Austria’s history and culture centre on the magnificent Habsburg city of Vienna. Even after the fall of the Habsburgs, it continued as a fount of world culture, especially music. Vienna’s Hofburg Palace has an extraordinary treasury of priceless artefacts such as the medieval crown of the Holy Roman Emperors. The Habsburgs accumulated ritualistic finery and precious emblems of earlier imperial dynasties to underline their own imperial status. The palace library centres on the Prunksaal (Ceremonial Hall), a masterpiece of Baroque design. Empress Maria Theresa’s Baroque palace of Schönbrunn (1696), her response to Versailles, is set in a vast, formal garden. Such royal palaces are rivalled by Prince Eugene ‘s Belvedere (summer palace) and Winter Palace. The Belvedere houses a wonderful collection of Viennese painters Egon Schiele (1890-1918), Oscar Kokoschka (1886-1980), and Gustav Klimt (1862-1918).
At the very centre of the city is the wonderful Gothic Stephansdom (St Stephen’s Cathedral). Just beyond the Ringstrasse, the 19th century ring road replacing Vienna’s demolished medieval walls, is Fischer von Erlach’s Baroque masterpiece, the Karlskirche (Charles’ Church). Its interior boasts frescoes by M. Rottmayr, D. Gran, S. Ricci and others. The Habsburgs emphasised their Imperial status by collecting a vast art collection, now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, one of the world’s greatest art galleries. The collection includes Bohemian, German, Netherlandish, Italian and Spanish masterpieces. The gallery’s highlight is the world’s largest collection of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Vienna also has the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts (MAK), the Academy of Fine Arts (containing Bosch’s Last Judgement Triptych), and the Albertina’s famous print collection. Early 20th century Vienna led the world in Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) architecture, with masterpieces like the Karlsplatz Metro Station. Otto Wagner designed the Austrian Post Office Bank (1904-6) and Majolika House apartment block (1898-99). The masterpiece of this wonderful experimental style is Joseph Olbrich’s renowned Secession Building (1897).
Outside Vienna are Melk Monastery, a masterpiece of Central European Baroque. Lovely towns include Renaissance and Baroque Krems and Gothic Sopron.