Austria is situated in southern Central Europe, covering a part of the eastern Alps and the Danube region; although it is land-locked, it borders on the Mediterranean area. Austria has common borders witheight other countries: Switzerland, Principality of Liechtenstein, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy. Once the center of power for the large Austro-Hungarian Empire, Austria was reduced to a small republic after its defeat in World War I. Following annexation by Nazi Germany in 1938 and subsequent occupation by the victorious Allies, Austria’s 1955 State Treaty declared the country “permanently neutral” as a condition of Soviet military withdrawal.
Neutrality, once ingrained as part of the Austrian cultural identity, has been called into question since the Soviet collapse and Austria’s increasingly prominent role in European affairs. A prosperous country, Austria joined the European Union in 1995 and the euro monetary system in 1999.Austria is a federal state with a total area of 32,368 sq. miles (83,858 sq. km) and consists of nine provinces – Burgenland, Carinthia, Lower Austria, Salzburg, Styria, Tyrol, Upper Austria, Vienna and Vorarlberg. Their inhabitants belong to the major European ethnic groups: the Germanic, Neo-Latin and Slav peoples (the Magyars of Hungary are an exception, deriving from the Ural-Altaic group). The main cities in Austria are : Vienna, Salzburg, Linz, Graz, Klagenfurt and Innsbruck. The population of the country amounts to about 8 million people.
The country has a wide variety of landscape, vegetation and climate and, situated as it is at the heart of a continent, it has always been a junction for communication links between the trade and cultural centers of Europe.Austria’s border has an overall length of 1,682 miles. Of these, 509 miles are shared with Germany, 291 miles with the Czech Republic, 64 miles with Slovakia, 220 miles with Hungary, 205 miles with Slovenia, 267 miles with Italy, 104 miles with Switzerland and 22 miles with Liechtenstein.Austria’s highest mountain is the Grossglockner (12,465 ft.) On its way from the Black Forest in southern Germany to the Black Sea, the Danube flows some 220 miles of its course through Austria.
In ancient times, much of the territory later known collectively as “Austria” was called Rhaetia, Noricum, and PANNONIA. These were organized as Roman provinces in the 1st century AD. Then, and for the next 10 centuries, the area served the more civilized peoples of Europe–initially Roman, later Frankish and German–as a defensive outpost against barbarian invasions from the east. Roman control collapsed in the 4th century under wave after wave of Germanic and Hunnish invaders.
In the 6th century, these tribes were joined by SLAVS and AVARS, over whom the FRANKS under CHARLEMAGNE established a brief ascendancy in the 8th century. Nomads from the east, among them MAGYARS, continued to overrun the Danubian area until OTTO I, later Holy Roman emperor, defeated them in the mid-10th century and reorganized the eastern border region on a more permanent basis as a dependency of the dukes of Bavaria. Under the rule of the Babenberg margraves between 976 and 1246, Austria expanded eastward to the Hungarian border and southward into Styria and Carniola. Christianity was well entrenched by the early 12th century. The Babenberg lands were occupied (1246-78) by OTTOKAR II of Bohemia. After his defeat by the Habsburg German king RUDOLF I, they passed to the Habsburg family, which provided all but one of the Holy Roman emperors from 1438 to 1806.
The Habsburgs turned Austria into one of the most dynamic states of Europe. They steadily expanded their domains in the 14th and 15th centuries, first by acquiring the Tyrol and Vorarlberg near their hereditary holdings in Switzerland, then by the addition of ISTRIA and TRIESTE to the south. By the marriage (1477) of the future MAXIMILIAN I to MARY OF BURGUNDY, they acquired BURGUNDY and the LOW COUNTRIES. Then the accession (1516) of the future emperor CHARLES V to the Spanish throne brought Spain and its empire under Habsburg rule. On his abdication (1555-56), however, Charles divided his realm, leaving Spain and the Low Countries to his son Philip II and Austria and the empire to his brother FERDINAND I. The Austrian line then oriented its expansion eastward. Ferdinand’s successors proved unable after 1564 to rule coherently or fairly those parts of the empire that had embraced the Protestant REFORMATION. This deficiency was instrumental in causing the THIRTY YEARS’ WAR (1618-48).
A weakened Austria was forced to recognize the legitimacy of the reformed sects within the empire, but, as the result of the success of the COUNTER-REFORMATION, Catholicism was fully restored in Bohemia and Austria itself. The efforts of Emperor LEOPOLD I (r. 1657-1705) to undo the Reformation in Hungary led to renewed conflict with the Hungarians and their Turkish allies. In 1683 the Turks besieged Vienna, which was rescued only by the timely intervention of German and Polish forces. A series of imperial victories drove the Turks from Hungary, which Austria formally acquired by the Peace of Karlowitz (1699). The Austrian empire reached its greatest extent in the first half of the 18th century. Wars over the Spanish and Polish successions brought the addition of the Spanish Netherlands (Belgium) and, in Italy, of Milan, Mantua, Parma, Piacenza, and Tuscany. The WAR OF THE AUSTRIAN SUCCESSION (1740-48) grew out of the refusal of the powers to honor the PRAGMATIC SANCTION (issued 1713), the instrument by which Emperor CHARLES VI sought to ensure the indivisibility of his Habsburg possessions and the succession of his daughter MARIA-THERESA (r. 1740-80).
