The Vienna Ring Road

Wed, 26/06/2024

In December 1857 Emperor Franz Joseph's historic words appeared in the Wiener Zeitung: ‘It is my will ...’. The Viennese suburbs were to be connected to the imperial center of power. It took more than 50 years of great effort to build the 5.3 kilometer Ringstrasse, which is still unrivalled in the world today. It builds a ring around the first district, the Inner-City Centre of the Austrian capital which forms the historic downtown area.

Officially opened by Emperor Franz Joseph on 1 May 1865 in front of the castle gate, only a portion of the Ringstrasse, now spanning 57 meters wide, was completed at that time. With the unveiling, Vienna's center ceased to serve solely as a stage for aristocratic and courtly society, welcoming the upper middle class as well. The bourgeoisie, gradually gaining their full rights, erected magnificent buildings along the Ringstrasse and hosted guests in their exclusive 'salons' at locations like Palais Epstein, Todesco, or Ephrussi.

In between, buildings of imperial representation were erected, such as the Neue Burg, the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Art History), the Naturhistorisches Museum (Natural History), the State Opera and the Burgtheater, one of the largest and most renowned stages of the city.

Simultaneously, buildings emerged reflecting the population's new democratic self-image: parliament, city hall, and the university. In its heyday, the Ringstrasse boasted 27 cafés, while the splendid parks interspersed throughout continue to serve as recreational havens to this day. Vienna flourished musically during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The era witnessed the ascendancy of the Strauss family's waltzes and operettas, Franz Léhar's compositions, Gustav Mahler's groundbreaking contributions to the court opera, and Arnold Schönberg's modernism. Vienna earned the moniker of the world capital of music during the Ringstrasse era.

The Ringstrasse owes its current appearance to some of the finest architects of the time, notably Theophil von Hansen, Heinrich von Ferstel, Gottfried Semper, and Carl von Hasenauer. Their creations, constructed in various historicist styles such as Renaissance, Baroque, and Gothic, experienced a renaissance during that period.

Once completed, the Ringstrasse served and continues to serve a multitude of purposes. It stands as one of Vienna's most vital traffic arteries, a promenade, a meeting place, a shopping street, and a witness to historical events. Even today, this iconic street hosts a plethora of rallies and events, ranging from the Rainbow Parade to the Vienna City Marathon.

Even the part often not classified as the traditional Ring - Franz-Josefs-Kai - has evolved into a hotspot. Stretching from the architectural landmark Ringturm on Schottenring to the Urania along the Danube Canal, a vibrant modern urban pub scene has flourished.