Pictures of Vienna

Not really much point in a clever title for this one, and very little medieval justification either. Given that, I’ve stuck most of the pictures behind a cut, with only the first one as a taster. It’s a beautiful city, mind, and I’d seriously consider taking a job there if one opened up. After all, they pretty much originated my style of charter work round here… But, almost all of Vienna’s buildings appear to be four- or five-storey nineteenth century terraces, of considerable grandeur but also uniformity. So, though the statuary is exceptional, the streets all look more or less like this:

A main street in Vienna with a statue whose name I've forgotten

A main street in Vienna with a statue whose name I've forgotten

This is, I was told, because when it was finally decided that Vienna (which is, I realised to my shame, the furthest east I’ve ever been) was safe from the Turks, the city wall was taken down and in the resultant open space a huge building programme was initiated to put in all the impressive civic buildings and patriotic necessities like museums and theatres and government halls that the old city had been too cramped for, as befitted the Habsburg capital. Of course this importance and prosperity peaked in about 1910; as a result Vienna must be one of the very few cities in Europe which is smaller now than it was then. So an awful lot of the city is this new build, which though spread over most of a century is still quite consistent. However, older buildings still exist in the city centre. So although the conference dinner was at one of the ‘new’ bits, the Rathaus:

Vienna Rathaus

Vienna Rathaus

the actual conference was in the Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, which is older and looks like this from outside:

Frontage of the Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften

Frontage of the Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften

That’s nothing to the inside though. Just across from the conference room we passed a door within which lay this:

Interior of the old lecture hall in the ÖAW

Interior of the old lecture hall in the ÖAW

This used to be a lecture hall, and is still occasionally used as such; there was a huge projector screen at the front hall which completely spoiled the effect that way. But really, in this room, who’d be looking at the front anyway? Your eyes would keep straying up…

View of ceiling above the lectern in the ÖAW's old lecture hall

View of ceiling above the lectern in the ÖAW's old lecture hall

and the poor lecturer would have to face the fact that whatever he did, he’d be the least interesting thing in the room. So they put us somewhere less interesting…

I had enough spare time that I really should have been able to do some cultural tourism as well as just hearing about it. Unfortunately, various emotional misfortunes, allied and much enhanced by it being too hot to sleep well in my hotel room, meant that by the time this time came around, I was shattered and defeated. So although I did wander around, I didn’t have the energy or will to do the full-on museum thing, and you can tell that I was not at my best because in finding the famous Ankeruhr

which is, at its left end in the picture, attached to a building that claims to be on the site of the house of the Roman camp commandant of old Vindobona, I thought this must be the Roman ruin that my map mentioned, went “humph” and wandered off in a different direction, whereas if I’d stayed on the same street I might not, apparently, have missed the home of this:

Reconstructed Roman fort gateway, Römermuseum, Vienna

Digitally reconstructed Roman fort gateway, Römermuseum, Vienna

which is a bit annoying. Seeing the Ankeruhr go through one of its little animated sequences didn’t quite make up for it.

Anyway, there is one quite obvious medieval lump of Vienna, but before I get to it, let me first notify Jeff Sypeck and Matt Gabriele among others that I also found Charlemagne! Here he is:

Fresco of Charlemagne founding St Peter's Vienna

Fresco of Charlemagne founding St Peter's Vienna

That’s him with the sword and the churchmen bowing before him, I imagine you recognised him. And in case you should, or anybody should, find it useful for demonstration of how the guy’s legacy is stamped over Europe, there’s a full-size version linked underneath that picture. It’s on the side of the now rather-less-medieval Peterskirche – here it is in situ:

St Peter's Vienna

St Peter's Vienna

Now there isn’t much of a shortage of churches in most medieval cities, but you’d think that would do for a little distance. Actually it’s within about four hundred yards of the serious one, and the genuinely medieval content of the post, the Stephansdom, which was where I ate my lunch each day while the horse-and-four tourist traps (do you see what I did there?) came and went. It’s an incredible building, and one of those cases where trying to pin it to a century is futile because it took most of one to build, though the significant ones seem to be fourteenth to fifteenth. Let me start with the inside, which gives you an idea especially when you compare it to the slightly later but also less showy Santa Eulàlia de Barcelona, up till now holder of my “sheer Gothic excess” title:

Interior view from the end of the nave of the Stephansdom, Vienna

Interior view from the end of the nave of the Stephansdom, Vienna

The outside is rather more stunning, but presents a photographer’s dilemma. All the buildings in central Vienna, really all, are quite tall. The streets are broad, but not so much that one can really get much of a shot at any of their architectural occupants. When that occupant is as huge as the Stephansdom you can’t even take it all in with your own eyes, let alone a camera. So this assemblage of bits is only flavour rather than a whole meal:

