Tag Archive: architecture


We went to the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek or Austrian National Library one day for class. This is the library that resides in one section of the Hofburg Palace. Part of it is very old and only used as a museum of sorts, but the rest is used by people in Vienna for their research.

It was like a library from out of my dreams, with shelves full of books going all the way to the ceiling, spiral staircases and secret rooms full of even more books!

The National Library was built in the Baroque style and by Charles VI, the last Habsburg man and father of Maria Theresa. He created a rule called the Pragmatic Sanction that allowed Maria Theresa to take his place, because he could not produce any male heirs. After his death the Habsburgs become Habsburg-Lorraine.

The bookshelves were so high that ladders are needed to reach the top.

The books are so old that the pages have turned dark brown. Everything is hand printed and many of them have beautiful illustrations with the boldest colors I’ve ever seen. We were lucky enough to have our professor there who knew one of the tour guides personally, so we got to see some of the books close up. The covers are also made out of wood.

There were secret rooms all throughout the library. They are not actually supposed to hide anything though.The room was built in an oval shape, but the building itself is square so they had extra nooks to fill in.

The ceiling at the entrance to the library.

The domed ceiling of the central part of the library.

A statue of Charles VI, which stands in the middle of the library.

After we looked around the old library our guide took us underneath the Hofburg to reach the new section of the library. I felt very official walking through all the secret underground tunnels and using the non-public elevator.

We walked by the ventilation system for the library, which is underneath a garden.

The never ending archive room.

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I have two ten-page papers due at the end of my semester. One of them is about the Turkish sieges on Vienna, but the other one is on Art Nouveau and specifically the Art Nouveau movement in Vienna. Since I’m right in the middle of one of the most artistic cities in Europe it was easy for me to simply walk outside and do my research through sightseeing.

The Art Nouveau movement in Vienna was specifically called the Secession, because a group of artists left the Künstlerhaus. They believed it was too restricting. In this group was Koloman Moser, Joseph Maria Olbrich and most famous of all Gustav Klimt. Later Otto Wagner would join the movement a little later, but he was also a large player in the movement. 

The first place I visited was the Karlsplatz station, which was built by Otto Wagner. He is responsible for a lot of different buildings in Vienna and he also worked on the Ringstraße.

Karlsplatz is one of the larger U-Bahn stations in Vienna. This particular exit is not used too often, but it is really beautiful and probably the most artistic of the Karlsplatz stations. Its name comes from the Karlskirche (Charles Church), which is only about two minutes from here.

Gold, nature and swirling patterns some basic themes in Art Nouveau.

This actually looks like the front, but it is the back of the station. No one can exit through these doors from the U-Bahn.

Detail on the station.

One of the doors. I love the attention to detail. Its simple yet beautiful.

Next I headed over the the Secession building, which was built by Joseph Maria Olbrich. At one point in his life Olbrich worked under Wagner and many of his buildings are similar to Wagner’s own work. Olbrich built the Secession building specifically so that the artists had a place to exhibit their work. Today it still hosts exhibits and has one of Gustav Klimt’s famous works, the Beethoven Frieze.

The Secession building.

Many people hated it when it was first build, because of the golden ball on top. They called it a cabbage or a furnace. Personally, I think it looks cool on its own, but I was surprised by it the first time I saw it, because it doesn’t look like anything else in the area.

Olbrich built this building as a “temple to art” so the entrance is very ceremonial, but inside the building is completely white and plain. This was because the Secessionists believed in functionality over form.

The three heads over the doorway. They are the three Gorgons, representing painting, architecture and sculpture, which are the arts that the Secessionists mastered in.

Above the Gorgons are the words of the Secessionist’s motto, Der Zeit Ihre Kunst, Der Kunst Ihre Freiheit.

To Every Age Its Art, To Art Its Freedom

The side of the building.

Owls on the side of the Secession.

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St. Stephens is a central point in Vienna. There is nowhere you can go in the first district and not see the South Tower looming above the rest of the buildings. Therefore, I thought I would dedicate an entire post to St. Stephens Cathedral.

St. Stephens was built in 1137, during the rule of the Babenbergers. Originally it was built in the Romanesque style, but later it was rebuilt in the Gothic style and also Baroque.

