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Notes on the Geography of Austria : Vienna

Time for a time-waster's stroll around the Innere Stadt, the core of the historic city. For a serious inspection, see Rolf Toman, ed., Vienna: Art and Architecture (1999).

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Here's that core, as shown in a model built in the early 1850s by Eduard Fischer. It's in the Historical Museum of the City Of Vienna and shows the city just before its wall was removed later in the decade and replaced by the Ringstrasse or ring road. The Danube Canal is on the left. St. Stephen's Cathedral is the dominant building in the city. On the right, the gardens of the Hofburg or Habsburg palace are prominent, with the palace to their left, marked by a prominent courtyard. Just inside the city wall and at the lower right, the tiny temple-form Theseum stands in a patch of trees.

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The Donau Kanal was originally a branch of the Danube. About 1870 it was canalized. Its general course and relationship to the main river is like a bow to which the bowstring of the river is tied. The river, or bowstring in this metaphor, is about eight miles long.

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Seen from the top of St. Stephens, the city spreads southwesterly far beyond the line of the old wall. The Michaelerkuppel or dome of the Hofburg is on the far right. Closer to the skyline and near the center of the image there is a pair of domes, dark with light-colored ribs. They mark the city's twin museums of art history and natural history. The massive building between and slightly below them is the national library.

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The main facade of St. Stephens was finished about 1230, but these things are hardly ever really finished, and the four decorative gables on the side were added in the 1850s, when less was definitely not more. (The previous picture was taken from the tower on the right here.)

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The Albertine Choir, from the 14th Century, is named for Albrecht II.

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Nave, with vaulting from about 1450.

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The famous pulpit, from about 1480. The material is sandstone; the none-too-flattering figures represent Saints Gregory, Jerome, and Augustine.

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Outside the cathedral, it's just a minute's walk to the Graben, a focal point for shoppers. The central monument, from 1693, recalls the retreat of the plague 14 years earlier, in 1673.

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Quiet opulence on the front of a glassware store on the nearby Kohlmarkt.

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She must be awfully strong.

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Caryatids often work in pairs.

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Or double pairs.

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The male form is the Atlante or Atlas. On the left: "He hurt my feelings!" From the right: "Now what's he sulking about?" Or maybe it's all bafflement at the Hotel Habsburg, now as defunct as the empire.

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Vienna was heavily rebuilt in the 19th Century. One of the new buildings at that time was a grand city hall, which replaced this building, known now simply as the Alte Rathaus, or old city hall. It's on Wipplingerstrasse and only a two-minute walk from the cathedral. The facade is from the early 18th Century, though the building dates to 1316.

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Across the street from the old city hall, this is the former Bohemian High Chancellery, designed by Fischer von Erlach and completed in 1714.

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The opposite side of the old chancellery, facing the Judenplatz.

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The Hofburg was the Habsburg residence from 1278 until the bitter end. Here is the entrance facing the Kohlmarkt. It's the Michaeltor, under the green copper Michaelerkuppel. The sculptures in the foreground, all of Hercules, were done by four different sculptors who might as well have been brothers. The gate itself was finished as late as 1893, but Ferdinand Kirschner, the designer, worked from an old engraving.

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A minute's walk to the east and you're in the Josephsplatz, with an equestrian figure of Joseph II, son of Maria Theresa. In the background is the Austrian National Library, formerly the Hofbibliothek, designed by Fischer von Erlach and completed in 1726 with Minerva riding in her quadriga. To the sides are two golden globes, one representing the celestial and the other the terrestrial. Atlas and Gaea support them. It's not a bad juxtaposition, since Joseph tried to be an enlightened monarch.

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We've passed under the Michaelertor and entered the palace yard with its statue of Francis I. The buildings are both from the 17th century: they are the Amalienhof on the right and on the left the Leopoldinische Trakt, later the residence of Maria Theresa and Joseph II.

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We've crossed the yard to look back at the dome and the old imperial chancellery, later the residence of Francis-Joseph.

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Panning slightly to the right to the oldest building of the lot, the Schweizerhof, remodeled in 1550. The building is much older than the name, which originated in the 18th century, when Swiss troops worked for the husband of Maria Theresa.

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The Swiss Gate, from 1552, is an early example of the classicism that in later centuries would become a mania. The columns are inlaid with metal bands.

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High on the old imperial chancellery are the arms of Charles VI, Maria Theresa's father. The statue of Francis I is by Pompeo Marchesi.

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Here, from the Art-History Museum, is a bust of Francis made in 1816 in Milan. Francis was the nephew of Joseph II, who was none too impressed by the boy, who seemed to be a hardworking plodder, and obstinate to boot. As Francis II, he grew up to be the last Holy Roman Emperor; as Francis I, he was emperor of Austria (a title he adopted after Napoleon had done something similar in France). He was also simply Francis, King of Hungary and King of Bohemia.

