- The largest in territory of the nine provinces of the Austrian Federal Republic, Lower Austria is also its economically most diverse. It is one of the country’s important agricultural regions, producing grain and fine white wines, such as Gumpoldskirchner, Vöslauer, and Pfaffstätten, as well as many lesser vintages. Until the beginning of World War I, the region was one of the leading industrial centers of the Habsburg Empire. The collapse of that structure adversely affected the traditional markets and capital sources of Lower Austria. Heavy bombing during World War II undermined it even further. The Soviet occupation that followed exploited agricultural and mineral wealth ruthlessly. Close proximity to the Iron Curtain after 1945 made the province less attractive to investors than the western areas of the republic. Today, Lower Austria is a thriving center of the country’s service industries. Administered since the 13th century as Vierteln or quarters, Lower Austria had its capital over the centuries in Vienna. After World War I, while the seat of Lower Austria’s government remained in the city, Vienna and the region were made two provinces of the First Austrian Republic. In 1986, as the region became more populous and economically complex, Lower Austria’s government moved to St. Pölten. Lower Austria is historically rich. Some of the most famous artifacts of European prehistory were found here. Among them are the Venuses of Galgenberg and Willendorf, which indicate that the area had been settled since the Ice Age. There are numerous sites of Bronze Age settlements (Mannersdorf, Pitten, Franzhausen) as well. Wallburgen, or mound fortifications, testify to a Celtic presence by the New Ice Age.The Romans occupied Lower Austria south of the Danube around 15 BCE and erected fortresses along the river. Melk, Klosterneuburg, and Ybbs on the Danube were only a few among many such installations. Major Roman settlements such as Vindobona and Carnuntum were geographically part of the region as well. Germanic tribes, particularly the Marcomans and the Quadens, began to drift southward in the second century. By 480, another group, the Rugiers, had established regional control centered around Krems. Christianity also penetrated the territory at about the same time. The departure of the Romans from the region at the end of the century left what was to become Lower Austria open to further disorganized wanderings of German and, by the sixth century, Slavic tribes. Avars and Bavarians also entered the area. Charlemagne incorporated Lower Austria into his empire at the end of the eighth century. Parts of the land subsequently fell under the control first of the Slavic Great Moravian Empire, then the Magyars. In 970, 15 years after German Emperor Otto I crushed the latter in the battle of the Lechfeld, he turned the Lower Austrian region into an imperial Mark (Eng.: march). His successor, Otto II, enfeoffed the Babenberg dynasty with the territory in 976. From the time the Babenbergs acquired their hold on Lower Austria until their line died out in 1246, the family expanded and consolidated its hold on the region. On 17 September 1156, the mark was raised to a duchy through the so-called Privilegium minus; its territorial rulers received wide-ranging legal and political privileges in the same document. The effect of the entire decree was to free Babenberg Austria from imperial jurisdiction.From 1278 until 1918, the Habsburgs were the territorial rulers of Lower Austria. It was a Habsburg prince, Rudolph IV (1339–1365), who raised Lower Austria to the status of archduchy in the spurious Privilegium maius, worked out between 1358 and 1359. Throughout the latter part of the Middle Ages, the high nobility, knights, prelates, and townspeople of Lower Austria developed a strong system of corporate representation in their estates. Even at the end of the 13th century, they were using German in their administrative affairs. By the 15th century, they were able to exercise considerable financial constraints on their territorial rulers. After 1513, they had their own provincial assembly building in Vienna. Their sense of independence became especially troublesome to the Habsburgs in the 16th century, as many members of the estates became Lutherans and often held back from paying contributions to territorial defense against the Ottoman Empire unless further religious freedoms were granted them. Nevertheless, because Lower Austria was directly on the path of invasions from the southeast, the estates generally ended up paying more for their defense than did the other Austrian lands of the Habsburgs. Recatholicized in the 17th century, Lower Austria became the seat of some of the most spectacular building to come out of the Counter-Reformation. The monastery of Melk is an especially good example of this activity.Lower Austria was one of the first parts of the Habsburg Austrian patrimony to begin the process of industrialization. The 18th century brought the first textile mills to the area. However, it was the region immediately around Vienna that would profit the most from this development, which really only peaked during the second half of the 19th century.
Historical dictionary of Austria. Paula Sutter Fichtner. 2014.
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