Austria – The Heart of Europe

Austria, that calls itself the Heart of Europe, is a small country with great history, landscape and culture.

With an area of 83.858 sq km Austria consists of 9 independent federal states (Burgenland, Carinthia, Lower Austria, Upper Austria, Salzburg, Styria, Tyrol, Vorarlberg and Vienna) with their own provincial governments. Austria is a member of the European Union, the United Nations as well as most UN organizations. Of the approximately 8 million inhabitants of Austria, 98% speak German. The six ethnic groups officially recognized in Austria (Burgenlandic Croatians, Roma, Slovaks, Slovenians, Czechs and Hungarians) are concentrated in the east and south of the country. Austria is a member of the Economic and Currency Union - the common currency is the Euro.


Climate, animals and flora

Austria is located in a temperate climatic zone with a Central European climate influenced by the Atlantic climate. The four seasons (Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter) each have typical temperature and climatic characters.

Austria's topographic diversity accounts for a great variety of flora and fauna, including endemic species that are under preservation. In Austria there is a predominantly Central European fauna: deer, stag, rabbit, pheasant, fox, badger, marten, partridge. Native to the alpine regions are the chamois, groundhog, eagle and mountain jackdaw. Characteristic of the Pannonian fauna is the vast bird population in the reed beds of Lake Neusiedl (heron, spoonbill, scooper, wild goose, and many more). In recent years, Austria is home again to a small bear population, which can mainly be found in the heavily wooded southern and central mountainous regions.

The diversity of topographical and climatic conditions accounts for the country's species-rich flora. Austria is one of Europe's most heavily wooded countries. Characteristic are the deciduous forest (oak, beech) and the mixed forest (beech, fir) and in the higher altitude regions fir, larch and pine. Especially diverse and colorful is the alpine flora: edelweiss, gentian, alpine carnation, arnica, alpine rose, heather and much more. The northern edge of the Alps is especially dominated by grassland; typical in the Pannonian region are the scrub forest, mixed deciduous forest and the steppe moors. East of Lake Neusiedl one finds a specific salt steppe flora.

Austria's nature parks, that stretch across 3 percent of the country, document the diversity of the landscape with its in part unique natural landscapes, such as the rain and virgin forests.



Austria has a strong economy with machinery, metallurgical products and textiles being of particular importance. The country's most important industry, however, is tourism. Austria, with its well-developed market economy and high standard of living, is closely tied to other EU economies. The services sector forms some two thirds of the Gross Domestic Product of 232 billion Euros. With an average per capita GDP of about Euro 27,000, Austria ranks among the EC's richest countries.

A First-Class Services Sector
The services industry is Austria's fastest growing industrial sector. About one sixth of Austria's three million wage and salary workforce is employed in the trade and industry sector, which contributes some 13% to the GDP. Tourism is the country's biggest foreign exchange earner and the fastest growing sector: 220,000 people in 40,000 tourist establishments generate 10% of Austria's economic output. In 2004 Austria logged some 117 million bednights.

Exports: Wine & More
Among the insiders of the wine business, and despite being only a small winegrowing country, Austria has gained an excellent reputation for producing some top-scoring wines. About 32,000 wineries produce an average of 2.5 million hectoliters of wine per year. Austrian wines are produced mostly from Riesling and Gruner Veltliner grapes but Sauvignon Blanc grapes are also used. It’s the whites get most of the attention, but the reds are also excellent.
Export is regarded as vital to Austrian economy. Main export commodities are machinery and equipment, motor vehicles and parts, paper and paperboard, metal goods, chemicals, iron and steel; textiles, foodstuff. Austria's top-ten export commodities make up two-third of the entire export volume. Most exports go to other EC countries (mainly Germany), about 15% go overseas.


A country for gourmets

In the last few years Austria has developed into a real country for gourmets. Ambitious farmers, wine growers and owners of inns and restaurants have re-discovered and perfected their creative independence. Products of highest quality for the true gourmet have been developed from a lot of delicious things that grow between the Neusiedlersee and Lake Constance, between the hills with their vineyards and alpine pastures.

In Austria there are about 12,000 inns and more than 4,000 restaurants and about ten percent of them are star rated.

All over the world, Austria’s top chefs are well-known and highly rated. Our local wines are internationally top ranking. Typical Austrian elixirs such as pumpkin seed oil and apple-balsamic vinegar are being used in gourmet restaurants in all major cities in the world. And the toque restaurants of our alpine country attract guests from home and abroad.



Like most European countries, Austria looks back on a very eventful history. Yet there are some elements of the Austrian character that haven’t changed much over the centuries: the partiality for indulgence, beauty, and cultivation have always been driving forces in the country’s past and present...

