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History of Vienna

History of Vienna

Kings and queens, great empires, world-renowned culture...discover the history of the vibrant European city of Austria from its beginnings thousands of years ago, to its establishment as the capital of the Republic of Austria.

Now a vibrant European capital, Vienna's incredible cultural and architectural heritage owes a lot to its fascinatingly varied history. 

The ancient city

Archaeological artefacts found in and around Vienna provide evidence that the city was populated from the Neolithic period, including the famous Venus of Willendorf sculpture, dating back to 25,000 BCE.

Slightly more recently, only five centuries BCE, the Celts had a settlement there called Vedunia. The Romans then took over around 15 BCE, naming the military camp they set up Vindobona.

Over the ensuing centuries, control of the city changed hands numerous times as the Roman Empire declined. The first mention of the town as Wenia was found in 881, and a document from 996 refers to the wider area as Ostarrîchi, the name that eventually became Österreich, or Austria as we know it in English.

Under the Babenberg dynasty, who made Vienna their residence around 1146, the area prospered. It became an important trading centre where Crusaders on their way to the East bought provisions and equipment, and it was given city status in 1221.

Imperial Vienna

When the last of the Babenbergs fell, the Habsburgs came into power and held on to the city for more than 600 years. In 1365, Vienna University was founded, making it one of the oldest universities in Europe. Vienna eventually became capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1556 after the Habsburgs had gained Hungary and Bohemia.

In 1679 the bubonic plague struck the city, killing nearly a third of its population. It suffered revolts under the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, and was also the site of several sieges by the Ottoman empire. It was attacked by the Turks in 1529 and in 1683, but succeeded in resisting both, and over the following decades, as the Turkish forces were pushed back to the Balkans, Vienna could prosper in peace.

In the early 1700s, famous architects created a city of baroque palaces and stately homes. When the Habsburgs died out with Charles V in 1740, his daughter Maria Theresa took over. Under the Empress, and her son and successor Josepha huge amount of civil reform was instituted. They reorganised the economy, army and judiciary; granted increased freedom to different religions, improved government and education, and supported the arts, as well as making German the country's official language.

The city's population grew, and it entered a golden age of music thanks to Gluck, Haydn, and Mozart, and later Beethoven and Schubert.

Austrian and Austro-Hungarian Empires

Things went downhill at the beginning of the 19th century, with inflation and state bankruptcy following Napoleon's occupation of Vienna in 1805 and again in 1809. However, it retained a central political position in Europe following the end of the Napoleonic Wars, hosting the Congress of Vienna in 1814–15 to restore the balance of power.

The city was heavily involved in the 1848 Revolution, which resulted in Francis Joseph being named Emperor. Under his rule, Vienna evolved into a modern city, with infrastructure improvements and a rapidly growing economy and population - it became the 4th biggest city worldwide at the time! When the Austro-Hungarian Empire was formed in 1867, Vienna became the imperial capital, and continued its cultural growth, with flourishing music, architecture and painting movements amongst other arts.

Vienna, capital of the Republic of Austria

World War I stalled the city's development and signalled the end of the empire. Its territories were divided and in 1919 the Republic of Austria was born with Vienna as its capital. With the 1920s came the rise of fascism and in 1934 civil war broke out on the city's streets, paving the way for its annexation by Nazi Germany.

After suffering huge amounts of destruction from heavy bombing by the Allied Forces during World War II, Vienna was liberated by Soviet troops in 1945. It was then divided into occupation zones and controlled by different Allied powers until its independence in 1955.

Since then, the city has gone from strength to strength, and since the 1970s, it has been an official seat of the United Nations. While modernisation has occurred, including improved public transport systems and the construction of skyscrapers across the city, the priceless architectural heritage of the city has also been preserved and the historical centre of the city was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.