Lower Austria Attractions Niederösterreich
Lower Austria is the largest of the nine Austrian provinces, including within its area the Federal capital, Vienna (itself a separate province, where the provincial government at present has its headquarters (the provincial capital is St Pölten). Lower Austria is bounded on the north and east by the Czech Republic, on the southeast by the province of Burgenland, on the south by Styria and on the west by Upper Austria.
Lying as it does where the Eastern Alps fall away to the Hungarian plain, the province has a very varied topography, with a wide range of scenic beauties of many different types, from lofty mountains by way of the gentle wooded hills of the Alpine foreland to the Danube with its vine-clad loess terraces, from the granite plateau of the Waldviertel - geologically part of the Bohemian land mass - to the borders of Burgenland, where the landscape begins to show the distinctive characteristics of the Pannonian steppe.Geography and PeopleThe Danube flows through the province from west to east, dividing it into two approximately equal parts. To the north of the river the terrain, at first flat and then becoming increasingly hilly towards the Czech frontier, comprises the Waldviertel and to the east of this the Weinviertel. South of the Danube the land rises gradually into wooded ranges of hills, including the well-known Wienerwald (Vienna Woods), and then into peaks of the Calcareous Alps, reaching heights of over 2,000m/6,560ft in the Schneeberg and the Rax, holiday regions much favored by the people of Vienna.Rarely has a river so strongly influenced the destinies of a country as the Danube has influenced those of Lower Austria. The political and cultural forces of the continent have met and mingled and fertilized one another on the Danube: a continuing process reflected equally in the finds of earthenware fragments of the prehistoric and early historical periods, in the abundant material of the Roman period (Carnuntum), in the castles and fortified churches of the Romanesque and Gothic periods and in the great monasteries (Melk, Göttweig, Zwettl, Altenburg, Klosterneuberg) and pilgrimage churches (Maria Taferl, Maria Laach) of the Baroque age.The principal tributaries of the Danube in Lower Austria are the March and the Thaya, which form the frontier with the Czech Republic to just northeast of Vienna. The Leitha flows from the rivers Schwarza and Pitten (which merge in Lower Austria) and then runs close to the Danube on the south but flows into it only in Hungary.Of central importance within Lower Austria is the Vienna basin surrounding the capital, where many traffic routes intersect. This is approached from the west by the motorway from Linz, for the most part following the Danube, and the federal highway which runs through the Strudengau and the Nibelungengau, the Wachau and the Tullner Feld.Old established trade routes link the Vienna basin with Prague, Brno and Budapest; and to the southwest roads cross the Semmering and Wechsel passes into Styria and beyond this to Zagreb and Ljubljana. This central situation with its excellent communications promoted the development of a varied range of industries in the Vienna basin, now the largest industrial area in Austria. Fossil sources of energy, such as coal and oil, are also worked here and exported.Lower Austria's well developed and efficient agriculture also makes a major contribution to its economy.Since the 19th C., too, the tourist trade has been a steadily increasing source of revenue, the Wachau, the Wienerwald and the country around Semmering, with the Schneeberg and the Rax, being particularly popular holiday areas.HistoryLower Austria, a favored area of settlement from prehistoric times onwards, is the heartland of Austria. After the indigenous population had been displaced by Illyrian immigrants these in turn were followed by Celts, bringing the Hallstatt culture into Lower Austria. Further cultural influences resulted from the situation of the province at the intersection of the two great trade routes along the Danube and from the Baltic to Italy. The Romans advanced from the south as far as the natural frontier on the Danube and established Carnuntum (see Petronell/Carnuntum) and other fortified camps to defend it. The territory north of the river remained thinly populated.The great migrations brought the end of Roman rule, and in subsequent centuries Lower Austria was frequently the scene of fighting with migrating peoples. In the sixth C. the Bajuwari (Bavarians) sought to establish themselves in this area but were frustrated by the invading Avars and Slavs. Charlemagne finally succeeded, after many years of fighting (791-97), in subduing these peoples and establishing his authority over the territory. The March (frontier territory) which he founded was the basis of the whole of Austria's later development.The area was still, however, exposed to a major threat from the East, now represented by a Ural-Altaic tribe of horsemen, the Hungarians. In the ninth and 10th C. they advanced several times far into the lands on the western Danube, but in 955 suffered an annihilating defeat at the hands of Otto the Great in the battle of