festivals are dependent on Viennese orchestras, musicians, theatre directors, and actors. Operas, concerts, and theatrical performances have played a major part in Viennese life for centuries, and many world-famous composers lived and worked in the city. The famous Society of Friends of Music, founded in 1812, helps to ensure that Vienna remains a leading music centre.
The Vienna Boys’ Choir, founded in 1498 (Haydn and Schubert were its most famous boy members), sings on Sunday mornings at the mass in the Hofburg Chapel. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra gives frequent Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning concerts and also performs during the week at the State Opera House. Altogether there are seven concert halls in Vienna. Among the highlights of the Viennese musical calendar are the annual gala performance of Johann Strauss’s operetta Die Fledermaus on New Year’s Eve and the New Year’s concert of the Philharmonic, broadcast and televised throughout the world.
The two major opera houses, the State Opera and the People’s Opera, and the two leading theatres, the Burgtheater and the Academy Theatre, are owned by the Austrian federal government, and their singers and actors enjoy respected civil servant status. The State Opera is one of the leading opera houses in the world, where Verdi and Wagner conducted and where Gustav Mahler was director. It opened in 1869 with a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. During World War II it was destroyed, and, after rebuilding, it reopened in 1955 with a performance of Beethoven’s Fidelio. The Burgtheater, founded in 1776, is one of the most highly regarded German-language theatres in Europe. In addition to several large theatres, Vienna has numerous small theatres, which provide a home for more avant-garde works.
Museums and libraries
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.
Vienna has a wide variety of museums and historic houses. Among them are the Albertina, with its immense collection of graphic arts, including engravings by Dürer and Rembrandt; the Kunsthistorisches Museum, with the largest Bruegel collection outside the Netherlands; the Academy of Fine Arts, housing the superb Habsburg collection of Old Masters, especially rich in Flemish and Dutch paintings; the Imperial Treasury, with the imperial crown and the regalia of the Holy Roman emperors and the house of Habsburg; the museums of natural history, ethnology, military history, and technology; the Clock Museum; and the Museum of the City of Vienna, with its exhibits of Viennese history.
The Roman excavations in the Hoher Market, converted into an underground museum; the catacombs of St. Stephen’s Cathedral; the Imperial Vault in the Church of the Capuchins, burial place of the Habsburg emperors; and the exhibits and imperial apartments in the Schönbrunn Palace offer a historical dimension to the city’s art treasures. The houses in which Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Johann Strauss lived and worked are open to the public. The apartment that was Sigmund Freud’s home and office for nearly 50 years is also a museum.
In addition to its museums and historical sites, Vienna is notable for its libraries, including the National Library, the University Library, the City Library, and the libraries of the Natural History Museum and the Academy of Sciences.
Coffeehouses and taverns
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The coffeehouse has been a Viennese institution for three centuries. According to legend, the first such establishment opened with an inventory of Turkish coffee beans, part of the booty from the Siege of Vienna in 1683. There are a variety of coffees and an assortment of supplements such as cream or brandy to choose from. The Viennese have turned the coffeehouse into a sort of second living room, where they not only drink their beverage and consume pastries but also read periodicals, play cards, and chat with friends. There were once famous literary and theatrical cafés where artists and famous personalities held court; still flourishing is the Café Demel, a true custodian of the past.
Also peculiar to Vienna are the taverns in which is served the young sour wine—Heuriger—of the previous year’s local harvest. Some of the most famous taverns are in the outlying districts of Vienna, such as Grinzing, Nussdorf, and Sievering, and they are identified by evergreen branches hung over the entrance. The wine drinking is accompanied by music, usually played on a trio of instruments such as a fiddle, accordion, guitar, or zither.
