We book into our hotel on the outskirts of Vienna (pop 1.8m) about mid-afternoon. It is a scorcher here today with temperatures in the high thirties. We take the metro to the centre of the city designated in 2001, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Apart from being regarded as the City of Music because of its musical legacy, Vienna is also said to be “The City of Dreams” because it was home to the world’s first psycho-analyst – Sigmund Freud. Today Vienna is often ranked either first or towards the top of surveys of most livable cities.
The historic centre of Vienna is “rich in architectural ensembles, including Baroque castles and gardens, and the late-19th-century Ringstrasse lined with grand buildings, monuments and parks.” Almost every building in the city’s centre is magnificent, but as we walk around we photo the following in particular. I have ‘lifted’ descriptions from Wikipedia and abbreviated them.
St Stephen’s Cathedral – The current Romanesque and Gothic form of the cathedral was largely initiated by Duke Rudolf IV (1339–1365) and stands on the ruins of two earlier churches, the first a parish church consecrated in 1147. The most important religious building in Vienna, St. Stephen’s Cathedral has borne witness to many important events in Habsburg and Austrian history and has, with its multi-coloured tile roof, become one of the city’s most recognizable symbols.
Vienna State Opera is both an opera house and an opera company with a history dating back to the mid-19th century. The Albertina is a museum housing one of the largest and most important print rooms in the world with approximately 65,000 drawings and approximately 1 million old master prints. The Burggarten is a palace garden of the Hofburg, attractions include a statue of Mozart and a Palm House. Weltmuseum Wien is the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna and the largest anthropological museum in Austria, established in 1876, closed until 2017 due to renovations.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum is an art museum in housed in a festive palatial building on Ringstrasse and crowned with an octagonal dome. It was opened around 1891 at the same time as the Naturhistorisches Museum. The two museums have identical exteriors and face each other across Maria-Theresien-Platz. The Museums Quartier nearby is home to a range of installations from large art museums like the Leopold Museum and the MUMOK (Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation Vienna) to contemporary exhibition spaces like the Kunsthalle Wien and festivals like the Wiener Festwochen.
Volkstheater was founded in 1889 by request of the citizens of Vienna in order to offer a popular counter weight to the Hofburgtheater (see below). Palais Trautson is a baroque palace owned by the noble Trautson family and built in 1712.
Parliament Building is where the two houses of the Austrian Parliament —the National Council (Nationalrat) and the Federal Council (Bundesrat)—conduct their sessions. The foundation stone was laid in 1874; the building was completed in 1883. One of the building’s most famous features is the Pallas Athena fountain in front of the main entrance, built by Hansen from 1898 to 1902 and a notable Viennese tourist attraction.
Palais Auersperg was built between 1706 and 1710 and later Prince Joseph of Saxe-Hildburghausen started to use the palace as his winter residence.
The Rathaus was designed in the Neo-Gothic style, and built between 1872 and 1883. On the top of the tower is the Rathausmann, one of the symbols of Vienna. Facing the Rathaus is a park which was set up for musical events during the summer. We eat Bauvernfleckr(??) and a plate of little fish and wait for about an hour to hear the first of several items in an evening dedicated to the performer, Bob Marley.
The Austrian National Library is the largest library in Austria, with 7.4 million items in its various collections. The library is located in the Hofburg Palace which is the former imperial palace in the centre of Vienna. Part of the palace forms the official residence and workplace of the President of Austria. Built in the 13th century and expanded in the centuries since, the palace has housed some of the most powerful people in European and Austrian history, including monarchs of the Habsburg dynasty, rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was the principal imperial winter residence, as Schönbrunn Palace (see below) was their summer residence.
Saturday 8th August
Today promises to be another hot one so we head out early starting at the Minoriten Kirche. The site on which the church is built was given to followers of Francis of Assisi in 1224. The foundation stone was laid by Premysl Ottokar II in 1276. Duke Albrecht II later supported the building process, especially the main portal. The Gothic Ludwig choir was built between 1316 and 1328, and used as a mausoleum in the 14th and 15th centuries. Construction of the church was completed in 1350.
Hofburgtheater is the Austrian National Theatre in Vienna and one of the most important German language theatres in the world. The Burgtheater was created in 1741 and has become known as “die Burg” by the Viennese population. Its theatre company of more or less regular members has created a traditional style and speech typical of Burgtheater performances. Notable that in 1943, under Nazi rule, a notoriously extreme production of The Merchant of Venice was staged with Werner Krauss as Shylock, one of several theatre and film roles by this actor pandering to antisemitic stereotypes.