Augsburg. Otto II continued his father's efforts to win back the Danube territories, and his Margrave ("Count of the March") Leopold reached (c. 996) the river Leitha, still in places the boundary between Lower Austria and Burgenland. About the same time the name of Ostarrîche - the origin of the modern Österreich, Austria - began to be applied to this area, which Frederick Barbarossa elevated into an hereditary duchy in 1156. The first duke was a scion of the Babenberg family, Henry II Jasomirgott. In 1192 the Babenbergs also inherited Styria, which long remained part of Lower Austria.The early 13th C. saw several armed conflicts between local nobles and a continuing threat from the Hungarians on the eastern frontier. In 1251-52, however, King Ottokar of Bohemia gained control of the territory, ending the interregnum which had existed since the death of Duke Frederick II, and thereafter he managed to establish a large measure of security on the eastern frontier, settle the internecine quarrels of the nobility and bring a degree of prosperity to the province.The election of Rudolf of Habsburg as German Emperor brought a critical stage in the development of Lower Austria. The Babenberg possessions were declared Imperial fiefs, and Ottokar of Bohemia lost the ducal title. The final decision came in 1278 with the battle of the Marchfeld, in which Ottokar was killed. The Habsburgs now gained possession of the duchy, which was to become the most important of the hereditary Habsburg territories, and built numerous castles to defend it against the Hungarians. After the division of the hereditary territories in 1379 the province was beset by conflicts between the heirs of Duke Albrecht II, which continued well into the 15th C. The northwestern part of Lower Austria was also much involved in the Hussite wars. Much more serious, however, were the ravages caused by the Hungarian invasions of 1479-90 under King Matthias Corvinus, during which almost the whole territory of Lower Austria was overrun. Only after Corvinus' death was the future Emperor Maximilian I able to re-establish Habsburg rule.In the 16th C. a new enemy, long to remain a threat to the Habsburg empire, came to the fore. In 1529 the Turks advanced to Vienna, devastating the low-lying country and threatening the territory as far west as the Enns. Nevertheless it was during this period - the time of the great overseas discoveries - that the region's economy and trade developed and flourished. The Reformation saw a rapid spread of Protestantism in Austria, particularly in the towns and among the minor country nobility. The Catholic princes, however, were opposed to this development, and the Counter-Reformation of the early 17th C. culminated in 1629-30, during the reign of Ferdinand II, with the expulsion of the Protestants.Meanwhile the Thirty Years' War, which was to bring Europe to the verge of total destruction, had broken out. In the earlier years of the war the northern parts of Lower Austria were ravaged by plundering and destructive hordes, while in its closing stages (1645) the Swedes occupied almost the whole territory north of the Danube.The slow recovery which began after the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 was hampered by two factors - the plague of 1679 in which many thousands died, particularly in and around Vienna, and the reappearance of the Turks at the gates of Vienna in 1683. On Dec. 12th in that year, however, the besieging Turkish army suffered an annihilating defeat at the hands of a combined German and Polish force. The Turkish danger which had threatened Austria for 150 years was now finally removed, and the way was clear for a new cultural and economic upsurge, on which even further Hungarian uprisings and a further outbreak of plague in the early 18th C. had no lasting effect. There was a vigorous outburst of building activity, both sacred and secular, the evidence of which is to be seen all over the country, and an equally vigorous development of industry.This period of prosperity continued until the French Wars (1805 and 1809) brought further devastation to Lower Austria. The subsequent trend towards political centralization in Austria cut across the independence of this as of the other Austrian provinces; and it was not until 1848, with the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in place of the previous absolutist regime, that a modest degree of self-government was restored.Even a renewed Hungarian revolt and an epidemic of plague at the beginning of the 18th C. could not halt the impetus, as is witnessed by the number of fine ecclesiastical and secular buildings which were begun at this time; industrial development was increased. This flourishing continued unabated until the French campaigns of 1805 and 1809 affected Upper Austria. The succeeding political centralization in Austria greatly influenced the independence of the province. It was not until the constitution of 1848, which changed the kingdom from an absolute into a constitutional monarchy that a certain measure of self-determination was re-established.After the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy at the end of the First World War Lower Austria became a province