Austria's links to the Habsburg
In 1273, Count Rudolf of the Habsburg family, a Swiss nobleman, was elected King of Germany. Within a decade, Rudolf secured the agreement of the Imperial Diet and the Prince Electors f or the formal acceptance of his sons Albert and Rudolf to preside over Austria and Styria. This confirmed Habsburg rule in Austria.
For the next 640 years, from 1278 to 1918, the Habsburgs reigned over a territory that grew from a small section of Austria along the Danube, into the 16th century realm of Charles V who could boast that "The sun never sets on my domain." He was referring to lands that stretched from Northwestern Europe to the Mediterranean and across the Atlantic to Central America.
The Habsburg style of empire building was a remarkable early application of the philosophy "Make love, not war!" Expansion was accomplished by shrewd marriages, not by the sword. Wars were avoided at all costs - except for defensive struggles to keep other rulers from taking over far-flung possessions. As sovereigns of the Holy Roman Empire through the centuries, the Habsburgs made much of European history and exerted a degree of influence on the Americas as well.
No other royal line on the continent lasted so long, left its mark on so many centuries, or so many countries as the Habsburgs. Their Golden Ages were also high points in the cultural, artistic, and scholarly development of Europe.
With the exception of Britain, Scandinavia, the Baltic States, Russia, central France, Greece and some of the island nations, most of Europe was at one time or another, part of the domain of this amazing family. They were ambitious, astute, shrewd, far sighted nobles whose family tree was rooted in southern Swabia and northwestern Switzerland.
While political fates ebbed and flowed, as holdings expanded or contracted, their cultural leadership role remained constant. The influence, the patronage, the wealth of the imperial family and the princes who were their key courtiers and advisors attracted the talented, the gifted, among architects, composers, musicians, painters, sculptors, scholars and thinkers to the Habsburg court.
Vienna and the Imperials
The Austrian capital holds a special position in imperial history: from the election of Rudolf I as Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, this city has always seen the ruling family close up. The mementos and sights of this closeness are numerous. The Imperial Palace and Schonbrunn Palace are just the tip of the iceberg; history can also be traced through the Crypt of Princes at St. Stephen's Cathedral, the Burial Vault at the Church of the Capuchin Friars, the Church of the Augustinian Friars which served as the court church.
The Spanish Riding School and the Vienna Boys' Choir reflect the past just as much as do the Museum of Military History, the Heroes Villa, and the former imperial collections at the Museum of Fine Arts, the Collections of Arms and of Historical Musical Instruments.
In the sprawling Imperial Palace, you can visit the State Rooms, the Treasuries holding the crown of the Austrian Empire, other imperial insignia and the insignia of the Order of the Golden Fleece, the Court Tableware and Silver Depot and the National Library. See the Collection of Period Furniture and the Imperial Coach Collection at Schonbrunn, the Museum of Medical History at Josephinum, the famous portrait of Duke Rudolf IV at the Museum of the Cathedral and the Diocese, the Albertina Collection of Graphic Arts and the museum at Aspern commemorating the battle against Napoleon in 1809.
Salzburg and its more recent relationship with the Habsburgs
Until 1803, Salzburg was an independent domain, a church state ruled by prince-archbishops. So most of the Habsburg mementos are quite recent. Exhibits in the Cathedral Museum refer to the brief reign (1803 -1805) of a prince elector, Ferdinand III of Habsburg, Grand Duke of Tuscany. The Rainer Museum at the Fortress is dedicated to the Imperial and Royal Regiment "Archduke Rainer" that was based in Salzburg. In the park of Hellbrunn Palace, a statue commemorates Empress Elisabeth, wife of Franz Joseph I; the palace belonged to the heir apparent and was used by Archdukes Rudolf and Franz Ferdinand. Archduke Ludwig Victor, the youngest brother of Franz Joseph I lived at Klessheim Palace until 1919.
