Vienna Travel Guide

Culture manifestations are important Vienna, but music lovers in particular will be in ecstacy. Vienna nurtured the works of Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Brahms and Mahler, among others.

Vienna was the showpiece of the all-conquering Habsburg dynasty. Monumental edifices line the city centre, world-class museums burst with treasures, white stallions strut their way down mirrored halls and renowned orchestras and angelic choirboys perform in lavish concert halls. Vienna has plenty of lower-brow pleasures too - walks in the woods, splish-splashing high jinks on the river, slap-up indulgent evenings in its renowned wine taverns.

Facts in a glance

Area: 415 sq km
Population: 1.6 million
Country: Austria
Time Zone: GMT/UTC +1 (Central European Time)
Telephone Area Code: 01


Vienna was founded initally as a Celtic settlement called Vindomina. It was strategically located, with the Danube river to the east, forest covered hills to the north and west, and a smaller tributary of the Danube to the south. It was later captured by the Romans, and used as a fortified camp against the Tutons. The Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, resided there for a time to assist in the military campaign. When the Romans left, the region was fought over by several Slavic tribes, adding a mixture of ethnic groups to the region.

After the Romans withdrew (late 4th cent.), it rapidly changed hands among the invaders who overran the region. The Magyars, who gained possession of Vienna early in the 10th cent., were driven out by Leopold I of Babenberg , the first margrave of the Ostmark (see Austria ). Construction on Vienna's noted Cathedral of St. Stephen began c.1135.

Several decades later Henry Jasomirgott, first duke of Austria, transferred his residence to the town, made it capital of the duchy, and erected a castle, Am Hof. The town was fortified by Ottocar II of Bohemia, who conquered Austria in 1251. In 1282, Vienna became the official residence of the house of Hapsburg . The city was occupied (1485-90) by Matthias Corvinus of Hungary and was besieged by the Turks for the first time in 1529. In the critical second siege (1683) by the Turks under Kara Mustafa and their Hungarian allies under Thokoly, the city, heroically defended by Ernst von Starhemberg , was on the verge of starvation when it was saved by John III (John Sobieski) of Poland.

Early in the 18th cent. a new circle of fortifications was built around the city, and many magnificent buildings were erected. Bernhard Fischer von Erlach drew up new plans for the Hofburg (the imperial residence) and built the beautiful Karlskirche; Johann von Hildebrandt designed St. Peter's Church, the Belvedere (summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy), and the Kinsky Palace; together they planned the Schwarzenburg Palace and the winter residence of Prince Eugene. Empress Maria Theresa (reigned 1740-80) enlarged the old university, founded in 1365, and completed the royal summer palace of Schönbrunn , started by her father, Charles VI (1711-40). Joseph II (1765-90) opened the Prater, a large imperial garden, which now contains an amusement park, to the public. Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert lived in Vienna and gave it lasting glory.

In 1805 and 1809, Vienna was occupied by Napoleon. In the early 19th cent. Vienna was famous for the waltzes of Joseph Lanner and the Strauss family, and for the farces of Nestroy, the comedies of Raimund, and the tragic dramas of Grillparzer. During the revolutions of 1848 , revolutionists in Vienna forced Metternich to resign, but they were eventually suppressed by Windischgrätz .

In the late 19th and early 20th cent., Vienna flourished again as a cultural and scientific center. Rokitansky, Wagner-Jauregg, and Billroth (to whom Brahms dedicated the string quartets Op. 51) worked at the General Hospital; at the same time Freud was developing his theory of psychoanalysis. Vienna attracted Brahms, Mahler, Richard Strauss, and Arnold Schoenberg and his disciples, who gave it a further period of musical greatness. Krauss, Werfel, Hofmannsthal, Schnitzler, and Wassermann dominated the literary scene.

Vienna suffered hardships during World War I. Amidst food shortages and revolution it became, at the end of the war, the capital of the small republic of Austria. In 1922, Vienna became an autonomous province ( Bundesland ) of Austria. The highly successful Social Democratic city government headed by Mayor Karl Seitz (1923-34) initiated a program of municipal improvements. In public housing Vienna set an example for the world. Model apartment houses for workers, notably the huge Karl Marx Hof, began to replace the city's slums. The projects were badly damaged in the civil war of Feb., 1934, between Viennese Socialists and the Austrian government of Chancellor Dollfuss .

On Mar. 15, 1938, Adolf Hitler triumphantly entered Vienna, and Austria was annexed to Germany. During World War II the city suffered considerable damage. The Jewish population (115,000 in 1938), residing mainly in the Leopoldstadt district (designated the official ghetto in the 17th cent.), was reduced through extermination or emigration to 6,000 by the end of the war. The Russian army entered Vienna in Apr., 1945. Vienna and Austria were divided into four occupation zones by the victorious Allies. The occupation lasted until 1955, when, by treaty, the four powers reunited Austria as a neutral state.

Vienna became the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1957; it is the headquarters for several other international organizations, including the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. The city also has been a neutral site for international talks, such as those between President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev in 1961. Since the walls came tumbling down in 1989, Vienna has found itself with a new sense of purpose as a gateway city to Central and Eastern Europe.

Vienna's Hapsburg facade is rigorously maintained - although the last ruling Hapsburg passed away in 1989 - but the city is increasingly forward-looking. The 1990s were a difficult time for Austria. In 1993 Chancellor Franz Vanitsky publicly admitted that Austrians had been 'willing servants of Nazism'. The scars of WWII history were opened further in the new millenium: the federal government's move to the right has been the subject of concern for many Austrians as well as the European Union since 2000, and the government remains the subject of close international monitoring. Nevertheless, Vienna seems to be going through a time of renewal, shaking off its staid image and facing the future with zest.

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