Friday, June 7, 2013

Vienna: St. Stephen's Cathedral and The Imperial Palace

City Park looking towards the Wien Rathaus (Vienna City Hall)
Vienna, Austria, a city rich with history, is often viewed as a mystical place with its beautiful palaces and parks, classic art and music scene, and exquisite food offerings.  The city is often regarded as the "City of Music," but is also sometimes referred to as the "City of Dreams" because it was home to the worlds first psycho-analyst, Sigmund Freud.

The earliest settlement in Vienna, and the location today's inner-city, was south of the Donau (Danube) River.  Today the city spans both sides of the river.  There is evidence of a continuous settlement in Vienna, "Wien" in German, as early as 500 BC.  The Romans fortified the city in 15 BC.  After, Vienna became the capital of the Austrian Empire in 1804 and remained the capital of what became the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  After WWII, Vienna was divided into four sectors, similar to Berlin, with one difference.  The central area, the first district, was considered an international zone.  Power of the zone rotated on a monthly basis and was constantly patrolled by the four powers, the "four soldiers in a jeep method."  Whereas the Russians put up blockades in Berlin in 1953, they relinquished their occupation zones in Eastern Austria and Vienna in 1955. (For more info, read my post on The Berlin Wall)

St. Stephen's Cathedral
St. Stephen's Cathedral, Stephansdom in German, rises into the sky and can't be missed by tourists walking into Stephansplatz.  The current Romanesque and Gothic form of the cathedral was initiated by Duke Rudolf IV (1339-1365), but stands on the ruins of two earlier churches, the first consecrated in 1147.

Inside Stephen's Cathedral
I wanted to believe that all of the color inside the church was a product of the beautiful stained glass windows, but unfortunately, the majority wasn't.  The color is projected throughout the interior of the church.

St. Stephen's massive south tower, standing at 445 ft, is its the highest point and dominant feature of the Vienna skyline.  Its construction lasted 65 years from 1368 to 1443.  It served as a watch tower during battle and has an apartment for the watchmen, who manned the tower at night and rang the bells if a fire was spotted until 1955.

South Tower at Night

The roof of St. Stephen's Cathedral, shown above, is covered by 230,000 glazed tiles.  Above the choir on the south side, the tiles depict the double headed eagle that is symbolic of the empire ruled from Vienna during the Habsburg dynasty.  On the north side, the tiles depict the coat of arms of the city of Vienna and of the Republic of Austria.
St. Stephen's Cathedral at Night

Many of the buildings in Vienna are constantly being cleaned and refurbished, and the cathedral is no exception.  The cathedral was being cleaned during our visit, and you can see the color difference between the front and the North side in the photo above.

Hofburg Palace - St. Michael's Wing
The Hofburg Palace is one of the most spectacular buildings (or I should say groups of buildings) in Vienna.  The Hofburg is the former imperial residence.  It has been the seat of many kings and emperors, including the Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nation and the Emperor of Austria.  Today it is the official seat of the Austrian Federal President.

Neue Burg Wing
The Neue Burg (New Castle) was planned in the 1860's but wasn't completed until 1913.  The Neue Burg wing houses several museums as well as the reading rooms of the Austrian National Library and the Hofburg Congress Center.

Naturhistoriches Museum Wien

An Imperial Forum was planned with twin museums (Kunthistorisches and Naturhistorisches) as flanks.  The museums were completed in 1891, but the Imperial Forum was never completed because no real function could be found.  In it's place are Heldensplatz (Heroes Square) and Maria-Theresien-Platz (Maria Therese Square).
Statue in Maria-Theresien-Platz

Kunsthistoriches Museum
The two museums have identical exteriors and face each other across the Maria-Theresien-Platz.  The buildings are rectangular in shape and have domes that are 60 meters high.  The facades were built with sandstone.  Both museums opened in 1889.  

The Naturhistorisches Museum, Natural History Museum, in Vienna is one of the most important museums in the world.  The collections of artifacts were started over 250 years ago.  In 2011, the museum house around 30 million artifacts.  The museum was originally built to hold the huge collection of the Habsburgs.

The Kunsthistorisches Muesum is an art museum, referred to as the museum of art history or the fine arts museum.  This museum was commissioned by the emperor to hold the art collection of the Habsburgs and share it with the public.

Standing between the two massive, identical museums in the midst of their grandeur was quite amazing, as was seeing the Imperial Palace in general.  The detail, the artwork and the sheer size of the palace buildings is simply amazing.


The Vienna State Opera House (Wiener Staatsoper) dates back to the mid-19th century.  The Vienna State Opera is closely linked to the Vienna Philharmonic, whose members are recruited from the Vienna State Opera.

Wiener Staatsoper at Night
The Vienna State Opera is one of the busiest opera houses in the world (around 300 performances each year, including operas and ballets).  The opera house employs over 1,000 people and has an annual operating budget of approximately 100 million Euros (about half of which comes from a state subsidy).

The Wiener Staatsoper has become well known for its children's productions, which are performed in a tent on the roof of the Staatsoper.  In the afternoons, after regular school hours, the Staatsoper also has an opera school for girls and boys ages 8-14.

The Wiener Rathaus (City Hall) serves as the seat for the Mayor and the City Council.  It was built between 1872 and 1883.

Austrian Parliament Building
Rathaus Garden

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