Vienna is the capital and smallest federal state of Austria. Despite its size of only 415km² it has the largest population of the nine federal states of Austria - about 1.6 million. The city is located in the east of the country, north-east of the Alps at the Danube.
In the 1st Century, the Roman military base Vindobona was founded. Some of Vienna's inner city streets lie over old Roman routes. A small example of the ruins that can be found under the city can be seen at the Michaelerplatz behind the Hofburg. After the end of the Roman Empire, little was left of Vindobona.
In 976, the Babenbergers were in control of the Eastern March, an area about 60 miles wide, on the eastern border of Bavaria. It became the duchy of Austria. Liutpold, the count, extended its area at the expense of the Hungarians and Austria and Vienna became more important again. When the Margraves of Babenberg moved their residence to Vienna in 1150, the city's importance increased even more.
The Habsburgs became the new sovereigns at the end of the 13th Century. In the 14th Century the city acquired a new, gothic appearance which didn't change significantly until the 17th Century.
After Vienna was besieged by the Turks for the first time in 1529, most efforts in building were made to construct new bastions and Vienna became capital and residential city of the Holy Roman Empire. The imperial family lived in the Hofburg and, from the 17th Century, in summer residences in the suburbs.
Napoleon Bonaparte attacked Vienna in 1805 and 1809, and afterwards the regime of the chancellor Metternich brought big social problems. It was the beginning of industrialisation but also an era of great achievement in the arts. After the revolution of 1848, modernisation began.
In the second half of the 19th Century many suburbs became part of the city; the bastions were demolished and the Danube was channelled. Over 100 kilometres of water pipes between the Alps and Vienna - which were built in the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century - are still in use.
Until World War I, Vienna was the capital of a huge Empire, but the republic of Austria is a small state. Due to its large size in comparison to the rest of Austria, Vienna became a separate federal state. Between the World Wars, politics were dominated by the social democrats. The council housing of this time, especially, became famous.
After a political and economic crisis in the early 1930s, Austria joined Germany in 1938. Once again, surrounding villages became part of Vienna, which tripled in size. The allied forces bombed Vienna from 1943.
By the end of World War II, more than 20 per cent of the city was destroyed. The allied forces divided Vienna into four zones and the extension of the city was partly annulled. In 1955 a state treaty brought freedom for Austria. The allied forces left and the economic upturn began.
International organisations like the United Nations and OECD arrived in Vienna. Until 1989, the city was an important connection to eastern Europe. In 1994 Austria joined the European Union, and in 2001 the inner city of Vienna became a site of UNESCO Cultural Heritage.
In the middle of the 19th Century the old bastions were removed and replaced by a boulevard. Many important buildings are placed along this street and it is a great example for historicism.
The most important buildings at the Ringstrasse are the state opera - where the famous Opernball takes place every year, the Museum of Arts History, the Museum of Natural History, the Hofburg, the parliament, the Burgtheater, the city hall and the University of Vienna.
Until 1918, the Hofburg was the residence of the Austrian emperors. It was built between the 13th Century and the 20th Century, and today accommodates many museums.
The oldest parts were probably built by the last Babanbergers and are set in the shape of a square. During the next centuries more and more buildings were added. The last big extensions were made after 1860, when two huge wings were planned opposite of the Museum of Arts History and the Museum of Natural History, but only one of the wings was finished.
At the 'back' of the Hofburg at the Michalelaplatz, unnoticed by most tourists, stands the Looshaus. It was built in 1911 and planned by the famous architect Adolf Loos. At that time it was a big scandal to put a house with so little decoration next to the Hofburg. It was one of the first modern company buildings in Vienna.
The Imperial Apartments - Sisi Museum - Imperial Silver Collection
The tour through the museum first leads to the Imperial Silver Collection. You can see a huge amount of crockery and cutlery used by the imperial family. In the Sisi museum visitors learn more about the life of Empress Elisabeth. The most interesting part of the museum are the Imperial Apartments where you can see the 19th-Century rooms of emperor Franz Joseph I and his wife Elisabeth.
Insignia and jewels of the Holy Roman Empire, medieval royal objects, crowns of various emperors and oddities and more can be found in in the treasury. The pieces are not only of high materialistic value but also tell the tale of over a thousand years of European history.
The Spanish Riding School
The Spanish Riding School in Vienna is the only one in the world which still practises the horsemanship of the Renaissance. Visitors can watch the Lipizzans in training and performances, as well as visit the stables and the baroque riding hall.
The Collection of Arms and Armour
Armour from the 15th Century to the 20th Century, representing most western dynasties, is displayed in this collection. They were not used in wars but had a representational function.
