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WALKING TOUR OF THE OLD CITY
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Vienna was, for hundreds of years, the capital of the Austrian Empire. It is renowned for the wealth of interesting buildings, churches and palaces in many architectural styles. Some, up to 700 years old, are graceful Gothic structures, others Renaissance and Baroque. The vast majority were built in the 19th century at the peak of the Empire's power and wealth. These are predominantly, large opulent structures in Neo-gothic and Neo-renaissance styles, with some striking examples of the turn of the century Art Nouveau, in Vienna called Jugenstil.
Like most other favorite tourist destinations in Europe, the city is best visited by walking. However to reach the starting point, and later to return to your hotel, you might use public transportation. Vienna has numerous fast trams (Strassenbahn) and underground (UBahn) lines as well as slower buses. An excellent way to get a first impression of Vienna is to take tram #1 (clockwise) or #2 (counter-clockwise), which circle the Inner City along the broad avenues - the "Ring" - built in place of the early medieval fortifications.
Most visitors want to start from the very center, St Stephen's Cathedral, Stephansdom. Its 120m (390ft) spire is seen from far away and is the best known symbol of the city. On a clear day, you may climb the 420 steps to get a wonderful view of the city and its surroundings. The Gothic cathedral was built in the 15th century and incorporates part of an earlier Romanesque Basilica. Inside you may see the tombs of several of the earliest emperors. You will also note several chapels in the Baroque style. The cathedral treasury is to be seen in the neighboring Archbishops' Palace.
After the plague, which decimated the city's population in the 17th. century, many of the houses surrounding the cathedral, and the cemetery, were cleared away. Today, Stephansplatz and the Graben (Ditch), which runs at right angle to it, provide a large open pedestrian area which is always full of strolling citizens and visitors. Kártnerstarsse and other narrower streets adjacent to it are all reserved for pedestrians. You may look into the many famous shops that line them or relax in one of the cafés and enjoy a cup of excellent Viennese coffee, topped with whipped cream and a piece of Sachertorte, the cake for which Vienna is famous.
Continue on your walk through Donnergasse to the New Market (Neuer Markt.)
In the center of the square you see the renowned fountain Donnerbrunnen built in the early 1700s by the sculptor, George Donner, whose work adorns many Viennese palaces. The square is lined with graceful old houses. At No. 2 Haydn lived and composed the melody that became the National Anthem of Imperial Austria. The Church of the Capuchins, which faces the square, houses the crypts of the royal Habsburg family.
Turn right to Albertina Platz. Here you get a full view of the Neue Burg (New Palace) across the the Burg Garden.
This is the largest part of the Imperial Palace that was built in the 19th. century in Neo-Renaissance style. Immediately on the square is the Albertina Gallery, which houses a marvelous collection of drawings and engravings, including a great number of Dürer drawings.
Continue along the walls of the Hofburg Palace to Michaeler Platz (St. Michael Square) Square). Here the ornate archway of St. Michael's Gate, topped by a dome, leads into the Hofburg proper. The Hofburg is an enormous complex of buildings surrounding courtyards. Built at various times from the 15th to the 19th century, they comprise a wide scale of styles. Until the end of World War I in 1918, they were the winter residence of the Habsburg family and were closed to the general public. Today the numerous museums, filled with great art collections, and libraries as well as ornate residences are open for all to see (except on Mondays.) You should allow a full day to see just the most important of them.
For now let's continue our walk. Leading directly to the Gate is Kohlmarkt, (Cabbage Market) lined with elegant shops. On the corner Café Demel still serves pastries and Sachertorte on beautiful china, as it has done for the last 225 years. We will stroll along elegant Herrengasse admiring the richly decorated houses and palaces that line it. On the left we see the Landhaus, the administrative building of the province of Lower Austria. It is here that the revolution of 1848 started, then 70 years later, in October, 1918, the Republic of Austria was proclaimed upon the abdication of the Emperor. Just a little further on the right we can stop for a coffee at Café Central a favorite meeting place of Viennese intellectuals. You may sit here and read the newspapers that are still rolled around large sticks as they have been for 150 years.
Pass through the galleries of the Ferstel Palace to triangular Freyung Square to admire the magnificent 17th century altars of the Scottish Church (Schottenkirche. Then wander along Tiefen Graben (Deep Ditch), which at one time was the bed of a stream at the north end of the Roman city of Vindobona. An elegant, richly decorated metal bridge crosses over it, that was built in 1903 in the Neo-romantic style, called Jugendstil. Both Mozart and Beethoven lived for a period of time on this street. At its end, turn right and go up a few steps to a lovely, but quite simple Gothic church - Our Lady of the Steps (Maria am Gestade.) It is the same age as St. Stephen's Cathedral and contains two beautiful altars and a remarkable 14th century painting of the Annunciation. They are best seen when the sun is shining through the 14th century stained glass windows.
Close by, on the way to the Hoher Markt (Upper Market) you can see the Old Town Hall, a magnificent Baroque building (The present town hall is the large Neo-gothic Rathaus located on the west side of the Ring.) The Hoher Markt is situated on the site of the Forum of Roman Vindobona. Some of the Roman remains may be seen behind house No. 3. One of Vienna's many fountains, the Bethrothal Fountain, is located in the center of the square. The only Synagogue to survive the Nazi years is located nearby. Take Judengasse from the the north-east side of the square and walk towards the ancient St. Rupert's Church. The Synagogue will be on your right in a quiet, narrow street Seitenstettengasse.
Then continue along the narrow street to the wider Rotenturm Strasse, turn right and in a few moments you will be back at the Cathedral. This walk was a little over 2km (1½ miles), if you didn't wander too much into the side streets. It touched only the highlights but will have given you an appreciation of the great variety of lovely buildings and art spanning all styles and ages that adorn Vienna and whet your appetite for more walks.
How to get there. If your hotel is not in the center of the city, you can reach St. Stephen's Cathedral quickly by Metro (Ubahn) lines U1 and U3 (see Map.) There are also three bus lines that cross the Inner City - 1A, 2A and 3A. Tram lines 1 and 2 circle around the Inner City along the Ring and the bank of the Danube Canal.
Credits: Photos © Austria National Tourist Office, reproduced by permission. Photographers: 26227 - Liebing R.; 118643 - Mayer; 3298 - Bohnacker; 18122 - Wiesenhofer; 23479 - Diejun.
Last update September 2006