One of the great European capitals, Vienna was for centuries the stomping ground for the Habsburg rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The empire is long gone, but reminders have been carefully preserved by the tradition-loving Viennese. Past artistic glories live on, thanks to the cultural legacy of the many artistic geniuses nourished here—including Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, and Gustav Klimt. Today’s visitors discover a city with a special grace and a cohesive architectural character that sets it so memorably apart from its great rivals—London, Paris, and Rome.
POINTS OF INTEREST
What began as a small fortress in 1275 grew over the centuries into a vast palace, the Hofburg. It was the seat of Austrian power for over six centuries, and successive rulers were all anxious to leave their mark. The various buildings range in style from Gothic to late 19th-century Neo-Renaissance. The complex was still expanding up until a few years before the Habsburgs fell from power in 1918. The presence of the imperial court had a profound effect on the surrounding area, with noble families competing to site their palaces as close as possible to the Hofburg.
The vast Hofburg complex contains the former imperial apartments and treasuries (Schatzkammer) of the Habsburgs, several museums, a chapel, a church, the Austrian National Library, the Winter Riding School, and the President of Austria’s offices. The entrance to the imperial apartments and the treasuries is through the Michaelertor on Michaelerplatz.
The massive curved Neue Burg on Heldenplatz was added to the Hofburg in 1881–1913. Archaeological finds from Ephesus are on display in the Ephesos Museum, while pianos that belonged to Beethoven, Schubert, and Haydn are housed in the musical instrument museum – the Sammlung alter Musikinstrumente. The weapons collection in the Hofjagd und Rüstkammer is one of the finest in Europe. There is also an excellent ethnological collection – the Weltmuseum Wien, as well as collections from the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
The State Apartments (Kaiserappartements) in the Reichkanzleitrakt (1726–30) and the Amalienburg (1575) include the rooms used by Franz Joseph from 1857 to 1916, Empress Elisabeth’s apartments from 1854 to 1898, and those where Czar Alexander I lived during the Congress of Vienna in 1815.
The Spanish Riding School is believed to have been founded in 1572 to cultivate the classic skills of haute école horsemanship. By breeding and training horses from Spain, the Habsburgs formed the Spanische Reitschule. Today, 80-minute shows take place in the building known as the Winter Riding School, built in 1729–35 to a design by Josef Emanuel Fischer von Erlach.
Treasures amassed during centuries of Habsburg rule are displayed in 21 rooms, known as the Schatzkammer or Treasury. They include relics of the Holy Roman Empire, the crown jewels, and liturgical objects of the imperial court. Admire the dazzling gold, silver, and porcelain once used at state banquets.
The Burgtheater is the most prestigious stage in the German-speaking world. The original theater, built in Maria Theresa’s reign, was replaced in 1888 by today’s Italian Renaissance-style building by Karl von Hasenauer and Gottfried Semper. It closed for refurbishment in 1897 after the discovery that several seats had no view of the stage. At the end of World War II, a bomb devastated the building, leaving only the side wings containing the Grand Staircases intact. The restoration was so successful that today it is hard to tell the new parts from the old.
The Stephansdom, with its magnificent glazed-tile roof, is the heart and soul of Vienna. It is no mere coincidence that the urns containing the entrails of some of the Habsburgs lie in a vault beneath its main altar. A church has stood on the site for over 800 years, but all that remains of the original 13th-century Romanesque church are the Giants’ Doorway and Heathen Towers. The Gothic nave, the choir, and the side chapels are the result of rebuilding in the 14th and 15th centuries, while some of the outbuildings, such as the Lower Vestry, are Baroque additions. The lofty vaulted interior contains an impressive collection of works of art. Masterpieces of Gothic sculpture include the fabulously intricate pulpit, several of the figures of saints adorning the piers, and the canopies over many of the side altars. To the left of the High Altar is the 15th-century winged Wiener Neustädter Altar bearing the painted images of 72 saints. The altar panels open out to reveal delicate sculpture groups. The most spectacular Renaissance work is the tomb of Friedrich III, while the High Altar adds a flamboyant Baroque note.
Vienna’s opera house, the Staatsoper, was the first of the grand Ringstrasse buildings to be completed; it opened on May 25, 1869 to the strains of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Built in Neo-Renaissance style, it initially failed to impress the Viennese. Yet when it was hit by a bomb in 1945 and largely destroyed, the event was seen as a symbolic blow to the city. With a brand new auditorium and stage, the Opera House reopened in November 1955 with a performance of Beethoven’s Fidelio.