I’ve visited St. Stephens a number of times already, simply because there is so much to do in the area. St. Stephens sits right in the middle of a huge shopping street called Kärntnerstraße. All around the cathedral are clothes shops, food stands, restaurants, ice cream, and always plenty of tourists. On a nice day, I’ve often walked from the Institute past St. Stephens and eventually I’m only one U-Bahn station away from my apartment.

The front of St. Stephens.

The lower part of the front is Romanesque, but the upper part, including the small towers, is Gothic.

Inside of St. Stephens, much of the front section is Gothic. It’s easy to tell, because of the intricate details carved from stone.

I love the criss-crossing lines on the ceiling. I think they add so much character to the building and make the ceiling look like it was put together like a puzzle.

The pillar supporting the pulpit. It was like a maze of interlocking pillars filled with small swirls and tiny sculptures. I can’t even begin to image the skill and steady hand it must have taken to create such a masterpiece.

Below is the architect, named Anton Pilgram. He can be seen just under the pulpit, peeking out from a small window.

The main altar of St. Stephens. It was redone in Baroque.

To the right of the central nave is Friedrich III. He was Holy Roman Emperor and also Archduke of Austria. He was the last emperor to be crowned in Rome by the Pope. Friedrich III, along with his son Maximilian I, gained a lot of territory for empire through marriage. Also buried in St. Stephens are, Prince Eugene of Savoy, Rudolf IV, and some victims of the Black Plague.

St. Stephens has two towers, but there is a huge difference between them. The South Tower is much higher than the North Tower. In 1359 Rudolf I * ordered the construction of the South Tower. It instantly became a symbol of Vienna. Later on the construction of the North Tower was initiated, but it was never finished.

Legend goes that one of the masons, working on St. Stephen’s North Tower, was in love with the architect’s daughter. Her name was Maria. The mason asked her father for his approval, but the father said that the mason could only marry Maria if he could make the North Tower just as high and as beautiful as the South Tower in one year. As the year progressed the mason realized he would never complete the tower in time and so he made a deal with the devil. The devil promised to help if the mason didn’t speak any holy names. The mason agreed, but one day, in excitement, he called his love’s name. Therefore, he was struck on the head by a scaffold and the North Tower was never finished.

In reality, most people believe that the architect just ran out of money, but the legend sounds cooler.

 The South Tower

The North Tower

Anyone can get to the top of both towers. From what I’ve heard, the North Tower has an elevator, but I decided to brave the South Tower and climb all the way to the top, step by step. Annika and Addison also came with me and together we made the climb.

It was actually a very intense workout. The staircase was always spiraling to the right, which made for a dizzying climb and the steps weren’t large enough for my entire foot to step on. The other tourists climbing the tower made for a difficult climb too. I often had to stop and squish against the wall so that others could pass and for some reason there were a lot of people who thought it would be a good idea to bring ALL their shopping bags up to the top with them. It wasn’t.

Climbing all that way was very claustrophobic. The stairs never seemed to end, there were hardly any windows and our voices echoed off the walls, making it hard to tell if there were people above or below. At one point, I felt like I had been climbing forever and that I would have to keep climbing forever. It was a little nerve-racking.

Our first resting point.

We emerged from the stairs, into a room full of windows. I’m assuming a bell used to hang there, but the room was empty except for a few gargoyles. Off to the right the stairs continued to the top.

The view was worth the exhausting climb. One of the things I love about St. Stephens is the tiled roof. I’ve never seen anything like it on a church before and I think the zig-zags are really fun and bright.

The Prater ferris wheel.

From St. Stephens it probably takes 15 minutes to get to the Prater by U-Bahn.

One of the decorations on top of the church. It looks like it might be the symbol for the Habsburgs, the two-headed eagle.

The roof of the church had a row of these cute little windows.

Climbing down the tower was just as hard, but mostly because I got really dizzy. I was constantly turning in a circle, but to my eyes it looked like I was never getting anywhere, because the steps never changed.

The back section of the roof has tiles that create the two-headed eagle of the Habsburgs.

The back of St. Stephens. This is where all the carriages wait for tourists.

Detail on the North Tower. You can also go to the top of this tower, this one has an elevator, so there’s no need to climb.

