"Asia begins at Landstrasse," Austria's renowned statesman Prince von Metternich said, suggesting the power and influence of the far-flung Austrian Empire, whose destiny the Habsburg dynasty controlled from 1273 to 1918.
Viennese prosperity under the Habsburgs reached its peak during the long reign of Maria Theresa in the late 18th century. Many of the sights described below originated under the great empress who escorted Vienna through the Age of Enlightenment. She welcomed Mozart, the child prodigy, to her court at Schönbrunn when he was just 6 years old.
With the collapse of the Napoleonic Empire, Vienna took over Paris's long-held position as "the center of Europe." At the Congress of Vienna (1814-15), the crowned heads of Europe met to restructure the continent's political boundaries. But they devoted so much time to galas that Prince de Ligne remarked, "The Congress doesn't make progress, it dances."
In this guide we'll explore the many sights of Vienna. It's possible to spend a week here and only scratch the surface of this multifaceted city. We'll take you through the highlights, but even this venture will take more than a week of fast-paced walking.
An Indestructible Legacy of the Third Reich -- As you stroll about Vienna, you'll come across six anti-aircraft towers with walls up to 5m (16 feet) thick, a legacy of the Third Reich. These watchtowers, built during World War II, were designed to shoot down Allied aircraft. After the war, there was some attempt to rid the city of these horrors, but the citadels remained, their proportions as thick as the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. "We live with them," a local resident, Josef Hoffmann, told us. "We try our best to ignore them. No one wants to remember what they were. But even dynamite doesn't work against them. They truly have walls of steel."
In 1857 Emperor Franz Josef ordered that all the foundations of the medieval fortifications around the Alstadt (Old Town) be removed and that a grand circular boulevard or belt of boulevards replace them.
This transformation, which turned Vienna into a building site that rivaled Paris under Baron Haussmann, created the Vienna we know today. Work on this ambitious project began in 1859 and stretched to 1888, when the grand boulevard reached a distance of 4km (2 1/2 miles).
You can take trams #1 or #2 to circle the Ring. This streetcar ride makes for the grandest trip in Vienna. One dozen monumental public buildings were constructed along the Ring, which changes its name as it goes along. Each stretch of the boulevard ends in the word "Ring."
Extending south from the Danube Canal, the first lap of the Ring is Schottenring, taking in the Italianate Börse or Stock Exchange and the Votikkirche or Votive Church. Running from the university, with its bookstores, bars, and cafes to Rathausplatz, the next lap of the Ring is Karl-Lueger Ring. The chief attraction along this stretch is the Universität Wien, dating from 1365. In the 1800s the massive new building you see today was constructed in an Italian Renaissance style.
The Darl Karl-Renner Ring begins at the Rathausplatz. Here stands the Rathaus or town hall, evoking a Gothic fantasy castle, the dream work of Friedrich Schmidt. Constructed between 1872 and 1883, the town hall is the scene of summer concerts.
Across from this imposing building is the Burgtheater or the Imperial Court Theater, constructed between 1874 and 1888 in the Italian Renaissance style. Some of the world's most famous operas, including Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, were premiered here. Frescoes by Gustav Klimt, and his brother, Ernest, draw visitors inside.
Next to the town hall stands Parliament, its elegant Grecian façade decked out with winged chariots.
Moving on, we next enter the Burgring, opposite the Hofburg Palace on either side of Maria-Theresien-Platz. Two of the city's largest and finest museums lie along this boulevard: the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Art History) and Naturhistorisches Museum (Natural History Museum).
Opernring begins at the Burggarten or Palace Gardens; in this tranquil retreat in the heart of the city, you'll find monuments to everybody from Mozart to Emperor Franz Josef. This ring runs to Schwarzenbergstrasse with its equestrian statue, Schwarzenberg Denkmal. The architectural highlight of this Ring is the Staatsoper (State Opera).
Finally, the Schubertring/Stubenring stretch of the Ring goes from Schwarzenbergstrasse to the Danube Canal. This Ring borders the Stadtpark; established in 1862, it was the first city municipal park to be laid out outside the former fortifications. The chief architectural highlight along this boulevard is the Postsparkasse or Post Office Savings Bank, near the end of the Stubenring at George-Coch-Platz 2. This Art Nouveau building was designed at the beginning of the 20th century by Otto Wagner, and it remains a bulwark of Modernist architecture.