of the new federal state of Austria. In 1920 Vienna was made a separate province, and for many years Lower Austria was the only part of the Republic without a capital of its own; in 1986 St Pölten became the capital of Lower Austria, but its provincial administration continues to be based in the federal capital, Vienna.The Second World War, like the First, brought further trials to Lower Austria. Indeed, it was even more severely affected in the Second, suffering almost a third of the war damage in the whole country. Reconstruction after the war was hampered by Soviet occupation, which continued until the conclusion of the State Treaty of 1955. Since then Lower Austria has shared the destinies of the rest of Austria.ArtThe earliest evidence of artistic activity in Lower Austria dates back to the prehistoric period. The best known find of that time is the 25,000-year-old limestone statuette known as the "Venus of Willendorf", thought to be a fertility symbol. This, the earliest Austrian work of art, was found near the village of Willendorf in the Wachau together with a figurine carved from a mammoth's tusk. To a later period belong items excavated in the Leiser mountains which are assigned to the La Tène culture, the successor (c. 400 B.C.) to the Hallstatt culture.There are numerous remains of the Roman period, particularly those excavated at Carnuntum, a frontier stronghold and a flourishing Roman town. The remains of temples and baths, mosaic pavements, cult statues, jewelry and much else besides bear witness to the high standard of culture and civilization reached in this outlying province under the late Empire. A military base of about the same period has been excavated near Zwentendorf.After the fall of the Roman Empire there was a great flowering of art in the Romanesque period. Although many buildings of this period were remodeled in the Gothic and to an even greater extent in the Baroque period, there are still examples of Romanesque architecture to be seen all over the province. The Romanesque style reached Lower Austria along the Danube from the west or along the "amber road" from Italy, achieving its unveiling in the great monastic buildings which the Babenbergs did so much to promote. The Cistercians were particularly active in this respect.The abbey of Heiligenkreuz, founded in 1133, has a church with a Romanesque nave but a Gothic choir and Gothic vaulting; and the architectural influence of this mother house can be seen in the Cistercian abbeys of Lilienfeld and Zwett. Lilienfeld Abbey, founded in 1202, has a church built in that year which already shows the transition to Gothic. The originally Romanesque abbey of Zwettl (founded 1159), however, was drastically remodeled in the Baroque period and has preserved little of the original structure - the chapterhouse (1159-80), the chapel (1218) and the cloister (1180-1240), which shows forms transitional to Gothic. Lower Austria has preserved numbers of charnel houses (Karner: bone houses, with a chapel for worship), dating from both the Romanesque and Gothic periods. There are many secular buildings of Romanesque origin, including a number of ruined castles. The art of the period is also represented by smaller works, the most splendid item being the Verdun Altar in Klosterneuburg with its 51 panels of champlevé enamel. Much fine stained glass and book illumination was also produced. Gothic made headway in Lower Austria relatively late, about 1250, and its later development also showed a certain time lag. It reached its full flowering only in the 15th C. and continued into the 16th C., when the rest of Europe was already in the throes of the Renaissance. In its earlier phase the Gothic style was still frequently combined with Romanesque elements, producing a mixed or transitional style, with many variants, which can be observed in some monastic buildings and churches, for example at Heiligenkreuz, Lilienfeld and Zwettl. The cloister at Heiligenkreuz, built between 1220 and 1250, shows in its successive phases a steady increase in Gothic stylistic elements, and the cloister at Zwettl (1180-1240) similarly shows a mingling of Romanesque and Gothic; the east end of the church at Zwettl (1343-83) is in High Gothic style (the rest is Baroque). The cloister at Lilienfeld (c. 1350) on the other hand, the largest of its kind in Austria, is stylistically uniform and wholly Gothic.The architecture of the area was strongly influenced by those responsible for building St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, then reckoned to rank with Cologne and Strassburg as the finest of its day. The church at Eggenburg (1482), in Late Gothic style, was modeled on St Stephen's (the "Stephansdom").During this period sculpture began to throw off its earlier predominantly ornamental and archaic character. The figures of the Virgin and saints which were now produced took on individual features and lost their former rigidity. This development can be seen in many winged altarpieces, particularly in the Waldviertel and the Wachau.Panel painting also gained increased refinement. Among the oldest examples of this art form are the four paintings from the rear face of the Verdun Altar at Klosterneuburg, now