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Vienna: City Insider


Present day Vienna was originally a Celtic settlement. The region around Vienna was first inhabited in the late Stone Age, and Vienna itself was founded as a Bronze Age settlement in about 800 BC. Claimed by Celts around 400 BC, the Romans later established a military camp called Vindobona among various Celtic settlements. This served as a border fortress on the northern frontier of the Roman Empire against the Germanic tribes north of the Danube. The camp was located in the area now circumscribed by Graben, Tiefer Graben, the Church of St. Mary's on the Bank, St. Rupert's Church and Rotenturmstraße. The remains can still be seen today at the Michaelerplatz.

Following the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, barbarian invasions reduced the Roman town to ruins. Vindobona diminished in importance until the 8th century when the Frankish Emperor Charlemagne made it part of his Eastern March and the Holy Roman Empire. In 881, the name Wenia is documented in the annals of the city of Salzburg, the first mention since Roman times.

In the 10th century, the German Babenberg dynasty acquired Vienna and during their reign of almost three centuries, the city became a major trading center. In 955, the Holy Roman Emperor Otto I, expelled Hungarian tribes from the Eastern March. After ousting the Hungarians, Emperor Otto I established a border province of the "empire towards the east," hence the name "Ostarrichi" in modern German: Österreich ("East Empire"). In 976, he made a gift of Vienna to the Babenbergs who, despite further incursions by the Hungarians, restored the city's importance as a center of trade and culture. In about 1155, the Babenbergs moved their court to Vienna. In 1246, border squabbles with the Hungarians flared up into fighting. The Austrians were victorious, but the Babenberg Duke Friedrich II was killed in battle without producing any male heirs, leaving his family line extinct.

Following his death and the ensuing interregnum, the Habsburgs began centuries of rule in Austria. In 1276, Rudolf I of Habsburg, Holy Roman Emperor since 1273, mounted a campaign against Premysl Ottokar II, King of Bohemia, who had taken over the orphaned Babenberg lands for "insubordination to the Empire." Ottokar was killed in battle in 1278. Four years later, Rudolf I of the Habsburg dynasty installed his two sons as rulers of Austria. The Habsburgs reigned the country for more than 600 years, until 1918.

Under Maximilian I, Vienna blossomed into a center for the arts. The Habsburgs were invariably elected to the office of Holy Roman Emperor and by the 16th century their mighty empire had expanded into Spain, Holland, Burgundy, Bohemia and Hungary. Under Karl V, the Empire was called "the country where the sun never sets" because the Habsburgs also reigned in Mexico and South America. Yet, it remained under constant threat; in 1529, the Turks, having conquered the Balkans, laid siege to Vienna for the first time. They were not successful, but they stayed on for the next 150 years as a very dangerous neighbor in control of most of Hungary. Constant inroads into Austria were a scourge at the time. In 1679, a severe epidemic of the black plague ravaged Vienna.

The Turkish threat to Vienna ended in 1683 when Kara Mustapha's forces were repelled. In the following decades, they were pushed out of Hungary and down the Balkan Peninsula. Vienna, now freed from the Turkish threat and undoubtedly the hub of an expanding empire, grew even stronger under the reign of Karl VI. During this time, the Karlskirche, the Belvedere palaces and many other Baroque buildings were constructed; thus "Vienna Gloriosa" was born.

From 1740 to 1790, Empress Maria Theresa and her son, Joseph II, reformed Austria. They abolished torture and serfdom, established tolerance for non-Catholic religious denominations, created a totally new administrative structure for the Empire, introduced compulsory elementary education for all, put the army on a new footing, founded Vienna's General Hospital and opened the Prater gardens and Augarten park to the general public. The vast palace of Schloß Schönbrunn was completed by the Empress who also presided over Vienna's development as the musical capital of Europe. The long reign of Maria Theresa was seen as a time of serenity, wealth and sensible administration, despite a background of frequent wars.

Napoleon's defeat of Austria in 1809 was a humiliation for Emperor Franz I. The French conqueror briefly occupied Schönbrunn Palace, demolished part of the city walls, and even married Franz I's daughter Marie-Louise.

In 1815, after the defeat of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna, which restored the established order in Europe, Franz I and his minister, Prince Metternich, imposed autocratic rule in Austria. The middle class, excluded from political life, retreated into the artistic and domestic pursuits that characterized the Biedermeier age. In 1848, revolutionary uprisings drove Metternich from power but led to a new period of conservative rule under Franz Joseph I. In 1857, he ordered the walls encircling the city to be demolished. Between 1858 and 1865, the Ringstrasse was laid out as the show boulevard of the Imperial Capital.

In the second half of the 19th century, Vienna attracted gifted men and women from all over the Empire, as well as traders from Eastern Europe. However, the resulting ethnic brew often resulted in overcrowding and social tension. The turn of the century was a time of intellectual ferment in Vienna; this was the age of Freud, of the writers Karl Kraus and Arthur Schnitzler, and of the Secession and Jugendstil. At this time, artists such as Gustav Klimt and the architects Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos set revolutionary new trends. This was all set against a decaying Habsburg Empire, which Karl I's abdication in 1918 brought to an end. After World War I, the German-speaking remains of the Habsburg Empire became a republic. In 1919, the Social Democrats gained the majority in Vienna's city government and retained it in all free elections.

From 1919 to 1934, Vienna's Social Democrats gained international acclaim for their municipal policies (municipal housing projects, a restructuring of the school system, social advances), despite a worldwide economic crisis and conflicts with the (predominantly Conservative) rest of Austria.

Until 1934, the rift between Austria's Conservatives, many of whom advocated authoritarian rule (similar to its economically prosperous neighbor Germany), and the Social Democrats deepened and led to a civil war. The army secured the rule of the Conservative Federal Government. Vienna's mayor was deposed. Two decades of struggle between the left and right political parties ended with the union of Austria with Nazi Germany (the Anschluß) in 1938. Thousands of people enthusiastically greeted Hitler when he held his first speech in Austria on Heldenplatz.

After World War II, Vienna was split among the Allies until 1955 when Austria regained independence, declaring itself a neutral state. In 1979, the Uno-City was opened. After the fall of the Soviet Empire in 1989, Vienna regained its status as a gateway between the East and West.


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