The early days
The area of today’s Austria, that is the fertile Danube Valley and the Alpine valleys, were already settled in the Paleolithic Age (until approx. 8000 BC). Around 400 BC, Celtic peoples from Western Europe settled in the eastern Alps. A Celtic state, Noricum, developed around the region's ironworks in the second century BC. From the 7th century BC onwards one of the main regions of Celtic occupation was in modern-day Austria, centered around Hallstatt, a large prehistoric salt-mining area. The Hallstatt period, 750 - c.450 BC, is named after this region.
The Romans arrived 200 BC and by 15 BC they dominated the entire area. The most important Roman settlement in Austria was Carnuntum (capital of the Roman province of Pannonia in today’s Lower Austria) which became the center of the Roman fortifications along the Danube. Today there is an interesting Archeology Park with a museum and an amphitheater.

From Ostarrichi to Austria
By the latter half of the second century AD, various German tribes were extending their territory making devastating incursions into Roman territories. By the mid-500s, the Bavarians controlled the territory between the eastern Alps and the Wienerwald region. Around 800 Charlemagne, the king of Franks and eventually Holy Roman Emperor, established a territory in the Danube valley known as the Ostmark (Eastern March). In 996 the Ostmark was first referred to as "Ostarrichi", a clear forerunner of the modern German word "Österreich".
Between 976, when Leopold von Babenberg became the margrave of the Ostmark, and 1246, the Duchy of Austria was one of extensive feudal possessions of the Babenberg family. The dynasty established their first residence in Pöchlarn before moving it to Melk in the scenic Wachau region. In the 12th century Henry II moved his residence to Vienna which has remained the capital of the country ever since. Also in the 12th century the Cathedral of Saint Stephan was completed, which became a visible landmark of the city, showing its prominence.

Beginning of the Habsburg Rule
Some 100 years later Rudolf I emerged with the crown, beginning six centuries of Habsburg rule in Austria. The centerpiece of their realm was the Imperial Palace in Vienna, today accommodating several museums (Treasury, Sisi Museum) providing a good overview of the Habsburgs.
The Habsburgs increased their influence and power through strategic alliances ratified by marriages. Owing to premature deaths and/or childless marriages within the Burgundian and Spanish dynasties into which his grandfather, Maximilian I (1493-1519), and his father had married, Emperor Charles V (1519-56) inherited not only the Hereditary Lands but also the Franche-Comté and the Netherlands (both of which were French fiefs) and Spain and its empire in the Americas.

The Turkish threat, which included unsuccessful sieges of Vienna in 1529 and in 1683, prompted Poland, Venice, and Russia to join the Habsburg Empire in repelling the Turks. In the late 1690s, command of the imperial forces was entrusted to Prince Eugene of Savoy. Under his leadership, Habsburg forces won control of all but a small portion of Hungary by 1699.

With the end of the Turkish threat, the arts and culture experienced a surge. Splendid edifices such as Schloss Schönbrunn (World Cultural Heritage) or the Salzburger Dom were built; architects like Johann Fischer v. Erlach, Lukas v. Hildebrandt, Jakob Prandtauer, Daniel Gran, Paul Troger, Franz Anton Maulbertsch created exceptional monuments. Under the rule of Empress Maria Theresia (1717-1780) the Habsburg holdings were reformed and united. Following Maria Theresa's death in 1780, her son Joseph II, one of the so-called enlightened monarchs, continued the reforms along the lines pursued by his mother.

From Biedermeier to Jugendstil (Art Nouveau)
The French revolution in 1789 and the rise of Napoleon, who secured French possession of many Austrian territories, proved to be a major threat to the Habsburgs. During the Congress of Vienna (1814/15), held with the purpose of redrawing the continent's political map after Napolen’s defeat, Austrian Chancellor Metternich tried to reconsolidate Austrian power. In 1848 the French philosophy of middle-class revolution reached Austria, but the rebellion was promptly squashed, and Emperor Franz I and Metternich responded by cutting down civil liberties and introducing a strict censorship. As a result the people retreated to their houses, concentrated on the domestic and the non-political; social life came to a halt. The second part of the Biedermeier period was marked by a growing urbanization and industrialization that lead to a new urban middle class. People started to meet again, and the arts were cherished. Artists of this time include painters like Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller and Friedrich Gauermann, the composer Franz Schubert, and the poets Adalbert Stifter, Ferdinand Raimund and Franz Grillparzer.
In the end the Emperor Franz I was eventually pressured to abdicate in favor of his nephew Emperor Franz Joseph I, whose 68-year reign was one of Austria’s longest. Together with his wife Elisabeth, the legendary "Sisi", he shaped the image of the Austrian imperial rule. Under his rule Vienna became of the Europe’s most important metropolises and the center of a multinational state extending from Hungary to North Italy and deep into southern Europe.
Johann Strauß, the King of Waltz, was celebrated all over the world for his wonderful musical compositions. Sigmund Freud was the founder of the psychoanalytic school of psychology, a movement that popularized the theory that unconscious motives control much behavior. Around 1900 the Vienna Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) peaked during which forward-looking artists and designers seceded from the mainstream salon exhibitions, to exhibit on their own in more congenial surroundings. Noted Jugendstil artists include the painters Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, and the architects Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos. A walk along the Vienna Ringstraße boulevard with its splendid buildings, a visit to the Sisi or Sigmund Freud Museum or the Österreichischen Galerie Belvedere provide a good overview of this epoch.