History of Vienna
The ancient city and medieval growth
Traces of human occupation of the site of Vienna have been found dating as far back as the Paleolithic Period (Old Stone Age). The area was subsequently inhabited by the Illyrians and then the Celts. In 16–15 bce the Romans, under the future emperor Tiberius, occupied the foothills of the Alps, and in the next century the Celtic town of Vindobona (Celtic: “White Field”; later to become Vienna) became a strategic Roman garrison town. (The Roman camp is believed to have covered the area around the present Hoher Market.) Vindobona grew to about 15,000 inhabitants and became part of a widespread network of trade and communications. Emperor Marcus Aurelius is said to have died in Vindobona in 180 ce fighting off attacks by the Germanic tribes. The Romans were swept away in the turmoil of the 5th-century invasions, but enough of Vindobona remained to serve as the nucleus of the medieval city. The Bavarians occupied the area, and the people became Christianized. The city’s name was recorded in 881 as Wenia and in 1030 as Wienis.
The dukes of Babenberg, a Frankish dynasty, were overlords of Vienna from 1156 to 1246. The city developed into an important trading centre, where Crusaders on their way to the East bought provisions and equipment. In the 13th century walls were built around the city, and Vienna remained largely confined within the walled area until the 1700s. The Babenbergs kept a brilliant court and encouraged artists like the famous minnesinger Walther von der Vogelweide.
In 1246 the last male of the Babenberg family died. In the ensuing struggle for domination, the king of Bohemia, Otakar II, became overlord of what was to become Austria. Otakar established himself as a powerful central European prince, and by 1276 he was at war with the German king, Rudolf I of the Habsburg dynasty. When Otakar fell in battle in 1278, the Habsburgs took over his domain and retained it for more than 600 years. The capital city flourished, trading with Trieste, Venice, and Hungary; nevertheless, economic decline attended the numerous disputes over inheritance within the Habsburg family. In 1485, under siege by Matthias I (Corvinus) of Hungary, the city fathers surrendered in the hope of bettering their status. When Corvinus died five years later, Vienna reverted to the Habsburg emperor, Frederick III.
Development of imperial Vienna
During the Renaissance, Vienna was a leader in science and fine arts, and the university (1365) was a centre of humanism. When Charles V became Holy Roman emperor in the 16th century, he entrusted his Austrian territories to his brother, the future emperor Ferdinand I. Seeking to increase their liberties and economic position, the Lower Austrian Diet rebelled against their regent. Ferdinand responded by condemning the leaders of the insurrection to death, and in 1526 he issued an ordinance that stripped the city of almost all its rights. In the same year, he inherited the kingdoms of Bohemia and Hungary and, accordingly, the task of fighting the Turks, who commanded large parts of Hungary. Turkish forces besieged Vienna in 1529 but were successfully beaten off. When Ferdinand was crowned emperor in 1558, Vienna regained its political status and became the administrative seat of numerous kingdoms that the Habsburgs acquired by marriage.
The Reformation swept through Europe during the 16th century, arousing heated opposition from the Roman Catholic Church. In an attempt to stem the controversy, the imperial Diet, in the Peace of Augsburg (1555), recognized the right of Lutheranism to exist but decreed that the regional princes were to determine which form of Christianity their subjects must follow. Because the Viennese were required to remain Roman Catholic, many of the great number who had become Protestant had to leave the city. It was during this period that new fortifications were built to replace the medieval city walls and the Hofburg was enlarged with the addition of new courts. The splendid secular buildings of the Baroque era proclaimed Vienna’s stature as an imperial residence and one of the great world capitals.
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In 1679 the bubonic plague struck the city, killing nearly a third of its population. Then, during the summer of 1683, Vienna suffered a second Turkish siege, this one led by the grand vizier Kara Mustafa. The Viennese defenders, together with imperial troops under Charles of Lorraine, held off the Turkish army, which was defeated with the help of relief forces led by John III (Sobieski), king of Poland. Shortly thereafter Prince Eugene of Savoy succeeded in driving the Turks out of Hungary.
With the Turkish threat at an end, there followed an upsurge of building, particularly in the devastated suburbs. Between 1700 and 1730 a city of palaces and stately homes emerged. A second line of fortifications, the Linienwall (“straight rampart”), was built in 1704–06 to give the suburbs protection. In the densely built-up Innere Stadt old houses either had upper stories added or were demolished and replaced by Baroque structures. Hildebrandt, J.B. Fischer von Erlach, and Fischer von Erlach’s son Joseph Emanuel were the great Viennese architects of the time, and their achievements are still evident in some of the city’s best buildings.