The Museum of Arts History was opened in 1891 and contained most of the collections of the imperial family. The rooms alone are impressing enough, the building fulfils all the clichés of old museums. On the first floor a huge gallery of paintings can be found, with works by many important painters. On the ground floor you can find the Ancient Egyptian collection and Greek and Roman Antiquities.
The Museum of Natural History fulfils the clichés even more than the Museum of Arts History, which stands opposite to it. The long rows of wood and glass showcases filled with objects, animals and plants are standing in huge decorated rooms. The earliest collections are over 250 years old. On the ground floor are collections of minerals, prehistoric animals and objects from the early history of mankind. Almost the entire upper floor is filled with old stuffed animals.
Museum für angewandte Kunst - MAK
The Museum of Applied Arts was built in the 19th Century as the 'KuK1 Austrian Museum of Arts and Industry'. It shows designs of various artists as well as examples of mass production. They are presented chronologically, beginning with the early antiquity. Among the objects are textiles, furniture and jewellery.
The palace Schönbrunn was a summer residence of the Austrian emperors and at that time was situated outside of the city. The first castle built in 1559 was destroyed by the Turks. A huge new palace was devised in the 17th Century, but the plans were changed and so the castle is now much smaller than it was intended. The palace and the gardens were altered a few times and today are part of the UNESCO Cultural Heritage.
The palace has 1,441 rooms and halls. About 40 of them can be visited – and it makes sense to see all of them and not take the smaller tour of 22 rooms. The way leads through the apartments of emperors from the baroque period to the early 20th Century.
Today, the gardens of Schönbrunn are a public park. The design of the gardens is from 1750 and they have a size of about 185 ha. A walk through the park leads through long boulevards and past many old fountains and statues. Opposite the palace, on a hill, stands the Gloriette. There is a café where the palace stood originally. Extra tickets are required for the labyrinth and the orangery.
The Schönbrunn Zoo is the world's oldest zoo. In the 18th Century it was built as a private menagerie. The baroque buildings are still in use, but of course new buildings were added to give the animals a better life than they would have in most of the old cages.
St Stephan's Cathedral stands in the centre of Vienna. The first church at its place was built in 1147. It was altered and extended in the Gothic period. The first tower (136.44 metres) was built in the 15th Century, the second one was never finished.
Many different museums are to be found in the baroque and the modern buildings of the Museumsquartier. The biggest collections are the Leopold Museum and the MUMOK - the Museum of Modern Art. The Leopold Museum is one of the most important collections of modern Austrian art. It contains the world's largest collection of Egon Schiele and pieces by Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, Otto Wagner, Adolf Loos and many others.
The Albertina is a collection of arts which was founded in the 18th Century by Duke Albert. The most important pieces he purchased were by Rubens, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Dürer, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo. The collection is still growing continually. It contains drawings, paintings, photos, posters and architectural sketches and models.
In the 18th Century the baroque Belvedere palace was built for Prince Eugen von Savoyen. Today the palace contains an arts collection with works by Monet, Renoir and Waldmüller as well as the main pieces of Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka. The palace itself and the garden are a great example for baroque architecture and from the upper part of the palace you have a beautiful view of the city.
In the Court Furniture Depository a wide range of historical furniture, used by the imperial family, can be seen. The objects are partly arranged in rooms, partly just standing next to and on top of each other, which gives parts of the museum the atmosphere of a huge storage room – which in fact was its original use. The collection contains furniture from the baroque period to the early 20th Century.
The Technisches Museum
The Technisches Museum shows all kinds of historic machinery and technology. People can see objects of everyday life as well as industrial machinery, old musical instruments, cars, trains, planes and much more.
The crypt of the emperors contains the sarcophagi of 12 emperors and 19 empresses and queens and was in use since 1633. All the sarcophagi are richly decorated, often with stone skulls and skeletons. Maria Theresia's tomb is the most magnificent. It contains the sarcophagus of the imperial couple as well as 14 others.
Other Things to See
All visitors should take a walk in the inner city of Vienna. Although some buildings are more famous than others, the mass of old decorated houses are impressive.
For a break you should try one of the many Kaffeehäuser (coffee houses) and also sample one of the various kinds of cake. To get them you don't necessarily have to go to the famous Hotel Sacher where the Sachertorte was invented.
If you like amusement parks you should visit the Prater. There you can find everything from nostalgic old merry-go-rounds to modern rollercoasters. The most famous attraction of the Prater is the Riesenrad.
The Zentralfriedhof of Vienna is one of the largest cemeteries in the world. Here are the graves of the composers Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Johann Strauss Sohn, but also of other famous people like Hans Moser, Helmut Qualtinger and Falco.