Almost the mirror image of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the Natural History Museum was designed by the same architects and opened in 1889. Its collections include archaeological, anthropological, mineralogical, zoological, and geological displays. There are casts of dinosaur skeletons, the world’s largest display of skulls illustrating the history of man, one of Europe’s most comprehensive collections of gems, prehistoric sculpture, Bronze Age items, and extinct birds and mammals. In the archaeological section, look out for the celebrated Venus of Willendorf, a 25,000-year-old Palaeolithic fertility figurine, and finds from the early Iron Age settlement at Hallstatt.
The Museum of the History of Art attracts more than one and a half million visitors each year. Its collections are based largely on those built up over a number of centuries by the Habsburgs. The picture gallery occupies the first floor. The collection focuses on Old Masters from the 15th to the 18th centuries. Because of the links between the Habsburgs and the Netherlands, Flemish painting is well represented. About half the surviving works of Peter Brueghel the Elder (c.1525–69) are held by the museum, including The Tower of Babel and most of the cycle of The Seasons. The Dutch paintings range from genre scenes of great domestic charm to magnificent landscapes. All the Rembrandts on display are portraits, including the famous Large Self-Portrait of the artist in a plain smock (1652). The only Vermeer is the enigmatic allegorical painting, The Artist’s Studio (1665). The Italian galleries have a strong collection of 16th-century Venetian paintings, with a comprehensive range of Titians and great works by Giovanni Bellini and Tintoretto. Also on show are the bizarre vegetable portrait heads, representing the four seasons, made for Emperor Rudolf II by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527–93). The German section is rich in 16th-century paintings. There are several works by Dürer, including his Madonna with the Pear (1512). The most interesting of the Spanish works are the portraits of the Spanish royal family by Diego Velázquez (1599–1660). On the ground floor are the Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Near Eastern collections, with new rooms devoted specifically to Greek and Roman antiquities. Among the Egyptian and Near Eastern antiquities is an entire 5th-Dynasty tomb chapel from Giza (c.2400 BC) and a splendid bust of King Tuthmosis III (c.1460 BC). The sculpture and decorative arts collection (Kunstkammer Wien) houses some fine, late Gothic religious statues by artists such as Tilman Riemen Schneider (c.1460–1531), and curiosities owned by various Habsburg monarchs, such as automata and scientific instruments, as well as the famous saliera, or salt cellar, by Benvenuto Cellini.
This museum complex is one of the largest cultural centers in the world, housed in what was once the imperial stables and carriage houses. Here, you will find art museums, venues for film, theater, architecture, dance, new media, and a children’s creativity center. The visitor center is a good starting point. Among the attractions is the Leopold Museum which focuses on Austrian art, including many works by Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt. The Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation Vienna shows contemporary and modern art from around the world. ZOOM Kinder-museum offers a lively introduction to the world of the museum for children. Architekturzentrum is dedicated to 20th- and 21st-century architecture.
No. 19 Berggasse is very like any other 19th-century apartment in Vienna, yet it is now one of the city’s most famous addresses. The father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, received patients here from 1891 to 1938. The flat housed Freud’s family, too. Memorabilia on display include letters and books, furnishings, and photographs. Even his hat and cane are on show. The apartment was abandoned when the Nazis forced Freud to leave but still preserves an intimate domestic atmosphere.
MUSEUM OF APPLIED ARTS
The MAK (Museum für angewandte Kunst) was founded in 1864 as a museum for art and industry. Over the years, it also acquired objects representing new artistic movements. The museum has a fine collection of furniture, including some classical works of the German cabinet-maker David Roentgen, textiles, glass, Islamic and East Asian art, and fine Renaissance jewelry. There is also a whole room full of Biedermeier furniture. The most important Austrian artistic movement was the Secession, formed by artists who seceded from the Vienna academy in 1897. Their style, also known as Jugendstil, is represented through the many and varied productions of the Wiener Werkstätte (Viennese Workshops), a cooperative arts and crafts studio, founded in 1903.
Joseph Maria Olbrich designed the unusual Secession Building in Jugendstil style as a showcase for the Secession movement’s artists in 1898. The almost windowless building is a squat cube with four towers. The filigree globe of entwined laurel leaves on the roof gave rise to the building’s nickname: “The Golden Cabbage.” Inside, Gustav Klimt’s famous Beethoven Frieze, designed in 1902, covers three walls and is 110 ft long.
During Vienna’s plague epidemic of 1713, Karl VI vowed that, as soon as the city was delivered, he would build a church dedicated to St. Charles Borromeo (1538–84), a patron saint of the plague. Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach’s eclectic Baroque masterpiece borrows from the architecture of ancient Greece and Rome. The interior was embellished with carvings and altarpieces by leading artists of the day. Johann Michael Rottmayr’s huge fresco in the cupola (1725–30) depicts St. Charles in heaven interceding for deliverance from the plague.
