- Wien, or Vienna in English, is in all likelihood a derivative of Vindobona, a name traced to the Celts who inhabited the area in pre-Christian times. Lying in a geographic basin that provides the only break in the Alpine–Carpathian mountain chain running from the Gulf of Liguria in the west to the Black Sea, it was well situated both strategically and commercially.The region around today’s Vienna was inhabited from the Stone Age; the origins of the city itself date from a Bronze Age settlement around 800 BCE. During the first and second centuries CE, Vienna was occupied and fortified by the Romans. Their artifacts still remain in the First District of the city. As the imperial legions withdrew in the fourth and fifth centuries from their many positions in the region, they were replaced, though often transitorily, by Slavic, Germanic, and even Asiatic tribes. The Carolingian Empire of the eighth and ninth centuries touched down here as well, leaving some traces on what is the site of the 11th-century church of St. Ruprecht, the oldest extant religious edifice in the city.The first references to Vienna as a municipality date from 1137. In 1156, the Babenberg rulers of the Austrian lands made it the seat of their court; in the following century they substantially expanded the peripheral fortification of the town. Their successors, the Habsburgs, continued the process through the 16th and 17th centuries. The constraints of the extensive city walls left the First District of Vienna with a cramped and convoluted street pattern. The city became a major Danubian hub for medieval commerce; by the 14th century it was an intellectual center as well, with a number of important ecclesiastical foundations within its limits. The University of Vienna was established in 1365.Political instability in the Danube River valley and the shift of European commerce westward with the opening of the Americas made Vienna far less attractive as a political and mercantile center during the 15th and 16th centuries. From 1485 to 1490, the city was controlled by the aggressive and ambitious king of Hungary, Matthias Corvinus. Vulnerability to the expanding Ottoman Empire also frightened many. The sultan’s army reached the walls of the city in 1529 and threatened to do so again in 1532. Emperor Maximilian I preferred Innsbruck as a residence; Emperor Ferdinand I often quartered his large family in the Tyrolean capital for security reasons. Emperor Rudolph II (1552–1612) chose Prague as a capital. Only in the 17th century did Vienna become the seat of Habsburg government. It remained so until the dissolution of the dynasty’s empire in 1918, though after 1867 and the Ausgleich, Budapest was the domestic administrative center of Hungary. Under Emperor Leopold I (1640–1705), the Hofburg palace complex was substantially enlarged beyond its medieval outlines for the first time. With the victory over the Turks in 1683 and the rollback of Ottoman presence in east central Europe that followed, the immediate area beyond the fortified Inner City opened up for residential and commercial use. Land speculation spurred some of this process; today’s Josefstadt, or the Eighth District of the city, was a conspicuous example. Religious considerations also dictated settlement policy. The Second District, the Leopoldstadt, was established to house the city’s Jews. However, it was only after 1858 and the dismantling of the city walls that Vienna grew to its present size. The now-obsolete fortifications were replaced by a circumferential boulevard, the Ringstrasse. This was further embellished by new, and often grandiose, construction, which became the city’s hallmark. The Vienna State Opera was finished in 1869; between 1871 and 1890 the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Parliament, the New City Hall, the Burgtheater, and the new university building were all completed. Largely through the incorporation of outlying villages, whose names were often retained for administrative convenience, the city reached its present configuration of 23 districts. In these outlying areas housing, often in sizeable tracts and often appallingly inadequate, was put up in the 19th and 20th centuries for a swelling population. In 1800, Vienna had around 232,000 residents. Encouraged by the development of the city as an industrial and financial center, domestic migration within the empire helped to increase that figure to 842,951 in 1869, 1,341,900 in 1890, and 2,031,498 by 1910. At first from countryside areas that were largely German speaking, the newcomers and their ethnic backgrounds rapidly came to reflect the multinationality of the Habsburg Empire as a whole. Czechs were especially numerous by the end of the 19th century, but there were Hungarians, Italians, Jews from the easternmost lands of the empire, and many others as well.During the first decades of the 16th century, Emperor Ferdinand I had acquired substantial control over the political life of the city after he had forcibly suppressed demands for greater municipal freedoms from the mayor and city council. By 1861, much of the municipality’s former communal autonomy had been restored; substantial numbers among the middle classes of the Habsburg metropolis were enfranchised. They and the Liberal Party, which usually spoke for them, ran the city in their interests for a good part of