During this period, immigrants arrived from other parts of the empire, and new factories heralded the city’s transition from trade to manufacturing. The arts also received fresh energy, as instanced by Joseph Anton Stranitzky’s newly created Viennese Impromptu Theatre, which opened with the character masque of Hanswurst.
The male line of the Habsburgs died out with Charles VI in 1740, but by the terms of the Pragmatic Sanction his daughter Maria Theresa gained the right of succession and reigned until 1780. She established compulsory primary-school attendance; separated the university from the church, bringing it under state control; and reorganized the economy, the army, and the judiciary. Her son and successor, Joseph II, was typical of the Enlightenment’s absolute monarchs and continued in her reforming spirit. His Edict of Toleration guaranteed religious freedom to Protestants and Orthodox Christians in 1781, and Jews were liberated from a number of discriminatory restrictions the following year. He instituted many humanitarian measures, improved government and education, and supported the arts. Some of his actions, like the dissolution of the monasteries, brought him into conflict with the church. By the time Joseph died in 1790, there were 300 factories in Vienna, the population had increased to 235,000, and the built-up area had increased 10-fold since the Turkish siege. Gluck, Haydn, and Mozart had ushered in Vienna’s first golden age of music; Beethoven and Schubert would carry it into the next century.
The Congress of Vienna, watercolour etching by August Friedrich Andreas Campe; in the collection of the State Borodino War and History Museum, Moscow.
Europe after the Congress of Vienna (1815).
In 1804 Francis II declared himself emperor of Austria and in 1806 resigned his former imperial crown, thus bringing to an end the Holy Roman Empire, which had long been essentially a German monarchy. Napoleon’s armies occupied Vienna in 1805 and again in 1809. Inflation and state bankruptcy followed the Napoleonic Wars. Politically, however, Vienna held a central position in the restoration of Europe at the Congress of Vienna (1814–15) under the leadership of the powerful statesman Prince Metternich.
By 1845 Vienna had 430,000 inhabitants. The aspirations and cultural interests of the middle class were growing, finding artistic expression primarily in the simple and commonplace forms of the Biedermeier style of decoration and furniture design. Joseph Lanner and the elder Johann Strauss enlivened the city with Viennese waltzes. The revolution of March 1848 in Vienna brought to an end Metternich’s authoritarian rule. A second uprising, in October, was put down by the imperial army of Francis Joseph. The city continued to grow culturally as the Austrian (later the Austro-Hungarian) imperial capital.
Evolution of the modern city
Map of Vienna (c. 1900), from the 10th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica.
Vienna’s inner ramparts were razed in 1857 and the city ditches filled in. They were replaced by the Ringstrasse, opened in 1865. The stately public buildings and parks along this great avenue emerged over the years. In other parts of the city, old structures were demolished and new ones built. The drinking-water supply was improved with springwater; the Danube was regulated; and, later, gas and electric works were built. New regulations in 1859 established full freedom of trade. Vienna’s economy grew rapidly, and with it the city’s population.
In 1861 Vienna was granted city self-government through a freely elected city council, which acquired a liberal majority. The suburbs were brought under the city administration in 1890. Three years later the Linienwall was dismantled and a second ring road, the Gürtel, built in its place. Musical Vienna flourished under the composers Brahms, Anton Bruckner, Hugo Wolf, and Mahler. Operetta became established as a characteristic Viennese art form through the music of the younger Johann Strauss, Franz von Suppé, Franz Lehár, and Emmerich Kálmán.
At the turn of the century, with nearly two million inhabitants and an area of 105 square miles (272 square km), Vienna began to spread to the left bank of the Danube. The capital city had become a fertile breeding ground for ideas that—for good or bad—were to shape the modern world. Among the thousands who flocked to Vienna seeking work or a vocation was the young Adolf Hitler. Having failed there as an art student, he adopted notions of Greater German nationalism and was influenced by both the rhetorical style and the anti-Semitism of the Pan-German politician Georg Ritter von Schönerer and of Vienna’s mayor, Karl Lueger. Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, was living in Vienna at the same time. The city also was the home of Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler, at work developing their far-reaching psychiatric theories.