Stadplais Lichtenstein is a residential building and is one of two palaces in Vienna belonging to the princely family of Liechtenstein. The palace was built during the period of 1692 to 1705. It narrowly escaped destruction during WWII when bombs went down nearby. It is still used as a private residence by the princely family.
The University of Vienna was founded in 1365 by Rudolf IV, Duke of Austria, and his two brothers, Dukes Albert III and Leopold III. After the Charles University in Prague and Jagiellonian University in Kraków, the University of Vienna is the third oldest university in Central Europe and the oldest university in the German-speaking world. It is associated with 15 Nobel prize winners and has been the academic home of a large number of figures both of historical and academic importance. The current main building on the Ringstraße was built between 1877 and 1884.
Am Hof – in the Middle Ages, the ruling Babenberg family built its castle on what is today’s Vienna’s oldest square. The baroque Column of Our Lady in the center dates from 1667, marking the Catholic victory over the Swedish Protestants in the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48). The onetime Civic Armory at the northwest corner has been used as a fire station since 1685. The complex includes a firefighting museum. On the east side of the square is the noted Kirche Am Hof.
Kirche Am Hof
The Schottenkirche is a parish church in founded by Hiberno-Scottish Benedictine monks in the 12th century. In 1418, the Duke Albert V of Austria transferred it to the German-speaking Benedictine monks from the Melk Abbey during the Melker Reform initiated after the Council of Constance. The church has been elevated to the rank of Basilica Minor in 1958.
In Judenplatz we see the Jewish Memorial to the 65,000 murdered Viennese Jews. This is apparently where the builders of the memorial discovered the original footprint of the Jewish Synagogue in Vienna.
Aldes Rathuis or the “Old City Hall” which provided the magistrate of Vienna with administrative space until 1885, when it finally moved into the current Rathaus. The building still houses all sorts of administrative offices, though, alongside with one of Austria′s best-hidden museums. The “Austrian Resistance Museum” deals primarily with resistance of Austrians against the Nazis, but to a lesser extent also with resistance against the preceding Austro-Fascism. Some 2,700 Austrians were executed by the Nazis as political offenders, thousands more deported to concentration camps.
St Peter’s Church – The oldest church building (of which nothing remains today) dates back to the Early Middle Ages, and there is speculation that it could be the oldest church in Vienna (See Ruprechtskirche). That Roman church was built on the site of a Roman encampment.
The Pestsaule is a Holy Trinity column erected after the Great Plague epidemic in 1679. This Baroque memorial is one of the most well-known and prominent sculptural pieces of art in the city.
The Romer Museum features artifacts and information about the Roman period in Vienna. Vienna was then known as Vindobona and was a military camp housing thousands of roman soldiers, officers, and their families. Located along the Danube and the border it was a part of the defensive network of the Roman Empire.
Adjourn to our hotel for live streaming of All Blacks v Wallabies, played in Sydney and won by the latter.
Then we take the metro and visit Schönbrunn Palace, a former imperial summer residence. The 1,441-room Baroque palace is one of the most important architectural, cultural and historical monuments in the country. A former owner, in 1548, had erected a mansion on the land called Katterburg. The emperor Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II bought it and ordered the area to be fenced and put game there such as pheasants, ducks, deer and boar, in order to serve as the court’s recreational hunting ground. From 1638 to 1643 a palace was added to the Katterburg mansion. Huge palace, huge grounds and it is hot. We wander around the gardens taking photos but do not go into the palace itself.
Back to the apartment for rest and relaxation and another game Sringboks v Pumas played in Durban and won by the latter.
Vienna is our favourite city thus far. It really is a wonderful place, clean, well-organised, great metro, magnificent buildings, historically important, and with great drinking water, particularly appreciated during the two very hot days we had here. I agree with Lilly we should have spent at least another couple of days in Austria, Vienna particularly.
Sunday 9th August
From Vienna we make our way to Melk Abbey, a Benedictine abbey above the town of Melk on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Danube River. This huge abbey was founded in the 12th century. The monastic library soon became renowned for its extensive manuscript collection. The local Abbott reported at the time that the kitchens were food for the body, the library food for the mind and the church, food for the soul.
The abbey is also notable for containing the tomb of Saint Coloman of Stockerau and the remains of several members of the House of Babenberg, Austria’s first ruling dynasty. St Coloman was an Irish pilgrim who was making his way to Jerusalem. At the time there were continual skirmishes among Austria, Moravia, and Bohemia. Coloman spoke no German, so he could not give an understandable account of himself. He was tortured and hanged alongside several robbers. “He was made a saint by the local people, possibly out of remorse for the deed and because of his endurance under torture and the many miracle reported from where his body was buried.” Food for thought as we review the abbey’s museum, huge library and magnificent church.
Press on to the Czech Republic.