Vienna, Austria

Updated: May 3

After a great time in Prague we jumped on a train and traveled to Vienna - the second leg of the trip to Europe.

  1. Prague and Czechia

  2. Vienna and Melk

  3. Budapest

Vienna

As early as the 1100s, Vienna was a seat of power for the families ruling this area. In 1437, Vienna became the de facto capital of the Holy Roman Empire (800-1806) as well as a cultural center for arts and science, music, and fine cuisine. More importantly, in 1440, Vienna became the resident city of the Hapsburg Empire. Until the European ruling dynasty collapsed after WWI, the Hapsburgs had ruled an empire that encompassed not just Austria and Hungary, but Bohemia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, large parts of Poland, and Romania. For anyone who is interested, I've hyperlinked many of the Hapsburg rulers to their Wikipedia page - I just find the history of this family so interesting.


St Stephen's Cathedral

Hundreds of years before the powerful Hapsburgs reconstructed the city in their own image, St. Stephen's dominated the horizon.

St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna

Several major expansions occurred in the 13th and 14th century. The current form of the cathedral was largely initiated by Duke Rudolph IV of Hapsburg. Although the cornerstone was laid in 1359, it took over 200 years for the cathedral to reach its present shape.

Green = Entrance dating back to 1220's. Salmon = Second church 1263. Fuschia = Albertine Choirs add 1340. Blue = Duke Rudolph additions 1359.

The oldest remaining parts of St. Stephen’s, the 'Giant Gate' entrance and adjacent Roman towers date back to the early 1200s.

The oldest remaining parts of St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the 'Giant Gate' entrance and adjacent Roman towers date back to the early 1200s.

Construction of the massive South Tower lasted 65 years from 1368 to 1433. It is 461 feet tall or roughly the height of a 45-story office building, yet it was built more than 600 years ago before the invention of the modern skyscraper.

The colored tiles on the roof looked incredible from either close up or far away.

Beautiful colored roof tiles of St Stephen’s Cathedral in Venna

The north tower was originally intended to mirror the south tower, but the design proved too ambitious, considering the era of Gothic cathedrals was nearing its end. So construction was halted in 1511. In 1578, the tower-stump was augmented with a Renaissance cap, nicknamed the 'water tower top' by the Viennese. The tower now stands at 223 ft tall, roughly half the height of the south tower.

Construction of the massive 461 foot tall South Tower lasted 65 years from 1368 to 1433.  It is the height of a 45-story office building

Preservation and repair of this medieval cathedral has been a continuous process a since its original construction in 1147. Laser cleaning techniques are being used to remove the centuries of soot and pollution that blackens the exterior. What a difference between the front and the side of the cathedral.

Laser cleaning techniques are used to remove the centuries of soot and pollution that blackens the exterior of St Stephen’s Cathedral

The interior of the cathedral is as beautiful as the exterior.

Interior of St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna
Attribution: Bwag [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]
The immense nave of St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna

The High Altar was built over seven years from 1641 to 1647 as part of the first refurbishment of the cathedral. The altar represents the stoning of the church's patron St. Stephen.

The High Altar of St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna was built over 7 years from 1641 to 1647

Here is the tomb of Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor, who was the first emperor of the House of Hapsburgs from 1452 until 1493. Work on the dense red marble sarcophagus began 25 years before his death.

The tomb of Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor, who was the first emperor of the House of Hapsburgs from 1452 until 1493 is located in St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna

The Wiener Neustädter Altar at the head of the north nave was ordered in 1447 by Emperor Frederick III. Each Sunday the 4 panels of the altar are opened showing gilded wooden figures depicting events in the life of the Virgin Mary. Restoration began on its 100th anniversary in 1985 and took 20 years, 10 art restorers, 40,000 man-hours to complete.

The incredible Wiener Neustädter Altar at the head of the north nave in St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna
Beautiful side altars in St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna

The 15th century pulpit is astounding for its Renaissance sculptural ornamentation. Four church doctors (St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Ambrose, St. Gregory the Great and St. Jerome) are part of the pulpit; each of them in one of four different temperaments and in one of four different stages of life.

The 15th century pulpit in St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna

Beautiful Madonna status in the cathedral.

Madonna statue in St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna

We were lucky to hear a chorus rehearsal during our tour of the cathedral.

