Hofburg and Environs Part 1

LINKS to pages in the Vienna site and to the Colin Day Travelling Days series:

1 : Schloss Schönbrunn
2 : Vienna City
3 : Churches and Cathedral
4 : Hoffburg and Environs
5 : Statepark and Opera House
6 : Journey to and from Vienna

The Maria-Theresien-Platz of Vienna is a large square (Platz) adjoining the Ringstraße (Vienna's central street). Facing each other from the sides of the square are two identical buildings, the Naturhistoriches Museum - Natural History Museum, and the Kunsthistoriches Museum - the Art History Museum. These two buildings are identical, save for the statuary on their façades.

The Museum of Natural History of Vienna pictured here has collections which cover 8,700 square metres. It is one of the important museums of the world, and its earliest collections of artifacts were began over 250 years ago.Over 20 million objects are scientifically maintained in the building.

The main building of the Museum is an elaborate palace that has accommodated these constantly growing collections since opening to the public in 1889 as the Imperial Natural History Museum. Some of the collections had been moved from even older buildings, such as the Hofbibliothek which contained the Zoology Cabinet collections.

Famous and irreplaceable exhibits, for instance the 25,000-year-old Venus of Willendorf and a skeleton of a Diplodocus dinosaur together with extinct animal or plant specimens dating from 200 million years ago (such as the Steller sea-cow) are displayed along 39 halls. Contemporary presentation by means of modern exhibition technology has been possible without compromising the historical structures in the building.


Maria Theresa , 1717-80, Austrian archduchess, queen of Bohemia and Hungary (1740-80), consort of Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and dowager empress after the accession (1765) of her son, Joseph II. When Maria Theresa acceded she was immediately confronted with a European coalition against her, and Frederick II of Prussia brazenly seized Silesia . In the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48), Maria Theresa lost most of Silesia to Prussia but secured (1745) in exchange the imperial election for her husband. Her warm personality and strength of will won her the loyalty of her subjects and troops, to whom she appealed directly in moments of crisis. Her husband was given a share in governing her hereditary lands, but the actual government was in the hands of Maria Theresa, assisted by her able chancellor, Kaunitz .

After the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748), Kaunitz accomplished a diplomatic revolution in concluding an alliance with France, the traditional enemy. The Seven Years War (1756-63) exhausted the strength of Austria. Partly under the influence of her son, Joseph II (with whom she jointly ruled her dominions after 1765), Maria Theresa carried out a series of agrarian reforms and centralized the administration of her lands. Unlike her son she followed no particular plan and was, on the whole, conservative.

A devout Roman Catholic, her court was the most moral in Europe. During her reign Vienna increased its reputation as a center of the arts and of music. Among her 16 children were emperors Joseph II and Leopold II, Marie Caroline of Naples, and Marie Antoinette of France.

The monument to Empress Maria Theresa lies between the Natural History Museum and the Kunsthistorisches Museum. It was financed largely by funds "that the grand bourgeoisie had raised through its Ringstrasse transactions", as historian and monument expert Gerhardt Kapner puts it. Although the monument honours Maria Theresa, the influence of the bourgeoisie can be readily felt. The empress, who lived during the era of Absolutism, is surrounded by government officials, including her advisers Johann Christof Freiherr von Bartenstein, Gerard van Swieten and Joseph von Sonnenfels. She wears a diadem on her head, a further clever move by the sculptor Caspar von Zumbusch.

The omission of the crown of the Holy Roman Empire was a reference to Hungary, which did not recognise it. Indeed, many representatives of the Hungarian estates came to Vienna for the official unveiling on 13 May 1888 together with some 60 members of the Habsburg/Lorraine family. There was also a grandstand large enough to accommodate 10,000 people, one of the largest ever to have been seen in Vienna.


The square is partitioned into four quadrants, each of which has a fountain in the middle. One is depicted on the left.


A view of the the Rathaus (right) which serves as the seat both of the mayor and city council of the city of Vienna.

The Rathaus was designed by Friedrich von Schmidt in the Gothic style, and built between 1872 and 1883. On the top of the tower is the Rathausmann, one of the symbols of Vienna. The Rathaus also accommodates the historic 'Wiener Rathauskeller' restaurant. The traditional restaurant consists of several baroque halls, offering small traditional Viennese delicacies to grand gala buffets.

Recently finished renovations (2000) include the re-opening of the neo-baroque Salon Ziehrer and the redesigned Lanner-Lehar Hall with wall and ceiling murals by German Trompe-l'oeil artist Rainer Maria Latzke.