Maria Theresa’s most important contribution lay in measures designed to centralize the administration of an unwieldy empire. JOSEPH II (r. 1780-90) continued the centralizing efforts of his mother, but he added a humanistic emphasis. He emancipated the serfs, increased the rights of religious minorities, and subordinated the Catholic church to the state. But his reign witnessed losses to the Turks and a revolt in the Spanish Netherlands (1789). Under his brother LEOPOLD II (r. 1790-92), the church and the regional governing bodies won back many of their old powers. Austria’s position in Europe was temporarily shaken by the outbreak of the French Revolution and by the political and geographic changes enacted by NAPOLEON I.
In 1806, FRANCIS II laid aside the old imperial title of Holy Roman emperor, thereafter to reign simply as Emperor Francis I of Austria until 1835. Briefly allied with France in the invasion of Russia, Austria subsequently joined with the other powers to defeat Napoleon in 1814. By the decisions of the Congress of Vienna (1815; see VIENNA, CONGRESS OF), brilliantly orchestrated by the Austrian foreign minister Prince Klemens von METTERNICH, Austria ceded Belgium to the Netherlands but was compensated by new gains in LOMBARDY, Venetia, and DALMATIA that made Austria predominant in Italy. Austria also took over leadership of the newly formed GERMAN CONFEDERATION. Under Metternich’s aegis, conservatism reigned triumphant over much of the continent for more than 30 years. The repressive atmosphere prevailing in the empire, however, could not permanently dampen the liberal or nationalist sentiment that increasingly asserted itself in Hungary, Italy, and the Slavic lands. Dissatisfaction erupted during the REVOLUTIONS OF 1848, forcing Metternich to resign and the emperor to agree to the election of a constituent assembly, and power was restored to the emperor, now FRANCIS JOSEPH (r. 1848-1916).
Austria once more set its course in the direction of centralized, absolutist government, modernized and reformed just enough to make it palatable. Major setbacks followed. Austria was defeated (1859) in a war with Italy and France, leading to the loss of Lombardy to the newly unified kingdom of ITALY. Next came defeat in the SEVEN WEEKS’ WAR (1866) against PRUSSIA, which carried with it the loss of Venetia and a number of German territories. Prussia then unified all the German states except Austria into the German Empire in 1871. Austria responded to these events by reshaping its constitutional framework so as to make the Hungarians equal partners in the Austrian Empire. The Compromise (Ausgleich) of 1867 created the Dual Monarchy of AUSTRIA-HUNGARY. Austria remained plagued by the conflicting interests of its multiple nationalities. Its occupation of the Turkish provinces of BOSNIA AND HERCEGOVINA in 1878 and rivalry with Russia for control over the BALKANS in the wake of the Ottoman Empire’s decline inevitably intensified the nationalism of the empire’s large Slavic minorities.
Six years after Austria’s outright annexation of Bosnia-Hercegovina, a Serbian nationalist assassinated (June 28, 1914) Archduke FRANZ FERDINAND in Sarajevo. This event led to WORLD WAR I, in which Austria was allied with Germany (see TRIPLE ALLIANCE). Austria emerged beaten and shorn of the territories that had contributed to its 1,000-year imperial history. The new Austrian republic was reduced to its essential Germanic core, a quarter of its former size. At the same time, the victorious Allies prohibited Austria from uniting with its potentially still powerful German neighbor, even by means of a customs union. Austria did not adjust well to its straightened postwar circumstances. Politically oriented private armies representing both socialists and conservatives increased the potential for internal strife. The failure of Austria’s largest bank in 1931 plunged the nation into economic crisis. Encouraged by Benito MUSSOLINI, Austria’s protector until 1936, Chancellor Engelbert DOLLFUSS assumed dictatorial powers in 1933. He dissolved all rival parties in 1934. Socialist resistance to this measure led to the government’s bombardment of Vienna’s large socialist quarter in February 1934. Dollfuss, a proto-Fascist who was nevertheless determined to keep Austria independent of Germany, was murdered on July 25, 1934. But an attempted takeover by Austrian Nazis collapsed when Mussolini dispatched troops to the Austrian border as a warning to Adolf HITLER to keep hands off. Dollfuss was succeeded by Kurt von SCHUSCHNIGG, who was unable to stop the growth of Nazi Germany’s influence in Austria.