Vienna Opera House

Vienna State Opera is is one of world's most legendary and largest opera houses with 1,709 seats and room for 567 more standing. It houses 350 performances every year, making it one of the busiest too.

Vienna State Opera is is one of world's most legendary and largest opera houses with 1,709 seats

Decked out in red, the Emperor's box or salon was strategically centered in the auditorium.

Decked out in red, the Emperor's box or salon was strategically centered in the Vienna Opera House

The stage doesn’t exactly appear small — it’s 88 feet high — but behind the curtain it’s four times the size of the massive auditorium. The stage allows for different sets to rotate using hydraulic lifts that require so much power the Vienna Opera has two of its own electrical substations. The picture below shows just a tiny fraction of the backstage.

Backstage at the Vienna Opera House

Imperial Hofburg Palace

Vienna's Imperial Palace, the Hofburg, was for centuries the seat of the Hapsburgs, rulers of Austria until the end of WWI. The complex is particularly interesting as its major buildings reflect more than 700 years of architectural history; nearly every Austrian ruler since 1275 ordered additions or alterations. Together with its many squares and gardens, the Hofburg occupies an area of some 59 acres and is in many ways a 'city-within-a-city', comprising 18 groups of buildings, 19 courtyards, and 2,600 rooms. Unfortunately, no cameras are allowed in most areas inside the Palace.

Imperial Hofburg Palace occupies 59 acres and includes 18 groups of buildings, 19 courtyards and 2600 rooms

The double-headed eagle: the omnipresent emblem and coat of arms of the Habsburgs.

The double-headed eagle: the omnipresent emblem and coat of arms of the Habsburgs.

The Alte Burg, the oldest section of Hofburg, is known as the ‘Swiss Wing’. The Swiss Gate, which marks the entrance to this sector, was built in 1552. This wing now houses the Imperial Treasury, where the regalia of the Holy Roman Empire and the Austrian Empire are kept.

The Alte Burg, the oldest section of Hofburg Palace, is known as the ‘Swiss Wing’

The Imperial Chancellery Wing constructed from 1723–1730 served as government office for the Holy Roman Empire. After the Empire was dissolved in 1806, the chancellery was converted into residential suites for the imperial family including Napoleon, The Duke of Reichstadt and later those of Emperor Francis Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth of Austria.

The Imperial Chancellery Wing constructed from 1723–1730 served as government office for the Holy Roman Empire.

We toured the Imperial Treasury and got a chance to view the 2 crowns which were so important to the Hapsburg Dynasty. Left: Crown of Rudolph II, Crown of Austrian Empire (1602). Right: Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire (late 10th or early 11th century).

In the middle of the Inner Castle Square is a bronze statue of Francis I dressed as a Roman emperor. Francis I was Holy Roman Emperor and Grand Duke of Tuscany, though his wife Empress Maria Theresa effectively executed the real powers of those positions.

In the middle of the Inner Square of the Imperial Hofsburg Palace is a bronze statue of Francis I dressed as a Roman emperor.  Francis I was Holy Roman Emperor and wife of Empress Maria Theresa

The Main Gate passing through the Imperial Chancellery Wing which leads out of the palace through the St Michael Wing. The sculptures at the gate are known as 'The Labours of Hercules' by Lorenzo Mattielli.

The Main Gate of the Imperial Hofburg Palace with the sculptures at the gate are known as 'The Labours of Hercules'

It was not until the end of the 19th century that the northern area of the castle was completed with construction of the St. Michael’s Wing. With its curved facade and 50 meter high dome it dominates the view from the city center.

St Michaels Wing of the Imperial Hofburg Palace
Copper dome of the St Michaels Wing of the Imperial Hofburg Palace

The Main Gate at the St Michael's Wing.

The Main Gate at the St Michael's Wing of the Imperial Hofburg Palace.

One of the fountains that adorn the St Michael's Wing.

Fountains at the St Michaels Wing of the Imperial Hofburg Palace

At the beginning of the 20th century, shortly before the end of the monarchy, the Neue Burg, an imposing south-east wing was built. With the sweeping curve of its impressive monumental facade, it was originally planned as part of a much larger 'imperial forum'. Neue Burg was never actually used as a palace. Today it houses the main reading room of the national library and it is home to no less than four museums.

