Historic Centre of Vienna
Since 2001 • Cultural
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Vienna developed from early Celtic and Roman settlements into a Medieval and Baroque city, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It played an essential role as a leading European music centre, from the great age of Viennese Classicism through the early part of the 20th century. The historic centre of Vienna is rich in architectural ensembles, including Baroque castles and gardens, as well as the late-19th-century Ringstrasse lined with grand buildings, monuments and parks.
The urban and architectural qualities of the Historic Centre of Vienna bear outstanding witness to a continuing interchange of values throughout the 2nd millennium AD. Three key periods of European cultural and political development - the Middle Ages, the Baroque period and the Gründerzeit - are exceptionally well illustrated by the urban and architectural heritage of Vienna.
The property consists of the medieval core (based on the Roman settlement), the principal Baroque ensembles with their axes, and the Gründerzeit constructions from the beginning of the modern period. The city of Vienna is situated on the Danube in the eastern part of Austria. The ancient Roman military camp, traces of which are still visible in the medieval urban fabric of present-day Vienna, was situated on a plain, west of an old branch of the Danube.
Beginning in the 12th century, the settlement expanded beyond the Roman defences, which were demolished. The medieval town walls surrounded a much larger area; they were rebuilt during the Ottoman conflicts in the 16th and 17th centuries and provided with bastions. This remained the core of Vienna until the walls were demolished in the second half of the 19th century. This inner city contains a number of medieval historic buildings, including the Schottenkloster, the oldest monastery in Austria, the churches of Maria am Gestade (one of the main Gothic structures), Michaelerkirche, Minoritenkirche and Minoritenkloster, from the 13th century. St Stephen's Cathedral dates from the 14th and 15th centuries. The period also saw the construction of civic ensembles, such as initial parts of the Hofburg. Whereas the monastic complexes were generally built from stone, becoming part of the defences of the medieval city, the residential quarters were of timber and suffered frequent fires.
In 1683, Vienna developed rapidly as the capital of the Habsburg Empire, becoming an impressive Baroque city. The Baroque character was expressed particularly in the large palace layouts built under Emperor Charles VI (1711-40) and Maria Theresa (1740-80), such as the Belvedere Palace and garden ensemble. A growing number of new palaces were built by noble families. Many existing medieval buildings, churches and convents were altered and given Baroque features, and additions were made to representative administrative buildings. Several historic buildings are now associated with the important Viennese residence of personalities such as Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and others, when the city played an essential role as a leading European music centre, from the great age of Viennese Classicism through the early part of the 20th century.
A new phase in the history of Vienna took place when the 34 suburbs were incorporated with the city, and the emperor ordered the demolition of the fortifications around the inner city. This opportunity was taken in order to create one of the most significant 19th-century ensembles in the history of urban planning, which greatly influenced the rest of Europe in this crucial period of social and economic development.
In 1874 the Hofburg complex was extended with the Neue Hofburg, an 'imperial forum', and joined with large museum complexes into a single ensemble. The burgtheater, the parliament, the town hall, and the university formed another ensemble linked with these. To this was added the opera house as well as a large number of public and private buildings along the Ringstrasse, on the line of the demolished walls. The late 19th and early 20th centuries testify to further creative contributions by Viennese designers, artists, and architects in the period of Jugendstil, Secession and the early Modern Movement of the 20th century in architecture.
First inhabited in the Neolithic period, the history of Vienna has the following main phases:
- Antiquity and early medieval (up to 11th century)
Archaeological evidence has shown that the site of Vienna had a Celtic settlement when the Romans extended their control into the Danube region in the 1st century CE, building the castellum of Vindobona on the edge of the river and staying here until 488. The meandering Danube formed the limes of the Roman Empire, the border to Germania libera, influencing later urban development until modern times. The High German name Wenia was first mentioned in 881, during the conflicts of Germans and Magyars.
- High and late medieval (12th to 15th centuries)
Vienna started regaining significance in the late 12th and 13th centuries, becoming one of the largest towns of the German Empire, next to Cologne. Several monastic complexes were erected, including the Minoritenkirche, as well as starting the construction of the ducal residence, today's Hofburg, taken over by the Habsburgs in 1276. In the 14th and 15th centuries the town flourished from trade, and the first German university was founded in 1365. The church of St Stephen became reference for an independent bishopric in 1469 and an archbishopric in 1718. The Jewish community here since the 12th century was destroyed in 1420-21.
- Schism and Turkish siege (16th century to 1683)
In the 16th century Europe was in conflict with the Ottoman Empire, which occupied most of Hungary. Vienna became a frontier fortress, being first besieged in 1529, and trade started to decline. In 1533 Ferdinand I transferred to Vienna, making it the capital of the Holy Roman Empire; this lasted until 1806, with an interruption from 1583 to 1612. In 1683 Vienna successfully resisted the Ottoman army, a victory which brought Hungary under Habsburg rule.
- Baroque metropolis (1683 to French Revolution)
The change in the political situation after 1683 also brought important changes to the town of Vienna, starting an important development phase. An increase in population led to the construction of suburban areas, which were protected by their own fortifications, the Linienwall. Baroque palaces were designed for the centre of the town by the leading architects of the time, including J.B. Fischer von Erlach and L. von Hildebrandt, resulting in the construction of the palaces of Schönbrunn and Belvedere, the extension of the Hofburg, and a large number of ecclesiastical and civic ensembles. Vienna became the European capital of music owing to the genius of Haydn and Mozart. After the defeat of Napoleon it was the venue of the Congress of Vienna (1814- 15), which resulted in the political continuation of absolutism (Vormärz, ie before March 1848). At the same time, the petite bourgeoisie continued an interest in arts, furniture (Biedermeier), painting, and especially music (Beethoven, Schubert).
- The Era of Francis Joseph I (1848-1916)
At the end of 1848, the young Emperor Francis Joseph I ascended the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The desire for democratic government remained a dream, although constitutional government was restored in 1860. The city walls were razed to ground in 1857 in order to create the Ringstrasse, an outstanding example of 19th century town planning. With the emerging ambitions of the haute bourgeoisie, the new Ringstrasse became a major construction site for an impressive number of major buildings, including theatres, museums, university, and large private constructions, characterized as the Gründerzeit, the constructors' period. There was also an important development in the field of culture, including composers: Bruckner, Brahms, Wolf, Mahler, and Schönberg, architects and painters such as O. Wagner, A. Loos, G. Klimt, and O. Kokoschka, as well as philosophers, including L. Wittgenstein.
- Period since World War I
With the death of the Emperor in 1916 the Empire came to an end and Austria was proclaimed a democratic republic in 1918. Between the two World Wars, Vienna involved leading architects in social housing projects that came to dominate the character of some Viennese neighbourhoods. World War II caused major damage to the city, and the reconstruction phase lasted well into the 1960s. At the same time a new approach to preservation evolved, and the old town was legally protected in 1972. In 1945 Vienna regained its status as a federal province (Land) and capital of Austria.
Justification for being a World Heritage Site
Criterion (ii): The urban and architectural qualities of the Historic Centre of Vienna bear outstanding witness to a continuing interchange of values throughout the second millennium.
Criterion (iv): Three key periods of European cultural and political development – the Middle Ages, the Baroque period, and the Gründerzeit – are exceptionally well illustrated by the urban and architectural heritage of the Historic Centre of Vienna.
Criterion (vi): Since the 16th century Vienna has been universally acknowledged to be the musical capital of Europe.
About the source
Within UNESCO's broad remit, this specialised agency of the UN works towards international cooperation agreements to secure the world's cultural and natural heritage, designating venues of exceptional value as World Heritage Sites.