Spanning the length of several kilometres, Vienna’s main boulevard, known as Ringstrasse, encircles the Inner Stadt (Inner city) and is dotted with key official, tourist and cultural establishments. Until 1857, in place of the Ringstrasse stood the Vienna’s defensive wall, which was demolished by the orders of Emperor Franz Joseph. The wall could no longer withstand the modern artillery, which was superiorly demonstrated by Napoleon Bonaparte couple of decades ago. Along the boulevard, various striking edifices were erected as part of the “Ringstrasse style”. The aim was to prove that buildings featuring styles of different epochs put together can make a harmonious unity. Read on to discover striking and majestic establishments in an “Open Museum of Architectural Styles”.
Rathaus (City Hall)
Located on the western side of the Ringstrasse, Rathaus is undoubtedly the most majestic structure of the boulevard. The building serves as the Vienna’s City Hall, and its central tower, accompanied by two smaller ones on either side, looks like a cathedral tower. The reason is that its architect also worked on the Cologne Cathedral. The mentioned tower, which is about 100 meters high, is the crowning feature of the neo-Gothic structure, either by its height or style. Rathaus, made of limestone, marble and slate, is especially impressive during the night.
Free guided tours are offered on certain days. Grab an opportunity to take a look at the Inner Stadt when you climb the tower, which reveals Stephansdom, Burgtheater, Hofburg, Michaelerkirche, and other major tourist attractions.
Another splendid structure, featuring high-Renaissance style, is located at the opposite side of the Rathaus. Established approximately at the same time as Volkstheater (which isn’t at Ringstrasse), Burgtheater, which is also Austrian National Theatre, used to be reserved only for the Imperial family and high nobility. The commoners could enjoy the theatrical performances in the Volkstheater.
Burgtheater boasts exceptional semi-circular front façade and appealing decoration. The central figure of the upper balustrade represents Apollo, which is flanked by the muses of Tragedy and Comedy. Each figure adorning side balustrades plays a different instrument. Busts above the windows, between Corinthian columns, honour renowned writers, and Moliere, Goethe and Shakespeare are among the most famous. Busts of other writers adorn the stylish interior. The highlight, however, is interesting frescoes over the staircases that bring visitors in the history of drama. Famous painter Gustav Klimt was among the artists. Make sure to book a guided tour for more information.
The Parliament building comprises the central portico resting on the Corinthian columns, and two flanking wings that connect it with the Greek temple-like structures. The applied style is called “Greek Revival”. The building’s main architect was impressed with the classical buildings of Athens, and the design of the Parliament is a reference to the history’s first democracy.
The main figure of the tympanum is Emperor Franz Joseph, granting the constitution to his people. Other key figures of the Parliament are the horse tamers, and Pallas Athena – the Greek goddess of wisdom, dominating the fountain in front of the building. The Austrian Parliament is decorated with over hundred statues and friezes, representing Greek historians, Austro-Hungarian main rivers, various virtues, activities, and so on. The guided tour gets you into the most interesting features of this exceptional establishment.
Maria Theresa Square
Maria Theresa square, besides a monument to the only female ruler of the Habsburg dynasty, features two extraordinary museums – Museum of History of Art and Museum of Natural History. Both museums are identical in appearance, facing each other across the square that features a formal garden with fountains and sculptures. Maria Theresa’s monument is a centerpiece of the square.
The Natural History Museum is among the most comprehensive museums of its kind in the world. Its impressive collection encompasses rare fossils, precious stones, meteorites, plants, animals and many more interesting exhibits. Its twin across the square, on the other hand, displays one of the most important art collections. Pay special attention to the Picture Gallery, with the masterpieces donated by the Habsburgs themselves. Through these paintings, history of the Habsburg dynasty is introduced. The applied style to the museums is Italian Renaissance.
State Opera, City Park, Votive Church, Karl’s Church…
Votive and Karl’s churches, which aren’t situated directly on the boulevard, but are easily approached, are especially interesting and symbolic. Votive church was commissioned by Franz Joseph’s younger brother Maximilian, when the first survived an assassination attempt in 1853. Votivkirche features neo-Gothic style, with two towers. Karlskirche is the Baroque church. It’s recognizable by a huge cupola and two pillars, whose reliefs ascend in spirals. The reliefs illustrate St. Charles Borromeo’s life.
The State Opera (Staatsoper) is one more Renaissance structure. Its performances are, generally, sold-out pretty much in advance, but guided tours are especially interesting. The city park (Stadtpark) is perhaps the most expansive park in Vienna. Beautifully arranged lawns and flower beds are complemented with fountains and monuments, making it the most beautiful park in Vienna. Franz Shubert’s and Johan Strauss’ (the king of the Waltz) monuments are located in the Stadtpark.
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