Roof of the nave of the Stephansdom, Vienna

Roof of the nave of the Stephansdom, Vienna


Side view of the Stephansdom, showing the chancel and the north tower, south tower in the background

Side view of the Stephansdom, showing the chancel and the north tower, south tower in the background


South tower of the Stephansdom, Vienna, a mere 450 ft tall

South tower of the Stephansdom, Vienna, a mere 450 ft tall


The chancel of the Stephansdom and its roof

The chancel of the Stephansdom and its roof

You see, it’s all too much. But the powers-that-be in Vienna (I suppose, the Existentherrschaften?) have clearly realised this, and so that you can actually get some sense of what you are looking at, have created a miniature metal replica out the side, and that gives you some sense of what someone in the fifteenth century, when this thing would have stood out for miles over a sea of single- or two-storey townhouses and the markets and other churches, and dominated its surroundings as its makers intended, might have seen. But really, I couldn’t help feeling that once the Stephansdom was completed, there was really nothing more the Middle Ages could do and they might as well move on to the Renaissance now. I have no intention of doing so myself, but I think that model is a pretty good place to end this post:

Model of the Stephansdom in the court before it

Model of the Stephansdom in the court before it

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11 responses to “Pictures of Vienna

  1. I lived in Vienna from the age of 9-13, so I appreciated this post. I hope to study abroad there next year, so that I can build on my quasi-Viennese German that I gained from attending a state school there during those years. It’s stuff like the Stephansdom that got me into Medieval Studies. And for the late antiquity/early medieval stuff, there’s that ancient church you can view in one of the U-Bahn stations (is it Stephansplatz?). In fact, you could say that Vienna helped sparked a general historical interest and mindset because of the Empire’s fall and the constant reminder to a young mind that what was does not necessarily last to now and what is now won’t last either. I remember my geography textbook giving prominence to Vienna being one of the “Millionenstädte” of the nineteenth century through a half-page map of the world showing all such cities at the time. Now it barely has that one million.

    I moved around a fair amount growing up, but Vienna is probably my favourite city of them all.

  2. I met another American exile in Vienna on the plane back, she was coming to stay in London for two weeks. It seems to be a very odd expat community there. There is indeed some old stonework in Stephansplatz U-Bahn, I should have looked closer as I didn’t realise that’s what it was. Ah well, next time: I feel sure I shall be back, hopefully this time remembering more German…

  3. Jonathon, you wouldn’t happen to be the Jon Jarrett mentioned in Halsall’s “Warfare and Society” would you?

  4. Hey! He did say he’d mention me but I never managed to track down where he did. Blimey: I could give him a much better answer now than I did then. What does he mention me for? With Guy it may be as well to be certain…

  5. “Warfare and Society in the Barbarian West” pg. xiii. “Any qualities the Carolingian section may have are thanks in large part to thorough and critical reading (of more than one draft) by (mentions several names)…Jon Jarrett, (mentions several other names)… have all provided discussions, help, information, and references.” You, sir, are a star.

  6. How thoroughly decent of him! That was about ten minutes conversation in the IHR reassuring him he’d already read all the salient sources for Catalonia in his period, that was. Prof. Halsall is a man of his word!

  7. I noticed your David Roffe link. What is the connection there? A few years ago, when I was an undergrad, he was kind enough, through email, to read and comment on a paper I did about Domesday.

  8. None, except that I found his page Googling for something he’d written. There’s a lot of stuff at the page, and unlike institutional pages that will evaporate, it is a personal academic page and something of a labour of love. That’s what I put in that section of the sidebar, if only because maintaining some kind of list of scholars’ institutional pages would be an entirely other kind of labour…

  9. Funny: I came across your blog because I was looking for images of the Akademie der Wissenschaften. For a musician who knows anything about Viennese composers from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, this place is a bit of a shrine, so I had to smile when you wrote that there was “nothing to the inside.” Built in 1755, the OAW was used as a performance space during that time, and Haydn’s last public appearance took place there in 1808. He was being honored on his 76th birthday, and a performance of “The Creation” took place. It was conducted by none other than Antonio Salieri, made “famous” by the movie “Amadeus.” Beethoven, who had been a student of Haydn, was there, and kissed his hands at the end of the piece. A watercolor by Balthasar Wigand, who was in attendance, captures the moment beautifully. I heard a program of Haydn symphonies here performed on period instruments, and though you say “there’s nothing to inside,” I never experienced better acoustics for this music. I know you’re a medievalist, but just thought you should know that your conference actually took place in a very special edifice!

    • The history is a fascinating addition to my knowledge, thankyou, but I think you may have misunderstood me: I was saying that the outside was nothing compared to the inside, æsthetically at least. I couldn’t say about the acoustics as we were put in a duller room than the one I pictured, with a PA system. I’m happy to take your word for it though!

  10. Pingback: Old tower, new toy « the pen, the brush and the needle

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