in the abbey museum.Simultaneously with the Reformation the Renaissance came to Lower Austria, bringing with it not only a new style of art but a change in human consciousness and patterns of thought which marked the beginning of the modern age. While hitherto the main artistic influences had come from the west, there now came a wave of influence, at least equally strong, from Italy. There was an increasing development of secular building, and the 16th C. saw the construction of the first aristocratic residences not primarily planned with military considerations in mind. At the same time the rapid development of firearms required a new approach to the techniques of fortification. Italian architects were the leading practitioners in this field, and they found a rich field of activity after the destruction of the Hungarian and Turkish wars.The Counter-Reformation gave a fresh impetus to church building, which continued into the Baroque period.The finest example of Renaissance architecture in Lower Austria is the Schallaburg near Melk, a remodeling (c. 1572) of a medieval fortified castle, with an arcaded courtyard of the kind which now came into fashion. Schloss Sierndorf (rebuilt 1516), also near Melk, has a chapel containing Early Renaissance sculpture and a Renaissance altar with wooden side pieces (1518). A new form of decoration, used mainly on the facades of buildings, was the sgraffito technique, fine examples of which are to be seen at Krems, Horn and elsewhere.Sculpture and panel painting now flourished, in both the religious field (altars) and the secular. The carved altar of Mauer, near Melk, shows the transition from Gothic to Renaissance.The zenith of Lower Austrian architecture was reached in the Baroque period. The international situation was stable after the defeat of the Turks, and the economy prospered. Situated as it was on the old established trade route along the Danube, Lower Austria benefited particularly from the busy trading activity of the time. During the Early Baroque period sumptuous monasteries and palaces were built and the art of fortification was still further perfected, as can be seen at Wiener Neustadt, Retz, Eggenburg and Drosendorf. The new architectural style was not, however, confined to palatial religious and secular buildings but also influenced more modest burghers' and peasants houses.Older churches were now increasingly remodeled in the fashionable style, the interiors being decorated with frescos and later with stucco work. The 18th C. also saw the building or rebuilding of many monastic complexes, promoted particularly by the Emperor Charles VI. Magnificent buildings of this period are to be seen at Melk, Klosterneuburg, Göttweig (see Krems, Surroundings), and Dürnstein (see Wachau). The structure of a building was now increasingly concealed under a riot of ornamental forms. Among architects principally active in Lower Austria were Jakob Prandtauer, Josef Munggenast and Lukas von Hildebrandt.A leading representative of the sculpture of this period - often displayed in "plague columns" or "Turkish columns" commemorating a town's deliverance from these dangers - was Georg Raphael Donner. The best known Lower Austrian painter of the period was Martin Johann Schmidt, known as Kremser Schmidt, who was responsible for many altarpieces.The Baroque period ended in the gay decorative forms of Roccoco. The only buildings of note from the Empire period are to be seen at Baden, south of Vienna.During the subsequent period no great architectural showpieces were built, but with the increasing development of technology attention was concentrated on works of engineering serving a functional need; a prime early example of this is the Semmering railroad (built 1848-54 by Karl von Ghega). The growth of travel and tourism also led to the building of large hotels and other buildings which still dominate the townscape of many resorts.In every field of art there was now an increasing concentration on Vienna, with a consequent impoverishment of artistic activity in other parts of the country. Movements such as Art Nouveau, Expressionism, etc., made little headway in the provinces.In recent times, too, the emphasis has been on buildings serving some technological function, including the large hydro-electric station at Ybbs-Persenbeug on the Danube or the nuclear power station at Zwentendorf, which a national referendum decided should not be brought into operation.
Wachau - Alpine Garden
6mi down the Danube from Melk is the Wachau Alpine Garden.
The Vienna Basin begins at the Semmering pass and then follows the Leitha River toward Vienna and into the Danube. It is a major access point for highways that branch off into Burgenland, the Traisen and Murz Valley.
Car Museum, Aspang-Markt
Aspang-Markt is located due south of Vienna near the provincial borders of Burgenland and Steiermark. It has an interesting car museum.
Fire Brigade Museum, Perchtoldsdorf
The Fire Brigade Museum in Perchtoldsdorf features displays on the history of fire fighting.
Lower Austrian Summer Theater, Schwechat
Schwechat is a town located in the southeast outskirts of Vienna. It hosts an annual summer theater festival that runs from late June to late August.