History of Vienna

It was the history of Vienna that shaped the Austrian capital's culture, architecture and atmosphere. Read this history guide at your Vienna hotel and you'll be sure to understand this fascinating city much better!

Ancient History of Vienna

Before the present-day Vienna came into being, the site was occupied by Vindobona, a Celtic settlement, later taken over by the Romans and turned into a military camp. That's when the history of Vienna really begins. The camp was founded in this area in the 1st Century AD, by Emperor Legio X Gemina in the Inner City of what today is Vienna.

In the year 212, the settlement was granted the status of a municipum, after colonia the second-highest class of a Roman city. The avenues of the present-day First District of Vienna show where the camp walls and moats were located.

During the chaos of the Migration Period in Europe, between 300 AD and 700 AD, the Romans left Vindobona. It was the time of a gradual transition form Antiquity to Middle Ages. The migration involved such peoples as the Franks, Vandals, Goths, and other Germanic and Slavic tribes. Historians propose various explanations of the mass migration, which include climatic changes, the invasions of the Huns, and overpopulation.

In the early 5th Century, in Vienna, houses started to replace the Roman walls. Only parts of the fortifications remained after the 5th Century and they were adapted to different uses by the inhabitants of the city. The first mention of Vienna, however, dates back to 881 AD, when a battle against the Magyars (ethnic Hungarians) was fought. In 500 AD, graves from that period were discovered near the early centre of Vienna, called Berghof, in the area around the side street Salvatorgasse.

Byzantine coins from these times have also been unearthed in present-day First District, providing a proof of considerable commerce that took place in those years. In the 6th Century, the area was controlled by the Germanic tribe of Lombards, and Avars who were followed later by the Slavs. 'The Salzburg Annals' chronicle mentions the 955 AD battle of Lechfeld, against the Magyars, that ended with Emperor Otto I's victory over the Hungarians, right at the onset of the Middle Ages.


Medieval Times to the 18th Century

In 976 AD, the Margraviate of Austria came under control of the Babenberg family, who ruled Austria and developed Vienna throughout the Middle Ages. Vienna was located near the Austrian-Hungarian border and became an important point of commerce as early as in the year 1000. The Margraviate was a Medieval province ruled by a Margrave. Its territory at this time corresponded to present-day Lower Austria. Vienna became the capital of the province in 1155, received the status of a duchy under the Privilegium Minus a year later and became the seat of the duke. Also, the Schottenstift, a Roman Catholic monastery, was founded at this time, after Henry II brought Scottish-Irish monks to the city.

The Third of the Holy Crusades was a turning point in the history of Vienna. In 1192, Duke Leopold V captured Richard the Lionheart, and demanded a ransom of 50,000 silver marks that facilitated the creation of a mint around 1200. However, Leopold’s actions got him excommunicated by the pope and he died soon thereafter. Around this time, also the city walls of Vienna were built; their remains can be still seen today at the Stubentor underground station.

Vienna received its city charter in 1221 and also gained the rights of a staple port, which meant that all merchants passing through the city had to sell their goods there, making Vienna a kind of a middleman in trade. Soon after, the city established a network of trade connections, including connections with some 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. Around a century later, Vienna entered a Golden Age under the rule of the emperor Rudolf IV, whose stable economic policies brought about increased prosperity. Rudolf was nicknamed The Founder because he established the University of Vienna and initiated the construction of the Gothic nave of St Stephan’s Cathedral, a major landmark of present-day Vienna. In 1469, Vienna became the seat of a bishop, and in 1556 also of the emperor.

The first Ottoman attack against Vienna took place in 1529, when the city barely withstood the incursion. The decision was made to further fortify the city by adding a moat and eleven bastions, which allowed for a strong defense against the second Turkish siege in 1683. Eventually, the Turks were defeated by Jan III Sobieski, King of Poland, which proved to be a turning point in the Ottoman wars, as the Turks were pushed farther and farther back in the decades that followed.

The 18th Century to Modern Times

In the 1700s, Vienna became a Baroque city. The most significant architects of this period were Johann von Erlach and Johann von Hildebrandt. Fabulous, opulent palaces sprung up in the suburban areas, the most notable of which are Modena Palace, Schwarzenberg Palace and Liechtenstein Palace. Throughout the late 17th and early 18th Centuries, Vienna suffered from a plague, but afterwards enjoyed a stable population growth, reaching 200,000 inhabitants by 1790. Its growth was attributed to the industrialisation and construction of factories, with the first factory established in Leopoldstadt, the city's 2nd District separated from the centre of Vienna by the Danube Canal.

During the Napoleonic Wars, Vienna was invaded twice. For the first time was in 1805, when three French marshals crossed the Danube and told the Austrian commander that the war was over. In the meantime, French troops entered the city unperturbed. The second time, was in the Battle of Aspern-Essling, fought between Austrians under the command of Archduke Charles and the French under Napoleon, who suffered a crushing defeat. The Congress of Vienna, which redrew political boundaries throughout the continent, was held in the city between 1814 and 1815.

In the mid-19th Century, the Ringstrasse, a circular road surrounding the Innere Stadt district of Vienna, was built. Many monumental buildings were constructed along this historical street, which is now a major tourist attraction of the Austrian capital.

Vienna’s population peaked at over 2 million in 1910. In the early 20th Century, the city became the centre of Art Nouveau thanks to the Vienna Secession (an Austrian artistic movement), which comprised 19 Vienna artists from the Association of Austrian Artists. The city suffered little damage in World War I, and became a separate state in 1921. The Parliament dissolved in 1933, and a civil war broke out the following year. Foreign minister Engelbert Dollfuss outlawed the Communist Party, Nazi Party, Social Democratic Party, and eventually only the right-wing Patriotic Front was allowed. Dollfuss established an authoritarian regime, called Austrofascism, and usurped the power.

In 1938, Nazi Germany annexed Austria. World War II bombings were disastrous for Vienna; many of its historical buildings and monuments were destroyed and only some were rebuilt after the war. When Austria entered its Second Republic period after the war, the political parties were recreated. In 1945, an Austrian politician Karl Renner announced the re-establishment of a democratic Austria. At this time however, Asustria was divided into four seperate zones and occupied by the Allies: The United States, France, the UK, and Soviet Union. Eventually in 1955, Austria regained its freedom with the Austrian State Treaty.

The economic boom that followed the war and spread throughout Western Europe, affected Vienna as well. During the 1970s, Vienna became an official UN seat, and the Vienna International Centre was built. Several skyscrapers were also contructed in the late 20th Century, including the Millennium Tower and Andromeda Tower. The 202-metre high Millennium Tower has 51 floors and is the tallest building in the country. As the hub of the spectacular Millennium City complex, the Tower is dedicated to the 3rd millennium and serves as a residential and office building.

Vienese musical tradition is strongly tied with the names of the world-famous composers Haydn, Mozart, Strauss, Beethoven and Schubert, who all lived and worked in Vienna. Today, their works are reflected in the variety of music festivals held each season, starting with the famous New Year’s Concert, performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.