Tracing Hungary’s Footsteps in Vienna

Not far from the Votivkirche, a 21-year-old tailor from western Hungarian village of Csákvár, János Libényi, attempted to assassinate Emperor Franz Joseph in 1853. Unsuccessful, Libényi was hanged eight days later – but in memory of the ruler’s escape, the Votivkirche was built at Schottentor. The entire population of the Empire was called upon to donate, and although a considerable sum was raised (Hungarian Márton Zaránd donated 1,500 acres of land for this purpose!), even twice the amount would not have built the church standing today. Twenty-three years after the foundation stone was laid, the Votivkirche, modeled on French Gothic cathedrals, was inaugurated in 1879 with statues of the saints of the Austro-Hungarian Empire: The figures of Hungary’s first kings, St. Stephen and St. Ladislaus can be seen here. Next to the altar of Antwerp, is the statue of St. Elizabeth (the Hungarian princess also known as the saint of roses) on the side pillar. The stained-glass windows also have Hungarian scenes, including King Louis the Great, holding a Hungarian coat of arms.

(C) Wikimedia Commons/Ricardalovesmonuments

Arriving in the Bankgasse, named for the Austro-Hungarian Bank, one building is still Hungarian state property: the Embassy of Hungary in Austria. According to art historians and diplomats, it is one of the most beautiful foreign representations in Vienna. Over time, the buildings have become a single palace, replacing several houses built in the Middle Ages. Among its often-changing owners at is Miklós Jurisich, the heroic protector of Kőszeg Castle against the Turks, who is credited with saving Vienna. In the spring of 1848, with the first independent Hungarian government, the palace became the seat of the ministry surrounding the the king.

(C) Flickr/Hanna Hvattum

The stones of St. Stephen’s were transported from the mines in western Hungary (now Burgenland), Breitenbrunn and Sankt Margarethen. The late Gothic, steep, red-white-green roof that covered the cathedral until 1945 was probably ordered by King Matthias, who occupied Vienna for a few years in the late 15th century. On the north side of the cathedral (to the left of the main gate) stands the stone-carved pulpit from around 1430; it was from here that in 1454 János Kapistrán, the Italian-born leader of the Hungarian clergy, declared a crusade against the Turks.

(C) WienTourismus/Peter Rigaud

Walking from Stephansdom
in the city center to the Graben, the statue of the Holy Trinity, also known as the Plague Column, is hard to overlook. The monument, inaugurated in 1693, shows the Hungarian coat of arms by
Johann Adam Bosch.

(C) Wikimedia Commons/Albertina

Continuing along the Graben, it is worth noting the rooftops at the corner of the Graben and the Kohlmarkt, with a statue of a Wurmser hussar – a typical Hungarian equestrian soldier. The hussar regiment was named after its owner, Count Dagobert von Wurmser.

(C) Wikimedia Commons/Palickap

Heading from Kohlmarkt to Michaelerplatz is the entrance to the Hofburg. At Herrengasse 5, we should stop at the Wilczek Palace, built before 1737. A bilingual (Hungarian and German) marble plaque on the facade of the Baroque palace draws our attention to the fact that “Count István Széchenyi, the greatest Hungarian, was born here on September 21, 1791.” Some sources dispute this, claiming that Széchenyi, who financed the construction of Budapest’s famous Chain Bridge and founded the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1825, was born in the imperial castle in Augarten. To be on the safe side, check out both.

(C) Wikimedia Commons/Gryffindor

Our next stop is Wallnerstraße, parallel to Herrengasse.
The building was built in 1695 for Prince Pál Esterházy, a Hungarian palatine. Haydn’s music often filled the house chapel, during his years working for the Esterházys between 1761 and 1790. At the side of the palace (Haarhof) we find the Esterházy-Keller, a popular locale for Viennese and tourists, where in 1808, Miklós Esterházy II and his decendents were licensed to sell Hungarian wine in his cellar. At present, wines from the Esterházy estates in Burgenland (formerly part of Hungary) are on offer. Tunnels from the basement lead to the banks of the Danube and the Hofburg.

Adapted from Gábor Újváry, Wiener Impressionen. Auf den Spuren ungarischer Geschichte in Wien. A magyar történelem nyomában Bécsben. HRSG. Franz Pesendorfer. Wien, Verband Wiener Volksbildung, 2002.

Leave a Comment