Vienna’s Ringstrasse was officially opened by Emperor Franz Joseph on May 1, 1865. In celebration of 150 years of this spectacular and significant boulevard, we’ve launched a new walk that delves into the history of the Ringstrasse, and the lives of those who lived there. Join us on a journey through the parks and palaces that make up the heart of Vienna.
The Ringstrasse’s story starts with the old city walls, which, by the 1800s had become obsolete, thanks to the might of the ruling Habsburg empire and Vienna’s transition to a global capital. This image shows the Rinstrasse at the very start of its life, as buildings began to emerge. Image: "Burgring 1872" by Michael Frankenstein - Ausstellungskatalog: Blickfänge einer Reise nach Wien - Fotografien 1860-1910 - Aus den Sammlungen des Wien Museums. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
The buildings and parks that replaced the former fortification were a grand statement to highlight the glory and power of the imperial class, creating a distinct architectural style known as Ringstrassenstil (Ring Road Style), along with a lavish and elite societal set made up mainly of aristocrats.
The neoclassical Palais Coburg retains parts of the old city wall, and is a great place to see how the buildings of the Ring replaced the ancient fortification system, whose artificial slopes were used as a recreation area by the Viennese population from as early as the 1700s. Spurred by the Revolutions of 1848, which swept Europe in a wave of demands for democracy and nationalism, the grandest plans for the Ringstrasse were put in place by Emperor Franz Joseph soon after.
Today, the Palais Coburg is a luxury hotel and restaurant, where visitors can experience the opulence of former times. Image: Gelber Salon, ©Palais Coburg Hotel.
Built in the neo-renaissance style by celebrated Czech architect Josef Hlavka, the Opera was initially designed by architects August Sicard von Sicardsburg and Eduard van der Nüll. The latter committed suicide following widespread public criticism of the building, which is today revered for both its aesthetics and acoustics. Image: "Vienna State Opera - Inside" by Jason7825. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
With work commencing in 1861, the Wiener Staatsoper was the first major building on the Ringstrasse commissioned by the controversial City Expansion Fund, which took money from taxpayers to finance the city’s increasingly indulgent infrastructure. Image: ""StateOperaViennaNightBackside" by Markus Leupold-Löwenthal - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
This palace was built by architect Theophil Hansen for Baron Eduard von Todesco, a wealthy Jewish entrepreneur, banker and philanthropist. The palace was occupied by generations of Tedescos, one of a handful of Jewish families whose legacy can still be felt today. Among the palace’s inhabitants was Baroness Sophie von Todesco, who set up an influential literary salon during the height of the Ringstrasse era.
Vienna’s landscape was not only adorned with palaces during the rise of the Ringstrasse. The mid-to-late 19th century also saw the development of numerous parks and public spaces such as the Burggarten.
Emperor Franz Joseph was a keen gardener, and poured his passion into projects like the Burggarten, a green oasis in the heart of the city, and home to grand statues, pretty ponds and the Secessionist Palm House, now a beautiful brasserie. Image courtesy Palmenhaus Wien.
Designed to hold the vast imperial art and science collections, Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Art History) and Naturkundemuseum (Museum of Natural History) were overseen by renowned German architect Gottfried Semper. The initial plans were inspired by ancient Roman urban planning and envisioned an extensive “Imperial Forum”. Though these grand plans were never fully realised, the museums are nonetheless as opulent as anything else on the Ringstrasse.