The 20th Century
Brimming with ethnic tensions and locked into a rigid system of alliances from the 19th century wars, the Austro-Hungarian monarchy was a catastrophe waiting to happen. The necessary spark was the assassination of the Austrian archduke and heir to the throne, Franz Ferdinand in June 1914 in Sarajevo. Austria’s declaration of war against Serbia marked the beginning of World War I. Emperor Franz Joseph dies in 1916 and after the end of the war in 1918 the first Republic of Austria was established, ending the 640-year old Habsburg dynasty. The young republic suffered massive inflation, unemployment, and near economic collapse. In 1933, the weak coalition government between the Christian-Social and the Social-Democratic parties gave way when Engelbert Dollfuss became Chancellor in 1932 as head of a right-wing coalition government, designed to tackle the problems caused by the Depression. In May 1934 Doffluss declared martial law in order to protect Austria from Hitler. In July Dollfuss was shot and killed by Nazis in an attempted coup.
On March 12, 1938, German troops marched into Austria and the country was incorporated into the German Reich ruled by Adolf Hitler. After the end of World War II in 1945, Austria was restored to its 1937 frontiers and occupied by the victorious allies – the USA, the Soviet Union, the UK, and France – for a decade.

The 21st Century
On May 15, 1955, the Austrian State Treaty was ratified, with Austria declaring its permanent neutrality. Thanks to its location near the “Iron Curtain”, Austria soon developed into a nerve center between the West and the East. After the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the 1968 Prague Spring Invasion, Austria grants asylum to the refugees. Austria is also host country of many international organizations (UNO, OPEC) as well as host of many important conference and summit meetings. The Iron Curtain fell in 1989/90; in 1995 Austria becomes a member of the European Union.


Austria’s cities

Austria’s old cities attract a lot of people - with fascinating architecture including all important styles from Gothic to Renaissance and Baroque, from the Period of Industrial Expansion to Art Nouveau right up to the Post Modern. Historic backgrounds for today’s exciting cultural events, for enjoyable shopping as well as for pleasurable time with delights for gourmets from kitchen and cellar Allow yourself to be seduced ...

Austria’s capital with its population of 1.6 million is a perfect blend of imperial tradition and modern creativity. An impressive cultural offer, exciting things to see as well as the Viennese “Gemütlichkeit” in the wine taverns where you can drink the young wine and in the cosy cafes which have made the city popular throughout the world.

Events such as the Ars Electronica or the Bruckner Festival have brought Linz a lot of international attention. The city on the river Danube offers you an abundance of sightseeing – witnesses of the centuries old history that mentions Linz as capital of the Upper Austria region for the first time in 1490.

The Mozart city Salzburg is often called “The World’s Stage“, not without reason, with all its cultural highlights such as the Salzburg Festival with world famous performers and artistes. The picturesque old town was declared World Cultural Heritage Site and churches, castles and palaces dominate the townscape.

Graz, the capital of the province Styria dates right back to the time of the Romans and is located on both sides of the river Mur. Be fascinated by the unique atmosphere of the European Capital of Culture 2003.

The provincial capital of Burgenland, Eisenstadt is located at the foot of the Leitha mountain range. With its 13,000 inhabitants it is the smallest provincial capital in Austria, but it has a lot to offer as it was the former seat of the Esterházy counts.

Located at the third largest lake in central Europe, Bregenz, the capital of the province Vorarlberg has a great variety of cultural and sports events. The local mountain, Pfänder (1,064 metre) offers a unique panorama view. The ships on lovely Lake Constance tempt you to take a romantic boat trip.

In the heart of the Alps the past meets the future: Innsbruck’s world famous monuments are witnesses of great historic events –side by side with top class post modern architecture. Come and discover this fascinating mix.

Klagenfurt, the Rose of the Wörthersee, is located on one of Europe’s warmest and largest Alpine lakes. Enjoy the Mediterranean climate in summer, clear and sunny days in winter and a colourful golden autumn and a mild spring in this town with its 90,000 inhabitants.

St. Pölten
It was only in 1986 when St. Pölten with its 50,000 inhabitants was declared capital of Lower Austria, even though the town on the river Traisen possesses the oldest town statute in Austria dating back to 1159 granted by Bishop Konrad of Passau. Experience the splendid baroque buildings, picturesque squares and attractive events in a dynamic town really worth visiting.

Small historic towns
The “small historic towns”, hidden like jewels all over Austria, have one thing in common: a distinctive historic townscape or historically protected parts of the town which allow the visitors to step back into history.