Following his resignation, German troops entered (Mar. 12, 1938) the country, and the union (Anschluss) of Austria and Germany was proclaimed. During World War II, Austria’s fortunes were identified with those of Germany. Following its liberation by Allied troops in the spring of 1945, Austria was reestablished within its prewar boundaries under a provisional government. This soon gave way to a coalition government that included members of both the Socialist and People’s parties. The country was divided into four administrative zones for occupation by U.S., Soviet, British, and French forces. The four powers stayed until 1955. Austria joined the United Nations later the same year.
In the postwar era, Austria was governed by coalition governments up to 1966, when a People’s party administration led by Joseph Klaus took power. It was succeeded in 1970 by a Socialist government under Bruno KREISKY. In 1971 the Socialists won a majority of seats in parliament. During Kreisky’s long chancellorship (1970-83), Vienna grew in stature as an international center, becoming, along with New York and Geneva, one of the world headquarters of the United Nations. When his party lost its majority in April 1983, Kreisky stepped down to make way for a coalition government under another Socialist, Fred Sinowatz (1983-86), followed by Franz Vranitzky (1986-97). Former UN secretary general Kurt WALDHEIM, who was elected to the presidency in 1986, became a subject of controversy when it was revealed that he had lied about the extent of his activities in the German army during World War II, and that Yugoslav sources had accused him of complicity in war crimes. A committee of historians declared the latter charge unproven in 1988, and Waldheim ignored calls for his resignation.
The Capital of Vienna (Wien)
Vienna is a city of dreams. As no other, she parades transitoriness and her proper past. The Habsburg Empire has long disappeared, but its metropolis still cherishes the old dream of splendour and glory. The pompous façades and cobbled alleyways, the countless ancient monuments and the mish-mash of peoples -–many inhabitants hail from East-European countries – make the past come alive again. Not as an oppressive burden, but rather as a melody from bygone days which now pervades the air again, a medley of Viennese waltzes, the Radetzky March and a Bruckner symphony. In Vienna, particularly in the First District, the air really seems to swing. Apart from nostalgic baroque, however, one also discovers contemporary architecture extending its tentacles in the form of glass-and-chromium buildings, right into the heart of the city, to the Stephansplatz, where the cathedral’s spire points skywards like giant stalagmite. Visitors climbing to the top are rewarded with a view of Vienna reaching far into the surrounding countryside in an ascending panorama. On the outskirts of Vienna a new district called Donau-City is being constructed by architects inspired not so much by baroque criteria as by the skyline of places such as Frankfurt and Chicago.
At one time, marvelous Vienna was capital of the powerful Habsburg empire. The slow decline of the Habsburgs, capped by World War I, brought an end to Vienna’s robust political prominence. The city’s famed artistic expression, developed over centuries, has survived. With a melange of architecture reflecting Roman, Medieval, Gothic, Baroque, Rococo and Art Deco influences, always with the intent to impress, Vienna both inspires and delights its welcomed visitors. Winter and summer palaces, impressive monuments, circling boulevards and specific architectural treasures are interspersed with genteel gardens, innumerable fountains and nearby woodland parks.The sophisticated Viennese have, for centuries, lovingly held onto many cultural pleasures – most notably music – to help endure times of political uncertainty.
Over the years, the greatest classical composers, Austrian or otherwise, graced Vienna with their presence and compositions. Grand opera houses and concert venues are entwined into the city landscape. In 1820, the Strauss dynasty introduced the waltz, a music and dance that swept people off their feet in more than ways than one. Considered scandalous for its time, a waltz melody is, for the present day visitor, a common accompaniment as one takes in the city’s many charms: the luxurious cadence of passers-by, the meditative atmosphere of a Viennese coffeehouse, the melodic flavors of the incomparable Sacher Torte . . . in a world more and more defined by the rush of modern living, Vienna invites you to slow down, linger and in this way truly enjoy its incomparable pleasures.
Modern Viennese art, fashion and ‘scene’ are impressive, yet form merely one facet of the spectrum. After the fall of the Iron Curtain which for so long cast a dark shadow over the western world, Vienna is once more located in the middle of Central Europe. The city has become a junction connecting the continent’s eastern and western parts, a role it already fulfilled once when an empire of 53 million citizens was governed from here. At present, however, political power is no longer involved, but rather cultural stimuli and lifestyle. Vienna has become a ‘definer of style’ again. Many of the numerous museums and cultural institutions are truly exemplary and make Austria into one of the most important cultural centres in Europe.
A visit to Vienna is like a stroll through the past, for almost nowhere else is history so close at hand. In the innumerable coffee-houses, often fitted with antique furniture, newspapers are provided free to the customers, a mixture of romantics and managerial types clutching an art-tourist guidebook or holding a mobile phone to their ear, typify the real ‘Viennese hodge-podge’. source by hotels-europe.com