The Ringstrasse (1)
The Redevelopment and Building of the Ringstrasse
During the middle of the 19th century Vienna still had its city walls, fortifications, bastions and the Glacis. The Glacis was an open area surrounding the city on which ditches and slightly slanted mounds of earth had been constructed. In the event of a siege these artificial ditches and mounds gave a military advantage over an enemy and would to deflect or absorb cannon fire. The Glacis had been maintained by forbidding any development in the area surrounding the city, but by the mid-nineteenth century most of the Glacis had lost its military purpose and had become a recreation area for the people of Vienna.
In March 1848, the government lost control of events and the revolution started to take its hold in Austria. Metternich was forced to resign and fled to London. The Austrian army eventually re-established law and order in Vienna by use of military force. The revolution and the revolts that had taken place within the walls of Vienna had shown how vulnerable the inner-city was.
The Revolution had politicised the issue of the removal of the city walls. The vast majority of the population wanted to see them removed, but the aristocracy preferred them to remain, citing the revolution as proof they were still needed as protection for the Imperial Family and as a deterrent to further uprisings.
The Imperial government was obliged to rethink its military situation the eventuality of having to take control and protect the “Inner City” in the event of an uprising such as that of 1848.
In December 1848, Emperor Ferdinand abdicated in favour of his nephew Franz Joseph.
In 1857, Franz Joseph ordered the demolition of the walls and the redevelopment of the area around the city and its suburbs. An aqueduct was to be built to supply the city with fresh water from the surrounding areas, and the plan also included a new drainage system, and the whole area was to be lit by gas.
In 1860 the development plan was published showing the area surrounding the city was to become a broad heptagonal shaped avenue with new buildings on either side, and was to be called the Ringstrasse.
The Imperial Army had the responsibility of protecting the Imperial Family and insisted that the Ringstrasse should be constructed in such a way as to provide a maximum amount of safety.
The Ringstrasse would completely encircle the old city and was to be some sixty-to-seventy metres wide to avoid any possible barricading, and it would also enable rapid troop movements from their new barracks to the city centre
The Imperial Army was responsible for protecting the Imperial Family so it insisted that the Ringstrasse should be constructed in such a way as to provide a maximum amount of safety. To this end two new barracks and an arsenal were to be built in strategic locations near to the city to ensure a quick military response should the city need it.
The area between the Hofburg and surrounding suburbs (Heldenplatz) was kept as an empty space that could easily be reached by the military.
The construction of the Ringstrasse was an enormous project. Roads leading into the inner city from the suburbs were to feed into the circular flow of the Ringstrasse that separated the city from its suburbs.
The new buildings such as the Parliament, Rathaus and University were to be constructed along the side of the Ringstrasse facing towards the street.
Private individuals, who purchased the land from the city, erected the majority of the new residences. Building restrictions only affected the height of the new buildings but left all other details open.
Two new barracks and the so-called Arsenal were built in strategic locations near to the city to ensure a quick military response should the city need it.
The Ringstrasse (2) - The Arsenal
The Arsenal is a former military complex in the south-east of Vienna. Several red-brick buildings form a large rectangular complex of building located near to the Upper- Belvedere Palace.
The complex was built between 1848 and 1856 and was the first of three buildings which replaced the old city fortifications.
Part of the Arsenal is the Museum of Military History (Heeresgeschichtliche Museum) which gives its visitors a very detailed insight into the history of Austria as a military power and hosts outstanding number of exhibits in an historical ambient of its own.
In 1945, the Arsenal was heavily damaged by bombing but has been restored back to its former glory.
The Ringstrasse (3) - The Rossau Barracks
The Rossau Barracks
The Rossau Barracks (Kronprinz-Rudolf-Kaserne / Rossauer Kaserne) is in immediate proximity of the Ringstrasse and was built between 1865 und 1869.
The Military installation which was opened in August 1870 quartered between 2 000 to 4 000 soldiers and had stables for nearly 400 horses. After 1918, the building was used for a large number of different purposes and in 1938 it was handed over to the Wehrmachtsstreife Gross-Wien (Military Police for Greater Vienna). During the latter part of the war the building suffered very bad bomb damage.
After the war the building was used by the Vienna Police Department, and offices of the Austrian Federal Government.
After 1977 and many discussions about the further use of the building the decision for revitalization was made. The complex is now shared by the Ministry of Defence and Sport and part of the Vienna City Council.
The Ringstrasse (4) - The Franz Joseph Barracks
The Franz Joseph Barracks
The Franz Joseph Barracks (Franz-Joseph-Kaserne) was in immediate proximity of the Ringstrasse (Stubentor) and was built in the years 1854 - 1857. By the end of the nineteenth century this complex had lost its once seen military value and was demolished between 1900 and 1901 to make room for the completion of the Ringstrasse.
The Ringstrasse (5) - The Vienna State Opera House
The Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper)
The Vienna State Opera was called the Vienna Court Opera (Wiener Hofoper) until the end of the monarchy when its name was changed to the Vienna State Opera.
The Vienna Court Opera
The Vienna Court Opera House was the first major building to be built on the Ringstrasse and the preparations for the building were begun in 1861. The foundation stone was laid on 20 May 1863, and the building was completed by 1869.
Unfortunately, the architects, August Sicard von Sicardsburg and Eduard van der Nüll’s, design failed to match the beautiful architecture of the Heinrichhof which stood on the opposite side of the Ringstrasse. (The Heinrichhof was destroyed during the last weeks of World War II.)