the century. Massive administrative corruption and the progress of democratization in the Austrian half of the monarchy after 1867 put heavy pressure on municipal politicians to broaden the appeal of their programs. It was in this atmosphere that Karl Lueger, the leader of the new Christian Social movement, came to be mayor of the city. From 1894 to 1897, he was elected to the office by the city council three times, but Emperor Franz Joseph refused to allow him to take office on the grounds that his inflammatory rhetoric, often harshly antiSemitic, would create even more ethnic tension than then existed. In 1897, the monarch finally relented, persuaded that a Christian Social mayor might counter the rising attractiveness of the Marxist Austrian Social Democratic Workers’ Party (SDAP).For all his unsavory qualities, Lueger is generally acknowledged as having been one of Europe’s great municipal leaders in the 19th century. Many of the public services and amenities that still distinguish Vienna are the outcome of his programs. Under his administrations, the city developed a first-class public transportation system and a city water supply that is still among the best on the Continent. He also left future governments with a substantial deficit, which came due only after World War I and the collapse of the Habsburg Empire. In 1922, the city became an autonomous province within the new Austria; it held approximately one-third of the population of the entire country. Because of substantial immigration of peoples from the so-called successor states (countries carved out of the erstwhile Austria–Hungary) and refugees from eastern Europe, especially from Bolshevism, Vienna lost only between 1 and 2 percent of its population after 1919. Nevertheless, its preeminence in central and east central Europe faded considerably. Viennese banks never recaptured their leading role among financial institutions in the newly sovereign nations of the region, which were eager to be as independent as possible from the one-time Habsburg capital.The new Austria was at first inflation ridden and without the opportunities for foreign trade or capital resources available to the old monarchy. Nevertheless, Vienna undertook an ambitious and generous social agenda, paid for in large part at first by luxury duties and heavy taxes on rents from residential property. After 1923, a general tax to underwrite housing construction was introduced. Leadership for these programs came from the SDAP. Though the party lost control of Austria’s national government after 1920, it commanded huge electoral majorities in the city until 1934, when the authoritarian regime of Engelbert Dollfuss installed an administration more to its liking. Particularly outstanding were its public housing projects, which drew the attention and respect of urban planners and social reformers throughout the world. New hospitals, parks, schools, and sport facilities were established as well.The city, however, was neither socially nor politically harmonious. Tensions between the local Social Democrats and the more conservative national government, which had its seat in Vienna, were continually high. In 1927, a workers’ protest led to the burning of the Ministry of Justice building. In 1934, the two parties and their supporters took up arms against one another in the streets and in housing projects. A massive demonstration welcomed Adolf Hitler in 1938, when he came to the city to announce the Anschluss of Austria and Germany.Once under Nazi control, Vienna was officially known as The Imperial District of Greater Vienna (Reichsgau Gross-Wien); 97 neighboring areas were incorporated into the municipality, giving it 26 administrative units. During World War II, Allied bombing and ground troops heavily damaged the city. In 1944 and 1945, some of its most notable buildings and landmarks, such as St. Stephen’s cathedral and the State Opera building, suffered the most damage. Under the Allied occupation of Austria, Vienna, like the country as a whole, was divided into four zones. Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States governed the Inner City jointly. A substantial portion of the Lower Austrian territory, which the Nazis had folded into the city, was returned to the province to which it had once belonged. This left the city with 23 districts, its current number despite major population shifts to the municipal periphery. Once again in power, the Socialists, now called the Socialist Party of Austria, embarked upon a massive rebuilding program. New transportation facilities, most notably a rapid transit railroad, linked Vienna with outlying suburbs and a subway that is undergoing continued extension. Years of prosperity and an easing of social tension since World War II have led to a massive refurbishing of the city’s building stock, which, along with its cultural attractions and rich history, has made it a major center of tourism. The imperial Hofburg is now the setting for international conferences and meetings, and the United Nations has several important offices in the city. Its proximity to the former Soviet satellite states has also restored Vienna’s position as an international banking and investment center.See also Seitz, Karl.
Historical dictionary of Austria. Paula Sutter Fichtner. 2014.
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