ALBERTINA GREATER VIENNA
Hidden away in a corner of the Hofburg is the Albertina, a palace named after Duke Albert of Sachsen-Teschen, Maria Theresa’s son-in-law. Its collection includes one million prints, 65,000 watercolors and drawings, and over 70,000 photographs. The gems of the collection are by Dürer, with Michelangelo and Rubens also well represented. Picasso heads a fine 20th-century section. The Batliner Collection traces the progression from Impressionism to Modernism. The palace has been restored to its former glory and now, for the first time in over 200 years, it is possible to visit the Habsburg State Rooms with their Neoclassical architecture and interior decoration.
Originally an imperial hunting ground, this huge area of woods and meadows between the Danube and the Danube Canal was opened to the public by Joseph II in 1766. The central avenue, or Hauptallee, stretches for 5 km (3 miles) through the center of the Prater and was for a long time the preserve of the nobility and their footmen. During the 19th century, the northern end of the Prater became a massive funfair, dominated by a giant Ferris wheel, one of Vienna’s most famous landmarks. There is also a planetarium, an exhibition center, and a trotting stadium nearby. The southern side of the Prater contains extensive woodland – interlaced with cycle paths and a municipal golf course. There is also the Liliputbahn miniature railway that runs for almost 4 km (2 miles) from March until October.
The Belvedere was built by Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt as the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy, the brilliant military commander whose strategies helped vanquish the Turks in 1683. Situated on a gently sloping hill, the Belvedere consists of two palaces linked by a formal garden laid out in the French style by Dominique Girard. The huge garden is sited on three levels, linked by two elaborate cascading waterfalls. Different areas of the garden are meant to convey a complicated series of Classical allusions: the lower part of the garden represents the domain of the Four Elements, the center is Parnassus, and the upper section is Olympus. Standing at the highest point of the garden, the Upper Belvedere has a more elaborate facade than the Lower Belvedere, with lavish stone ornamentation, statues, and balustrades. The domed copper roofs of the end pavilions were designed to resemble Turkish tents – an allusion to Prince Eugene’s many victories over the Turks. In fact, the whole palace was intended to be a symbolic reflection of the prince’s power and glory and was appropriate to the grand festive occasions for which it was originally used. The many impressive interiors include the Sala Terrena, with four Herculean figures supporting the ceiling, and a grand, sweeping staircase, the ornately decorated chapel, and the opulent Marble Hall. The building also houses the collections of 19th- and 20th-century paintings belonging to the Austrian Gallery. Many of the works are by Austrian painters, including an excellent collection by Gustav Klimt. There are also works by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller and Van Gogh. The Lower Belvedere was used by Prince Eugene for day-to-day living, and the building itself is less elaborate than the Upper Belvedere. Many of the rooms are just as grand, however, for example, the ornate, golden Hall of Mirrors. A museum here shows temporary exhibitions. Next door to the Lower Belvedere is the handsome Orangery, originally used to shelter tender plants in winter. Masterpieces from the Baroque collection are exhibited on the first floor of the east wing in the Upper Belvedere. These include the character heads by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt and sculptures by Georg Raphael Donner, as well as paintings by J. M. Rottmayr, Martino Atomonte, Daniel Gran, and Paul Troger. The ground floor of the Upper Belvedere houses some masterpieces of Austrian Medieval Art. These include the Znaimer Altar, the seven panels painted by Rueland Frueauf the Elder (1490–94) which show the Passion taking place in an Austrian setting, and the 12th-century Romanesque Stammerberg Crucifix, one of the oldest surviving examples of Tyrolean woodcarving.
SCHÖNBRUNN PALACE AND GARDENS
This magnificent former summer residence of the imperial family takes its name from a “beautiful spring” that was found nearby. An earlier hunting lodge was destroyed by the Turks, so Leopold I asked Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach to design a grand Baroque residence here in 1695. The project was finally completed by Nikolaus Pacassi in the mid-18th century, under Empress Maria Theresa. The strict symmetry of the architecture is complemented by the extensive formal gardens, with their neat lawns and careful planting. An array of fountains and statues is framed by trees and alleyways. The gardens also contain a huge tropical Palm House with an interesting collection of exotic plants, a small zoo, a butterfly house, an orangery, and the Gloriette – a large Neoclassical arcade which crowns the hill behind the palace. Inside the palace, the Rococo decorative schemes were devised by Nikolaus Pacassi. In the state rooms, the dominant features are white paneling, often adorned with gilded ornamental framework. The rooms vary from the extremely sumptuous – such as the Millionen-Zimmer, paneled with fig-wood inlaid with Persian miniatures – to the quite plain apartments of Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth. The Memorial Room contains the portrait and effigy of the Duke of Reichstadt, the son of Napoleon and Princess Maria Louisa, daughter of Austrian Emperor Franz I. A virtual prisoner in the palace after Napoleon’s fall from power, the duke died here in 1832 aged 21. Alongside the palace is a museum of imperial coaches and sleighs.