Vienna was already populated by the Celts and was known as Vindobona during the Roman Empire. It was also important as a trade junction during the Middle Ages. But it is even more interesting that its whole history is connected to a family that chose it as a residence, because it would be hard to find a corner in the city that is not related to the Habsburgs.
From Stephansdom to Rathaus
The St. Stephen’s Cathedral was built in the 12th century; its fascinating size shows up especially when you walk around Stephansplatz that has been built in since then. Probably few people know that the church has some relations to Hungary. According to researches, a part of the construction material is Hungarian, coming from the stone-quarries of western Hungary. Unfortunately, we cannot make sure of it, but it is a fact that one of the most famous Hungarian Virgin Mary altarpieces, which had been in the church of Máriapócs, can be found there. The legend says that the picture started tearing during a mass in 1696 – this wonder lasted 18 days – naturally, the news reached the royal court and Emperor Leopold had the picture taken to Vienna. The icon never wept afterwards, but its copies did repeatedly. First on 1st and 2nd and 5th of August in 1715, and the last time was on 3rd, 19th, 30th and 31st of December in 1905. It is generally known that King Matthias had the roof of Stephansdom covered after occupying Vienna in 1485, and glazed tiles were brought from a workshop of Buda. Tiles were exchanged several times since then, thus this would be difficult to prove, but it is certain that today visitors can admire the two-headed eagle symbolising the imperial and royal power.
The Hofburg of Vienna was the power centre of Habsburgs for many centuries; almost every monarch built something to the former imperial palace. The Burg is a real city in the city. The medieval castle that forms its core was built in the 13th century. The old castle became the Swiss Wing over time, name after the Swiss guardsmen, the palace guards, who lived in it. Nowadays, you can find the regalia here. The so-called Leopold Wing was Empress Maria Theresa’s suit, and now it is the seat of the President of Austria. The building gives home to the Schatzkammer, the Sisi Museum and the National Library as well.
The City Hall of Vienna is one of the most beautiful pseudo-Gothic buildings in the capital. Friedrich von Schmidt, who was the master builder of the Cathedral of Cologne, built it between 1872 and 1883. During the construction, they used 30 million bricks and 40 thousand cubic metres of quarry stones; and one of the largest patios in Europe can be found here too. The banquet hall is 71 metres long, 20 metres wide and 18.5 metres high. The square in front of it is the scene of many events. As of November, the Advent Market ensures the Christmas atmosphere, because the tallest Christmas tree of the country stands there, and everyone can find things to see as the market has grown into a small village by now. The supply of the more than 150 stands abounds with traditional foods and drinks besides traditional Christmas presents. Who would miss a drink of Glühwein (mulled wine) with the inevitable mug? Though it is a bit kitschy for a gift, it is a fine piece of souvenir. Moreover, the Rathausplatz and the Rathauspark are transformed into the most beautiful skating-rink during the winter months.
Sacher – Kaiserschmarrn – Viennese steak
The Sacher cake is one of the most famous cake of Austrian gastronomy. A kind of chocolate cake that consists of two layers of dense and not too sweet chocolate sponge cake and a thin layer of apricot jam between them. It received its name from a Viennese confectioner Franz Sacher, who made it to the request of Prince Metternich in 1832 allegedly. Although Sacher was only sixteen years old then, the cake is still regarded as a Viennese speciality. The recipe was developed further by his son Eduard Sacher, when he worked as an apprentice for the court cook Demel, and later had his own venture. The big cake war broke out between Demel and Sacher in 1938, but they settled the affair out of court finally. Where is it worth eating a Sacher? It is just the same almost everywhere, but do not forget to have a Viennese coffee afterwards.
We know about two popular legends for the origin of Kaiserschmarrn. One says that Hungarian Queen Elisabeth’s cook made it for the first time to the imperial couple, because Sisi wanted a light dessert, but she did not like it at all. The other says that Franz Joseph I invented it, who adored pancake, but burnt it as an inexperienced cook and could only take it out from the pan in pieces. Actually, it got its name (Kaiserschmarrn) after the emperor (Kaiser), who probably loved this food.
The ballad of the Viennese steak
The traditional Viennese steak is a well-known meat dish of the Viennese cuisine, made out of veal slices hammered to three or four-millimetre thin and fried in breadcrumbs. When this meat in coat is made of pork in Vienna, its official name is ‘Schnitzel nach Wiener Art’ namely steak Vienna style. ‘Gilding’ the meat is an old tradition; it was in fashion in the Byzantine court for a long time, where meat slices were covered with real gold dust. Allegedly, the Moor spread the custom in Andalusia, which was copied by the opulent Italian courts, and Austria – Marshal Radetzky concretely – took it over from Italy according to the story.
After eating, just some intellectual nutriment is required. Going to the theatre or opera is not compulsory but strongly recommended. As Vienna is the city of music definitely. Besides the great classics like Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, the modern musical palette is rather broad as well. However, the museum quarter would also deserve a separate chapter. Its main places of interest are the Leopold Museum in the white cubic building – if you were interested in Klimt -, and the Museum of Modern Arts (MUMOK) in the black cubic building, if you chose Oskar Kokoschka.
Translated by Zita Aknai