“If I speak of Vienna it must be in the past tense, as a man speaks of a woman he has loved and who is dead,” said Erich von Stroheim (1885 – 1957) of the capital city of Austria. The Austrian actor and filmmaker of the silent movie era was quite right about Vienna being a city of the past. And not just a city of one past, but of many pasts. Vienna is notable for its layers of history, built one on top of the other, the oldest, Roman layers reaching as far down as nine meters below the ground level of today’s sidewalks.
Our tour begins at Michaelerplatz, where the Hofburg, the Habsburg’s imperial palace and seat of power since the thirteenth century, dominates the square. Clockwise from the palace is the green and gray Loos House, designed by Austrian architect Adolf Loos (1870-1933). The building’s unadorned, modernist style caused such a stir that the emperor, Franz Joseph I (1830-1916), refused to leave the palace by this gateway after its unveiling in 1910 and also demanded that the drapes in all the windows in the Neue Burg wing of the palace be permanently drawn, so he could avoid glimpsing such “an eyesore” in the vicinity of his imperial abode. In the center of the square is an excavation of eighteenth century housing, medieval cellars and Roman buildings; evidence of the city’s earliest history as a Roman legionary fort, when it was known as Vindobona.
From there, our tour continues down Kohlmarkt and the Graben, currently one of the city’s most fashionable shopping districts and home to such varied sights as a plague column commemorating the 17th century outbreak of bubonic plague, a baroque church, grand buildings in many different architectural styles and the national architectural icon of Austria: Stephansdom. From here, you can see buildings in every direction designed by some of Austria’s most famed architects, including Otto Wagner (1841-1918), whose Wiener Secessionist style (the city’s answer to art nouveau) stands in contrast to Loos’s restrained and unadorned creations.
From Stephansdom, we continue our walk and examine the quarter behind the cathedral, with little narrow streets, where one still can feel the ambience of old Vienna. Here we will also find places connected with famous names, like W.A. Mozart (1756-1791) who lived in this quarter during the last ten years of his life, or Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663-1736), who built his famous Winterpalace nearby.
Then we head back to Kärntnerstrasse towards Neuer Markt, a square that has maintained its outline since the Middle Ages, we see Capuchine Church and learn something about the imperial vault and the Habsburg’s grandiose tripartite burials. From there, we continue towards the State Opera House, touching Albertina square where we find remnants of the old city walls and a famous art collection.
Then we walk along the Ringstraße, the big imperial boulevard built in the middle of the 19th century around the Inner City after tearing down the city walls, where we find most of Vienna’s luxury Hotels in old palaces. The Ringstraße celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2015. We pass by Musikverein and Künstlerhaus to Karlskirche, one of the biggest baroque Churches in town, built after the last epidemic of the black plague at the beginning of the 18th century. Crossing Resselpark, we continue our walk towards the Secession building and pass by the Viennese Naschmarkt, the colourful traditional food market where the Viennese meet to shop and eat!
Finally, we weave through the MuseumsQuartier and Maria-Theresien-Platz, home to the city’s largest concentration of museums, while discussing the present day cultural, political and economic orientations of Austria and its capital.