Graz, favorite of Frederick III
Indeed, Emperor Frederick III preferred Graz over all other residences; while still Duke, he had the Castle in the Old Quarter built 1438-1453. His son Maximilian I added the wing with the famous Gothic double helix spiral staircase (1499). Archduke Charles founded the Jesuit College and commissioned the Clock Tower and the Bell Tower on Schlossberg Castle. Emperor Ferdinand II is depicted in the high altar panel of St. Anthony's Church in the Capuchin Friary; he is entombed in the Mausoleum (1614-1699) next to the Cathedral. The Armory holds mid-17th century armor and weapons for about 15,000 men. Archduke John founded the Joanneum State Museum in 1811; the monument of this local favorite among the Habsburgs is in the Main Square
Imperial Routes of the Habsburgs through Austria Today
Austria Gloriosa and the Baroque Age
Architecture and urban aspects of Austria, more so than in any other country, have been shaped by the Baroque. After the end of the "Turkish menace" the Habsburgs avidly promoted the flourishing of the Baroque style. The following are locations where this influence is readily evident today.
Stams - Cistercian Abbey, revised in Baroque style
Innsbruck - Imperial Palace, Abbey of Wilten, Hall of the Diet, mansions and patrician residences
Salzburg - Mirabell, Leopoldskron and Klessheim Palaces, Trinity Church, St. Ernhard's Church, Church of the Theatine Monks, Collegiate Church, Maria Plain
Graz - Rein Abbey (birthplace of Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach), Mausoleum of Emperor Ferdinand II, St. Aegidius's Church, Palace of the Diet
St. Polten - City Hall, Baroque churches and patrician residences, Mauerbach (Carthusian monastery in the region re-built in Baroque style)
Eckartsau - Baroque manor
Halbturn - Palace by Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt, ceiling fresco by Maulpertsch
Vienna - Numerous Baroque buildings and works of art.
The Middle Ages and Gothic Art
You can still encounter the early Habsburgs and masterpieces of south German Gothic they sponsored all over Austria. Once again, we provide a list of locations in Austria and present day examples of this influence on the part of the Habsburgs.
Bregenz - Mehrerau Abbey, St. Martins's Tower, patrician residences
Feldkirch - Schattenburg Castle
Innsbruck - The Golden Roof, House of the Castle Giant, Ottoburg, Main Guard House, Ferdinandeum State Museum,
Hall in Tirol - medieval aspects, fortifications, parish Church St. Nicholas, St. Magdalen's Chapel, Hasegg Castle with Mint Tower
Kitzbuhel - medieval patrician houses, Parish Church St. Andrew
St. Paul im Lavanttal - Abbey, Gothic Frescoes
Graz - layout of the Old Quarter, parts of the Castle, Leechkirche, Pilgrimage Church aria Strassengel, Old Gallery at the Joanneum State Museum
Gaming - largest Carthusian monastery of German-speaking Europe, founded in 1330, Laxenburg (Franzenurg Castle)
Vienna - St. Stephen's Cathedral, Palace of the Archbishops with museum of the Cathedral and the Diocese, Church St. Mary's on the Bank
Exploring the Renaissance
When the philosophies and concepts of the Renaissance reached Austria, the Habsburgs were already in command of an empire spanning half of the globe.
Innsbruck - The cenotaph of Emperor Maximilian I, Castle Ambras
Tratzberg - Castle
Spittal an der Drau - Porcia Palace
- Palace of the Diet, Hochosterwitz Fortress
Keeping Pace with Progress
Frequently, technical and political innovations were conceived and sponsored by members of the ruling Habsburg dynasty. Fine examples exist in the following locations.
Innsbruck - Armory - History of Artillery
Schwaz - silver mines
Achensee - vintage steamboat
Graz - Armory, Joanneum State Museum
Leoben - local museum - History of Mining
Vordenberg - forges, residents of Archduke John, blast furnace
Gmunden - Engelhof Railroad Station, Steamboat Gisela
Linz - Castle Museum - Railroad History
Vienna - Collections of Historical, Musical, Instruments and of Arms, Forchtenstein Armory, Examples of 16th - 18th Century Technology
We would like to express our gratitude to the Austrian National Tourist Office for allowing us to use their information and materials in forming this article.