Touring Austria′s Baroque Heritage - Part I

A lion guarding the front gates of Schönbrunn, the Imperial Palace

Shortly after the Habsburg lands rising to a superpower on a global scale in the 15th century and the early Renaissance, Austria saw a few grim years: In the 16th and 17th century, there were various religious wars (peasant wars, Hussite wars, and worst of all: the 30-Years′-War) as well invasions by rather hostile folks (two Turkish sieges, Hungarian invasions, defeats in Turkish wars).

A sphinx in the parks of Belvedere Palace in ViennaMuch of Austria′s Gothic, medieval heritage was looted and destroyed. However, once the wars ceased with the defeat of the Turks and an agreement among imperial Catholics and secessionist Protestants not to kill each other any longer, Austria started to enter a boom period more shaping and significant than any other ever before: Baroque.

During the Baroque age, fine arts and architecture picked up motives of Antiquity similarly to how they had done this during the Renaissance. Vanity and death were important motives, as well as joy and celebration: Nature was perceived through a romanticising frame. In philosophy and science, the authority of the church was doubted (although this was less important in hyper-catholic Habsburg lands, where in turn sacral art became super important).

Baroque art was invented and developed to its most splendid form in Italy, a direct neighbour of Austria, where the style was gratefully picked up and developed on. Today, Baroque fine art, architecture and music are among the most important contributions of Austria to the world of art.

Where to find Austria's Finest Baroque

For more information on this period, read my article on the "Basics of Baroque". This article, however, should be a practical guide to some of Austria′s most important sites of Baroque art. Note that you will stumble at Baroque houses, churches or parks essentially everywhere in Austria - the economic rise especially after 1700 left a mark in almost every village. This article follows only some highlights for those who might want to pick individual attractions or think about a tour with a Baroque theme. I will start where most tourists start: In Vienna.

The Imperial Palace of Schönbrunn in ViennaVienna was the place where the Habsburg Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation resided and thus required a vast amount of representative buildings - both of the sacral and the secular kind. There are few cities that could rival the amount of Baroque gems in Vienna (probably not a single one outside of Italy). I will divide the Baroque sights of Vienna into three groups: Palaces, churches and other things.

This is followed by a part of Austria that was not part of Austria during the Baroque bloom: Salzburg. After that, I will give advice on finding Baroque palaces in the countryside. Then I will refer to some of the most impressive monasteries of this period in Upper and Lower Austria as well as to small towns worth checking out. Finally, I will refer you to supplementary sources: Movies set in the age of Baroque.

Go to: Part I - Part II - Part III - Part IV

Further Reading

Biographies of Lukas von Hildebrandt & Fischer von Erlach

Introduction to Austrian Baroque

Suggested Itinerary for Touring Austria

Wikipedia on Baroque

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