The Neue Burg building of the Imperial Hofburg Palace now houses the national library

There is a statue of Prince Eugene of Savoy in front of the Neue Burg.

There is a statue of Prince Eugene of Savoy in front of the Neue Burg of the Imperial Hofburg Palace.

St Peter's Church

A previous church on the site burned down in 166. Emperor Leopold I vowed to rebuild this church when Vienna was ravaged by the plague in 1679-1680. Construction began in 1701. By 1722, most of the building was finished, and in 1733 the Peterskirche was finally consecrated. An incredible interactive panorama photo in the church interior is available at this link to St Peter's church.

Copper dome of St Peter's Church in Vienna
Nave and High Altar of St Peter’s Church in Vienna

St Michael's Church

St. Michael's Church is one of the oldest churches in Vienna dating back to the early 1200's. Over time, there have been many alterations, but is basically unchanged since 1792. The high altar designed in 1782 represents a cloudburst of angels and cherubs, falling from the ceiling towards the ground. The centerpiece is Maria Candia, a Byzantine icon of the Virgin Mary.

The centerpiece of St Michael’s Church in Vienna is Maria Candia, a Byzantine icon of the Virgin Mary in the High Altar

A marble statue of the deposition of Christ.

Marble statue of the disposition of Christ in St Michael’s Church in Vienna.

Schonbrunn Palace

Schönbrunn Palace was the main summer residence of the Habsburg rulers, located in Hietzing, Vienna. The history of the palace, 1,441 rooms and its vast gardens spans over 300 years, reflecting the changing tastes, interests, and aspirations of successive Habsburg monarchs.

Schonbrunn Palace was the summer residence of Hapsburg rulers

The Schonbrunn Palace was built and remodeled during the 1740–50's during the reign of empress Maria Theresa who received the estate as a wedding gift. The tour of key rooms in the Palace was great, but again no cameras were allowed.

Gardens  of the Schonbrunn Palace has 1441 rooms and vast gardens

Dave welcoming everyone to my birthday party in Vienna.

Schonbrunn Palace was the summer residence of Hapsburg rulers
On the grounds of the Schonbrunn Palace on Vienna

Random Shots

Dave arranged for the hotel staff to decorate the room as a surprise for my birthday. They were also nice enough to send up a bottle of champagne.

Food was awesome. Schnitzel and their version of ice cream sundaes.

Enjoying parks in Vienna Austria

The ornate exterior of the Natural History Museum.

The ornate exterior of the Natural History Museum in Vienna

The Empress Maria monument in Museum Square depicts Maria Theresa, the only female ruler of the Habsburg Empire. Her 40-year reign (1740-1780) was considered to be very successful when compared to other Habsburg rulers. Her full title was:

Maria Theresa, by the Grace of God, Dowager Empress of the Romans, Queen of Hungary, of Bohemia, of Dalmatia, of Croatia, of Slavonia, of Galicia, of Lodomeria, etc.; Archduchess of Austria; Duchess of Burgundy, of Styria, of Carinthia and of Carniola; Grand Princess of Transylvania; Margravine of Moravia; Duchess of Brabant, of Limburg, of Luxemburg, of Guelders, of Württemberg, of Upper and Lower Silesia, of Milan, of Mantua, of Parma, of Piacenza, of Guastalla, of Auschwitz and of Zator; Princess of Swabia; Princely Countess of Habsburg, of Flanders, of Tyrol, of Hainault, of Kyburg, of Gorizia and of Gradisca; Margravine of Burgau, of Upper and Lower Lusatia; Countess of Namur; Lady of the Wendish Mark and of Mechlin; Dowager Duchess of Lorraine and Bar, Dowager Grand Duchess of Tuscany

The Empress Maria Theresa monument in Museum Square in Vienna

We took every advantage to walk through the beautiful parks throughout the city.

Rose gardens in Vienna
Fountains in Vienna gardens
Rose gardens in Vienna
Rose gardens in Vienna
Copper male status in Vienna garden

One evening we took a walk along the Danube and found a music festival. We listened to some music, ate and drank and enjoyed the sunset along the river.

Sunset along the Danube River in Vienna
Summer music festival along the Danube River in Vienna  

While in Vienna we planned a side trip to the Melk Abbey and a Danube River boat cruise from Krems to Melk followed by a 24-mile bike back to Krems. Click here to link directly to that blog.

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