There are a number of gargoyles all along the outside of St. Stephens. Some of them are still in really good shape, while others might be missing a head. Many of the statues from St. Stephens and the original glass windows are now in the Wien Museum.

On one of our excursions our professor said that St. Stephens is always being worked on and there’s hardly ever a time when you can see the entire building. Right now the South Tower is being spiffed up, so much of the bottom half is covered. Often you can see workers up on the very top of the steeple.

EDIT 10/17/12: I’m still learning about all the Habsburgs and since they’re all named basically the same thing sometimes I get confused. Rudolf I was the first Habsburg ruler, but Rudolf IV was actually the one called “The Founder”.

EDIT 11/10/12:

Addison and I decided to visit the crypt under St. Stephens, which is a guided tour only. The first half we were in the “new” part of the crypt, which had the sarcophagi of Rudolf IV. Many of the Habsburg’s organs are also kept in the crypt separate from their bodies, which are in the Imperial Crypt just a few blocks away.

We then headed further down into the ground to the older part of the crypt, which is where victims of the plague are buried. We walked down a long dark tunnel until we came to the first open room. The room we stood in was completely surrounded in stone, and during WW II it was used as a bomb shelter. The creepy thing is that it was once a room that held bodies and in the floor were still some bones that had been ground into the dirt.

There was a small room just to the left of that, which we could see through an grated window. In the room were piles of bones and the last remnants of some coffins. People actually used to pay to be buried in this room, but over time their coffins rotted away and now it’s mostly bones.

Next we made our way past an open hole in the ground where they threw the bodies of plague victims. It astounds me that they buried people right in the center of the city. The bones completely filled the hole and were beginning to pile up to the opening. Last we came to another room, where they had begun to stack the bones making a wall of skeletons, so that more people could be buried there.

It was an interesting, yet morbid tour.

Finally on Sunday I was able to sleep in and when I woke up I had a great breakfast with my host mother. I had planned not to do much on Sunday. Most of the stores and restaurants around Vienna are closed on Sundays, but my host mother surprised me by suggesting that we go to the Kunst Haus Wien (literally translate to Art House Vienna). The Kunst Haus is a creation of Friedensreich Hundertwasser and it holds a lot of his artwork and also art exhibits that change. Elliot Erwitt, a well-known photographer from New York, is the current exhibit.

The Kunst Haus Wien was an apartment design by Hundertwasser. It was probably one of the wackiest places I’ve ever been. Outside the building was covered in tiles and it was made to look kind of like a checkerboard. Inside and outside the house the floor was uneven and I was often surprised by a sudden step down or up. Although the inside and outside were covered in very bright colors, the house was very natural feeling. The floors seemed to move with the true unevenness of the ground and there were plants growing everywhere!

Inside there were two exhibits. The first one we visited was about Hundertwasser. It had a lot of his paintings, graphics, models, and tapestries, along with quotes from him and pictures from his life. Hundertwasser died in 2000, but from what I can gather from his art and writing he seemed like a very down to earth kind of guy. He had strong opinions about our responsibility to nature. Although I really did like his paintings, they were bright and shiny, I like his models the most.

In his exhibit there were a number of large models of towns that he had created. They reminded me a little of Doctor Seuss towns. The buildings blended easily into the ground allowing nature and humanity to live in peace. This was something that Hundertwasser strongly cared about. He didn’t like the sterilness of the modern age. He felt that we are pushing ourselves further and further away from the earth and slowly forgetting the ways in which it gives us life. He felt especially strong about the importance of trees and when he died in 2000, he was buried in the ground without a casket so that he could be reincarnated as a tree. The tree with the same name, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, is now twelve.

I really connected with some of the things Hundertwasser was talking about and know that I’ll take away some great advice from this experience.

The gallery of Elliot Erwitt’s photography was very different from Hundertwasser’s gallery. While Hundertwasser liked strong bold colors and complicated figures, Erwitt’s photography is in black and white and very simple. Some of his photography was funny in an ironic sense, while others were very serious. I think the range in Erwitt’s pieces was my favorite aspect of his work. He took pictures of dogs being dogs, but he also had pictures of important moments in human history, a picture of Kennedy at her husbands funeral or of Nixon jabbing Khrushchev in the chest. Erwitt’s attitude about photography is, take pictures, take a lot, take pictures of what interests you, and think about the results later.