Vienna's exciting history from ancient ages till our days
Jan 12, 2018 | Travel guide
Vienna’s events through the centuries actually shaped the Austrian capital's culture, architecture and atmosphere. So before you go out sightseeing, read the history basics below that made modern Vienna today. We recommend doing this while at the airport bus to fill your time, just before you arrive at your downtown hotel in Vienna.
Before Vienna existed, the site was occupied by Vindobona, a Celtic settlement. It was later taken over by the Romans who turned it into a military camp, founded in the Inner City of what today is Vienna in the 1st Century AD, by Emperor Legio X Gemina. In 212, the settlement received the status of a “municipum”, being the second-highest class of a Roman city, after “colonia”. The avenues of today’s 1st District show where the camp walls were once sitting.
Between 300 AD and 700 AD, during the Migration Period in Europe which included peoples as the Franks, Vandals, Goths, and other Germanic and Slavic tribes, the Romans left Vindobona, triggering the gradual transition from Antiquity to Middle Ages. In the beginning of the 5th century, houses started to emerge in the place of the Roman wall, leaving just parts of the fortifications, adapted to different uses by the city’s inhabitants. The first mention of Vienna can be traced back to 881 AD, when a battle against the Magyars was fought. Graves from that period were discovered near the early center of Vienna in 500 AD, called Berghof.
During the 6th Century, the Germanic tribe of Lombards took charge of the area, along with the Avars who were followed later by the Slavs. The battle of Lechfeld against the Magyars from 955 AD is mentioned in the 'The Salzburg Annals' chronicle, ending with Emperor Otto I's victory over the Hungarians, right at the start of the Middle Ages.
The Babenberg family took control over the Margraviate of Austria in 976 AD, developing Vienna throughout the Middle Ages. Sitting near the Austrian-Hungarian border, Vienna grew into an important commerce point in the year 1000. The Margraviate was actually a Medieval province ruled by a Margrave, whose territory at the time corresponded to today’s Lower Austria. In 1155, Vienna became the capital of the province, gaining the status of a “duchy” under the Privilegium Minus, becoming the seat of the duke a year later.
A turning point in the history of Vienna happened to be the Third of the Holy Crusades. Duke Leopold V captured Richard the Lionheart in 1192, demanding a ransom of 50,000 silver marks. Due to his behavior, Leopold was excommunicated by the pope and died soon after. A bit later, the city walls of Vienna were erected and the remains can be seen today at the Stubentor underground station.
Vienna gained the rights of a staple port in 1221, meaning that all merchants passing through the city had to sell their goods there. Hence, the city established a network of trade connections with cities along the Danube and with Venice. In 1278, Rudolf I of the Habsburg dynasty, took control over Austrian lands. The first chronicle of the city was written two years later by Jans der Enikel. A century later, under the rule of the emperor Rudolf IV, Vienna entered the Golden Age. Rudolf was called The Founder, since he established the University of Vienna and initiated the construction of the Gothic nave of St Stephan’s Cathedral in the very center.
In 1529, the Ottomans undertook the first attack against Vienna. Since the city barely withstood the incursion, a decision was made to further fortify the city by adding a moat and eleven bastions, giving strong defense against the second Turkish siege in 1683. At the end, the Turks were defeated by Jan III Sobieski, King of Poland, being a turning point in the Ottoman wars.
Vienna got its Baroque look in the 1700s, when the most significant architects of the time, such as Johann von Erlach and Johann von Hildebrandt, gave their contribution in erecting many of the fabulous palaces, like the Modena Palace, Schwarzenberg Palace and Liechtenstein Palace. At the end of the 17th and the start of the 18th century, Vienna was hit by a plague. Luckily, the plague ended and the population reached 200,000 inhabitants by 1790. This growth was because of the industrialization, with the first factory established in Leopoldstadt.
Vienna was invaded twice during the Napoleonic Wars: first in 1805, when three French marshals crossed the Danube and told the Austrian commander that the war was over, and the second time during the Battle of Aspern-Essling between the Austrians under the command of Archduke Charles and the French under Napoleon, who suffered a defeat.
In the middle of the 19th century, the Ringstrasse was built, along with plenty monumental buildings throughout this historical street. Today, the street is a major tourist attraction.
In 1910 Vienna’s population reached over 2 million. At the beginning of the 20th century, Vienna became the heart of Art Nouveau thanks to the Vienna Secession (an Austrian artistic movement). The city survived with little damage in World War I and in 1921 became a separate state. Later in 1933, the Parliament dissolved and in the following year a civil war broke out. Engelbert Dollfuss, a Foreign minister at the time, outlawed the Communist Party, Nazi Party, Social Democratic Party, and eventually only the right-wing Patriotic Front was allowed. He was personally responsible for the establishment of the authoritarian regime called Austrofascism.
Hence, in 1938 Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany. The bombings during the World War II destroyed Vienna, when many of its historical buildings and monuments were ruined and only few were rebuilt after the war. Austria entered its Second Republic period after the war, when the political parties were recreated. In 1945, Karl Renner announced the re-establishment of a democratic Austria, however at the time, Austria was divided into four separate zones and occupied by the Allies (USA, France, the UK, and Soviet Union). Finally, in 1955 Austria regained its freedom with the Austrian State Treaty.
Vienna became an official UN seat during the 1970s, when the Vienna International Centre was built. Few skyscrapers were constructed in the late 20th century, such as the Millennium Tower and Andromeda Tower. Vienna gave birth to a musical tradition strongly tied with the names of the famous composers Haydn, Mozart, Strauss, Beethoven and Schubert. The city is a hub of music, history, culture and art, worth the while of every traveler.
Have this in mind when visiting Vienna’s most important spots and be respectful of the tradition and the history that made Vienna what it is today. So grab a taxi service and enjoy this European jewel.
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