Hofburg Imperial Palace has housed some of the most powerful people in Austrian history, including the Hapsburg dynasty, rulers of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It currently serves as the official residence of the President of Austria. It was the Habsburg's principal winter residence, while Schönbrunn Palace was their preferred summer residence. The most recent addition to the Hofburg complex is the Neue Hofburg, or New Château visible in the background of the picture on the left.

Construction was started in 1881 and continued through 1913. The palace was the residence of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the nephew and heir apparent of Franz Joseph, whose assassination at Sarajevo by Serbian nationalists set off the chain of events that led to World War I.


The Heldenplatz ("Heroes' Square") is a historical plaza opposite the Neue Burg. Many important actions took place here, most notoriously Adolf Hitler's announcement of the Anschluss of Austria to the German Reich in 1938. The square contains the equestrian statue of François-Eugène, Prince of Savoy-Carignan (18 October 1663 to 21 April 1736),who was one of the most prominent and successful military commanders in European history. Born in Paris to aristocratic Savoyard parents, Eugene grew up around the French court of King Louis XIV. He was initially prepared for a career in the church, but by the age of 19 he had determined on a military career. Rejected by Louis XIV for service in the French army, Eugene moved to Austria, and transferred his loyalty to the Habsburg Monarchy.

Spanning six decades, Eugene served three Habsburg emperors; Leopold I, Joseph I, and Charles VI. Eugene first saw action against the Ottoman Turks at the Siege of Vienna in 1683 and the subsequent War of the Holy League, before serving in the Nine Years' War alongside his cousin, the Duke of Savoy. However, the Prince's fame was secured with his crushing victory against the Ottomans at the Battle of Zenta in 1697. Eugene enhanced his standing during the War of the Spanish Succession where his partnership with the Duke of Marlborough secured victories against the French on the fields of Blenheim, Oudenarde and Malplaquet; he gained further success as Imperial commander in northern Italy, most notably at Turin in 1706. Renewed hostilities against the Ottomans in the Austro-Turkish War of (1716 to 18) consolidated his reputation with victories at the battles of Petrovaradin, and Belgrade.

Although opinions differ as to his character, there is no dispute over his great achievements: Eugene helped to save the Hapsburg Empire from French conquest; he broke the westward thrust of the Ottomans, liberating central Europe after a century and a half of Turkish occupation; and he was one of the greatest patrons of the arts, whose building legacy can still be seen in Vienna today. Eugene died in his sleep at his home on 21 April 1736 aged 72.



The 16th century gateway (above) that leads from the large courtyard of the Hofburg Palace to the oldest area of Austria's Imperial Palace called the Schweizertor ('Swiss Gate'). It is here that the Vienna Boys Choir sings each Sunday.

One of the 'sentinels' guarding the gateway (left).


The State Apartments, visible in the background of the picture above, are open to the public in the Hofburg and comprise the Franz Joseph Apartments in the Reichskanzleitrakt together with Elisabeth and Alexander's apartments in the Amalienburg. It is not possible for visitors to see the living quarters and ceremonial apartments of Empress Maria Theresa and of her son Emperor Joseph II (the Leopoldinischertrakt) because they comprise the official residence of the Austrian President. To the right of the pictute is the Chancellery and Franz Joseph Apartments. The memorial in the foreground commemorates Francis 1.


Francis I Emperor of Austria 1768-1835 : Despite copping a hiding at the hands of the French, Austria refused to accept the fact its armies could not compete on the field of battle with that of the upstart revolutionaries.

As the most conservative empire in Europe, with its hegemony over a large number of different ethnic nations, Austria was most endangered by the ideals of the French Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte.

Despite fielding large armies against Bonaparte, Austria lost prestige and huge territories in the years of war that followed the French Revolution and the rise of Bonaparte.

In 1810, Francis agreed to his daughter, Marie-Louise, marrying the French emperor and that began a three-year peace. In 1813, however, his nation joined the Sixth Coalition and played a huge part in defeating his son-in-law.


Sculpture representing the arms of Emperor Charles VI on the attic of the Imperial Chancellery Wing (right).


The Michael Wing was planned by Joseph Emanuel Fischer von Erlach, and it serves as the connection between the Winter Riding School and the Imperial Chancellory Wing. However, because the old Imperial Theatre (Burgtheater) stood in the way, these plans remained unrealized until Ferdinand Kirschner built the wing from 1889 to 1893, utilizing a slightly altered plan. The sculptures on the portals are by Lorenzo Mattielli and represent the Labours of Hercules (Heracles). A roadway passes through one of the portals to the Michaelplatz (below).


Road Rage (Ancient Greek Style).

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