Artistic activity reached new heights as well in the early 20th century. In architecture, painting, and design, the Sezessionstil (German: Jugendstil) movement (Art Nouveau) provided means for young artists to rebel against pretentiousness in the Viennese art establishment, including the style of architecture on the Ring. Otto Wagner, Adolf Loos, and Josef Hoffmann were prominent architects and designers of the new school; among the painters were Gustav Klimt, Alfred Kubin, Oskar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele. Viennese music continued to break new ground with the works of Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Anton von Webern. Influential writers included Arthur Schnitzler, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and Karl Kraus.
During World War I the city’s population swelled to 2,239,000 with an influx of refugees. Francis Joseph died in 1916; his successor, Charles, was forced to abdicate at the end of the war. The Habsburg monarchy fell, and a German-Austrian republic was proclaimed in November 1918. In 1919 general suffrage produced a Social Democratic majority in the city council. The party introduced numerous reforms in housing, education, public welfare, and health care. These socialist policies earned the capital the nickname “Red Vienna,” and it became recognized internationally as a forerunner of the modern welfare state. In 1922 Vienna was made a federal province of Austria, the mayor of the city also serving as the governor of the province.
Engelbert Dollfuss, 1934.
Economically and politically the young republic was on shaky ground. The paramilitary forces of the Austro-Marxist Social Democrats and their conservative Christian Social opponents carried politics into the streets. Mass political demonstrations were answered with savage repression, and in 1933 the Austrian chancellor, Engelbert Dollfuss, dissolved Parliament and set up an authoritarian regime. His government’s decision to fire upon Viennese workers defending their apartment blocks (1934) was seen by many as a final betrayal of democracy. Disillusioned with the failures of the First Republic and disheartened by recurring economic crises and mass unemployment, more and more Viennese, like many other Austrians, were drawn to the Nazi Party of their fellow countryman Adolf Hitler in neighbouring Germany. These Viennese supported union with Germany (Anschluss) as the only viable solution.
Adolf Hitler (center) and Nazi officials parading through Vienna during the German occupation of Austria, 1938.
On March 12, 1938, the German army occupied Austria. A few days later, Hitler proclaimed the Anschluss; Greater Vienna, now including the smaller communes of its Lower Austrian periphery, became a German province. While many Austrians supported Nazi policies long into World War II, the Nazis’ suppression of Austrian identity and culture, the atrocities and damages of war, and the persecution and mass killings of Jews and political enemies led to a growing disenchantment with German rule—which in turn aided the development of a new sense of Austrian nationhood. In April 1945 Vienna was liberated by Soviet troops.
In the summer of 1945 the city, like the country as a whole, was divided into zones of occupation by the Allied powers (France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States). The city’s so-called first district, containing most of the government offices, became an international zone, run by each occupying power for set periods of time. During the decade of Allied occupation, as the Cold War intensified, Vienna became a global centre of espionage.
Vienna had emerged from the war with nearly a quarter of its buildings either partially or completely destroyed. The city’s population had fallen to 1,322,000. The immense task of providing food and shelter, repairing the transportation network, and rebuilding the city began under the mayors Theodor Körner (1945–51) and Franz Jonas (1951–65), both of whom later became presidents of the republic. The Austrian State Treaty was signed in the Belvedere on May 15, 1955, leading to independence and the withdrawal of all Allied occupation troops.
Vienna’s geographic position at the heart of Europe was devalued three times in the 20th century: in 1918, when it became the top-heavy capital of a small republic; in 1938, when the takeover by Germany reduced it to a German province; and in 1945, when the Iron Curtain came down some 50 miles to the east. But to a large extent the city remains a focal point of East-West contacts. It has become important as a major international meeting place and conference centre, as well as a seat of world organizations. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) moved its headquarters to Vienna in 1965, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has its headquarters there as well. On the outskirts of Vienna, across the Danube, the modern buildings of the Vienna International Centre, or UNO-City, include the offices of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, and other UN agencies.
Information come from Encyclopedia Britannica