History of Vienna

Brief history of Vienna summarized

Brief summary of the history of Vienna, going back to Habsburg and Babenberg times, or even further back, when the Romans founded their Vindobona.

Prehistoric times

Archaeological artifacts found in and around the city are proof that the area was already populated during the Neolithic (the most famous sculpture is the Venus von Willendorf dating from 25,000 BC). A favorable climate and fertile soil, as well as the nearby Danube River, supported these settlements.

Celts and Romans

Around 500 BC a fortified Celtic settlement was founded on the premises of present-day Vienna, known as Vedunia. Around 15 BC Vienna came under Roman rule and from then on it was known as Vindobona and dedicated as a military camp with an associated civil town to protect the outer borders of the Roman Empire against the tribes that settled north of the Danube. In 180 BC the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius died in the city during a military campaign.

Period of the great migrations

After the expulsion of the Romans during the barbarian invasions of the 5th century, the Langobards took control of the region, followed by the Slavs and the Avars, who were in turn expelled by the Magyars a couple of decades later.

Middle Ages

The Magyars were defeated by Emperor Otto I the Great, after which the Babenberg dynasty made Vienna their residence within Margrave Ostarrichi around 1146. The country prospered and became a dukedom in 1156 (Privilegium Minus). In these times the Schottenstift was founded, which is still preserved today.

Babenberg’s End

After the death of Friedrich II, the last Babenberg heir in 1246, the country was taken over by the Bohemian king Ottokar II. Premysl, who alienated the German nobility with this move. Rudolf I was elected king and defeated Ottokar at the Battle of Marchfeld in 1278, one of the greatest knightly battles during the Middle Ages, which allowed him to take control of the Austrian lands and establish a reign of the Habsburg dynasty.

The rise of the Habsburgs

Developing in peacetime under Habsburg rule, the city gains a reputation with the founding of the University of Vienna in 1365 by Rudolf IV, making it one of the oldest universities in Europe. Vienna became the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1556, after the Habsburgs conquered Hungary and Bohemia.

Ottoman Wars

In 1529, Ottoman forces under Suleyman I. the Magnificent besieged Vienna, but the attempt to take the city was thwarted by the outnumbered defenders. In 1683 the city was once again besieged by a large army led by Kara Mustafa. After two months, a Polish relief army under Jan III Sobieski was able to decisively defeat the Ottomans at the Battle of Vienna.

Prosperous century

During the following decades, the Ottoman Empire moved far away from the Balkans, allowing Vienna to prosper in peace. Important building projects were carried out by famous architects such as Fischer von Erlach and Lukas von Hildebrandt. After overcoming extensive plague visits in 1679 and 1713, the city grew rapidly to a population of around 200,000 in 1790.

Napoleonic Wars

Vienna was taken twice by Napoleon, first in 1805 without a battle and then in 1809 after a fierce bombardment. Shortly after, the Austrians won the Battle of Aspern, but lost at Wagram soon after. After Napoleon’s final defeat at Leipzig, the Congress of Vienna (September 1814 to June 1815) restored the balance of power in Europe.

Revolution of 1848

Fired by the French February Revolution, Austrian citizens pushed for political power in the March Revolution, which forced the “hardline” chancellor Metternich to resign. The following October Revolution in Vienna was crushed by the Emperor’s armies. After these events, the Arsenal was erected as a defensive headquarters against possible uprisings.

The metropolis of Vienna

Shortly after the revolution, the outdated fortifications were demolished and the Ringstraße boulevard with a series of monumental buildings was created in its place. The Danube River was regulated and the Donaukanal was built. At the turn of the century the population, made up of many new immigrants from all parts of the monarchy, was over 2 million (Vienna was the fourth largest city in the world at the time).

First World War

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, triggered a war in 1914, mainly between the Entente powers, France, the United Kingdom and Russia, against the Central Powers, Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. Finally, the defeat of 1918 was also the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was dissolved in many parts.

First Republic

After the war, the Österreich Republic was proclaimed, consisting of what had previously been the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The difficult economic situation caused a political polarization, which finally led to a civil war in 1934. Soon after, an authoritarian regime (Ständestaat) was established and prevailed without parliamentary approval for the following years.

Second World War

With the invasion of the German army and the annexation (“Anschluß”) by Nazi Germany, the state of Austria ceased to exist in March 1938. Initially not directly affected by the war that began in 1939, the city was bombed by Allied aircraft from 1943, which led to the construction of large anti-aircraft fire towers (anti-aircraft gun blockhouses, still existing). These bombings and the fighting prior to the Soviet conquest in 1945 caused great destruction in the city.

Allied occupation

Vienna was divided into occupation zones by the Soviet Union, the United States, the United Kingdom and France in 1945. The first free elections were held and the reconstruction of the city began. The economy recovered thanks to the Marshal plan. Finally, in May 1955, the country was granted full sovereignty with the Austrian State Treaty (Staatsvertrag).

Second Republic

From then on, prosperous times began for the city. Just a few highlights: During the 1970s, Vienna became the seat of the United Nations, in the 1980s the first metro was opened, and the Donauinsel was built as part of an effective flood protection system that it also served as a recreation area.

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