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Immediately to the south of the old palace is the Neue Burg, completed just before 1914. The open space is the Heldenplatz, or Hero's Square, built in the 1870s.

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The inscription, dated 1893, acknowledges Francis-Joseph.

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The figure in the previous picture is Prince Eugene of Savoy, French by birth but in the service of the Habsburgs by choice. Fighting the Turks during the siege of Vienna in 1683, he launched a career that took him to the rank of field marshal by age 29.

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That's nothing! Facing him in the square is the Archduke Karl, who became field marshal general of the Holy Roman Empire in 1796 at 25. ("Daddy, can I be a field marshal, too, like Uncle Karl?") This statue and the one of Prince Eugene were both by Anton Fernkorn; the pose here shows Karl raising the regimental flag as he leads his forces against Napoleon's armies in the battle of Aspern.

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Behind Karl is the Theseus Temple, designed by Peter von Nobile to accommodate a sculpture by Canova of Theseus slaying the Minotaur. The statue was commissioned by Napoleon but acquired by Francis I, who placed it in this specially constructed building. About 1890 it was moved to the Art-History Museum and, later still, to London.

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The south side of the hero's square faces the Ausseres Burgtor, designed like the Theseum by Peter von Nobile and completed in 1824. The inscription, "Justice is the foundation of kingdoms," was the motto of Francis I, whose notion of justice, however, corresponded almost perfectly to his subjects' willingness to obey him.

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The east or opposite facade of the Neue Burg, seen from the Burggarten.

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Loosely, something like "The collective love of the people sustains these buildings."

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In the garden, a bronze of Francis-Joseph.

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A bust of him faces his grandfather Francis I in the Art-History Museum. Francis I had ruled for many years, from 1792 to 1835, but Francis-Joseph outdid him, reigning from 1848 to 1916. The ultimate civil servant, he was meticulous, had an excellent memory, as little imagination as his predecessors, and a determination to preserve the privileges of rank.

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Outside the palace, the Vienna State Opera faces the Ringstrasse, which replaced the old city wall in the 1850s. Francis-Joseph opened the building in 1869, but only the facade survived World War II. The rest was rebuilt.

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Facing the palace across the Ringstrasse is a matching pair of museums. This is the art museum, designed by Gottfried Semper and Karl von Hasenauer. Opened in 1889, it houses a collection that was begun in the 1550s by Ferdinand I, the brother of Charles V. The figure at the top is Pallas Athena.

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A detail from the facade of the Natural History Museum. She wants to know why the guy got the chair.

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The opposing figures.

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In between the two museums is Platz's bronze of Maria Theresa, by Caspar von Zumbusch, 1888; it's an odd placement, since in her Catholic piety she could have had little interest in the implications of natural history.

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Behind the museums are the enormous Habsburg stables, built 1725, altered in 1850, and now a cultural center--minus the horses.

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St. Charles Church was commissioned by Charles VI, designed by Fischer von Erlach, designer of the royal library, and consecrated in 1737 to commemorate the end of an attack of the plague. The columns, reminiscent of Trajan's in Rome, recount scenes from the life of St. Charles Borromeo, who as archbishop of Milan had dealt with the plague in 1576 and who had become the patron saint of plague fighters. The columns have been interpreted as the pillars of Hercules, symbolizing civilization, but they also echo second-century Rome.

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Also on the Ringstrasse, the New City Hall, completed in 1883 to a design by Friedrich Schmidt.

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Another view.

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One of the grand staircases, though the carpet looks a tad industrial.

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The Festival Hall, with chairs trucked in for the occasion.

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Close by the Gothic city hall, this is the neoclassical Parliament of 1883, designed by Theophil von Hansen, a Dane who had worked--no surprise--in Athens.

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Another Athena, this one by Carl Kundmann.

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Vienna University, by Heinrich von Ferstel.

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Another von Ferstel project, the Votive Church, completed on the Ringstrasse in 1879 to mark the escape of Franz Joseph from an attempted assassination.

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We've worked our way around toward the western end of the Ringstrasse. Here: the Central Telegraph office, with K.K. signifying Kaiser und Konig, that is to say Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary.

Patrick Leigh Fermor, walking through Austria in 1934, saw the same initials on a slip of paper given to him by a count helping Fermor visit a gallery. The card had said K.u.K. Kammerer u. Rittmeister i.R, or Imperial and Royal Chamberlain and retired Captain of Horse." Fermor wrote of "regiments disbanded and the horses dead long ago. The engraved words croaked loud of spent glories." (A Time of Gifts, 2005 [1977], p. 137.)

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The Stock Exchange, completed in 1877 by Theophil von Hansen, architect of the Parliament Building.

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The Rossauer Kaserne, the Horse Forest Barracks, completed as part of the city's defenses in 1869. After World War II it became the headquarters of the Vienna police. Other agencies have occupied the space, too, including more recently the Austrian Federal Ministry of Defense.

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