'Promenade in front of the Burgbastei (before 1800)', after a watercolour by L. Janscha

(Re-)organizing the city

from the city walls to the Ringstrasse


‘It is my will …’: on 20 December 1857 Emperor Franz Joseph signed the decree that was to give the imperial capital a new face. The city walls and rough military exercise grounds were to be replaced by a magnificent boulevard commensurate with the status of the imperial capital. The old fortifications which had served the city for so long had become obsolete and had to go. The bastions and the glacis, an open area of grass and trees in front of the city walls, were used as a place to promenade by Viennese citizens. However, the Army was keen to retain defensive works around the centre, and so plans were drawn up for a triangle of fortifications enclosing the inner city which could be used to repel its own citizens in the case of revolution. The city walls were demolished by imperial decree, and from 1858 Vienna was to endure years as a massive construction site. The redevelopment of the city provoked furious debate between preservers of the past and modernizers. On the former army exercise grounds were built the symbolic institutions of the middle classes: the Parliament, City Hall and the University.

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