Public opinion and open criticism led to the start of a campaign against the two architects. Because the Ringstrasse had been raised in front of the opera house by about one metre it made the building look as though it had sunk beneath street level. This led to Opera House being described as a "sunken chest" (versunkene Kiste) and "The Königgrätz of Architecture” (Königgrätz der Baukunst). (At the same time Austria was at war with Prussia, which made a verbal comparison with the military disaster that had taken place in Königsgrätz (Battle of Sadová), a very harmful jest.)
Eduard van der Nüll was deeply upset by the criticism and, although his wife was in her eighth month of pregnancy, he committed suicide on the 4th April 1868.
His colleague, August Sicard von Sicardsburg died shortly afterwards and so neither of the architects saw the completion of the building.
The Emperor Franz Joseph was shocked by the suicide of Eduars van der Nüll and thereafter he did not express an open opinion and was very guarded about any remarks he made.
Emperor Franz Josef and Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) attended the opening ceremony of the Vienna Court Opera House where Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni” was performed on the 25th May 1869.
After 1918, during the years of the First and Second Republic of Austria, the performances continued as usual under its new name Vienna State Opera.
The Vienna Opera Ball
The Vienna Opera Ball (Wiener Opernball) is an annual event which takes place in the Vienna State Opera House during the last days of Fasching, (Shrovetide is the English equivalent of "Fasching" and marks the beginning of Lent.)
The Auditorium of the Vienna State Opera House is transformed into a large ballroom. Only one day before the ball takes place hundreds of seats are removed, and a temporary floor is built bringing everything to the same level as the stage.
The Vienna Opera Ball was first held in 1935, and continued to take place until the war. After the war the ball was revived and has been held annually ever since. (In 1991, the ball was cancelled due to the Persian Gulf War.)
The last performance (Wagners “Götterdämmerung”) took place on the 30th June 1944 in the midst of the Second World.
In September 1944, all of the theatres within the German Third Reich were closed.
In March 1945, during the very last few weeks of the war, the opera house was hit by incendiary bombs causing a fire that gutted most of the building. Only the front section of the magnificent historical building, together with many of the original frescoes, the vestibule, main staircase and tea room were undamaged because, as a war precaution, this section had been walled off and separated from the rest of the building. Unfortunately, the auditorium and stage were destroyed together with a great majority of the original architecture.
The ensemble of the State Opera continued to perform at the “Theater an der Wien” and the “Vienna Volksoper”.
After the war discussions were held to decide if the badly damaged building should be restored to its original state or be demolished and rebuilt. Fortunately the decision was made to restore the opera house to its former glory on the same site. The Austrian government wanted to have the State Opera House finished by 1949, but as time passed everyone involved soon realised that this could not be achieved. Eventually in November 1955 the State Opera House was reopened with a performance of Beethoven’s “Fidelio”, conducted by Karl Böhm.
The Ringstrasse (6) - The Votive Church (Votivkirche)
The Votive Church
The Votive Church (Votivkirche) in Vienna is located on the Ringstrasse. The church was built to commemorate the survival of the Emperor Franz Joseph who, in 1853, survived an assassination attempt by an Hungarian nationalist János Libényi.
The Emperor's brother Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian (later the Emperor of Mexico) started a campaign and called upon the communities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to raise funds to enable a memorial church to be built on the site of the attempted assassination to thank God for saving the Emperor's life.
The donations were used to build the magnificent neo-Gothic church we see today. The consecration of the church took place in 1879 on the silver wedding anniversary of Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Empress Elisabeth.
The Ringstrasse (7) - The Burgtheater
The (old) Burgtheater
The Burgtheater is the Austrian National Theatre in Vienna and one of the most important German language theatres in the world.
The theatre was opened in March 1741, has become known over the decades and centuries to the Viennese as "die Burg".
Maria Theresia wanted a theatre to be built in the proximity of the Hofburg (Imperial Palace). Maria Theresia’s, K.K. Theater an der Burg or K.K. Hofburgtheater (The Imperial Court Theatre) became known as the Deutsche Nationaltheater (German National Theatre) in 1776 and in 1794, the theatre was called the "K.K. Hoftheater nächst der Burg"(Imperial-Royal Theatre next to the Castle).
The (new) Burgtheater
The theatre was moved to a new building on the Ringstrasse which had been designed by Gottfried Semper und Karl Hasenauer and opened its doors to the public in October 1888.
In March 1945, the Burgtheater was heavily damaged during a bombing raid and suffered further damage in April1945, due to a fire.
After the war, the theatre was completely restored between 1953 and 1955 and equipped with modern stage equipment that is regarded as being revolutionary to this day. The theatre has a huge revolving stage and four hydraulic lifts.
The Burgtheater has 1175 seats and standing room for a further 84 visitors and 12 places for disabled visitors.
The Ringstrasse (8) - The University of Vienna
The University of Vienna
The University of Vienna was founded by Archduke Rudolph IV in 1365.
Rudolph IV has gone down in history as the founder (der Stifter) and was declared Archduke of Austria in the year 1359. He was the great-grandson of Rudolph I and the son of Albert II. He married Katharina, Princess of Luxemburg in 1353. Rudolph founded the University of Vienna in 1365 and promoted the continuation of the building of the gothic St. Stephen´s Cathedral.
In 1384, the University of Vienna was granted the status of a full university and the first university building was built near to the Stubentor in 1385.
The present building on the Ringstrasse was built between 1877 and 1884 by Heinrich von Ferstel.