From the first human settlements in the Danube Valley, to the ensuing Celts, Illyrians, Romans and Bavarians, and then the noble Babenberg and the Habsburg dynasties, Austria is a land that has been ruled by many.
Perhaps the most influential of its rulers, however, was the noble Habsburg family, which used Austria as the cornerstone of their empire for an astounding six centuries. The first of many emperors from the house came to power in 1273, and by the 16th century, the Habsburgs’ holdings had expanded dramatically across continental Europe both through military conquests and marriages.
In the wake of the French Revolution in the late-18th century, a creeping nationalism spread among the people of Europe and the Holy Roman Empire was dissolved. Despite this new drive for independence among some of the empire’s ethnic groups, the Habsburgs managed to hold onto power.
In 1867, the dual monarchy of Austro-Hungary was created in an effort to avoid the secession of an increasingly dissatisfied Hungary. This meant that the Habsburgs agreed to share power with the Hungarian government, divvying up the territory of the old Austrian Empire between them. Though Austria and Hungary was still officially one unit bound by the same ruling emperor, in reality, they had begun to go down increasingly divergent paths.
The Habsburgs’ 640-year reign was finally ended by WWI. Even before the conflict was officially over, various groups began to declare independence and in 1918, the emperor abdicated. WWII saw Hitler invade and occupy Austria, persecuting the country's Jewish community. Post Holocaust, Austria's Jewish community rebuilt itself, but to this day the Jewish population remains much smaller than before WWII.
After Austria's liberation by the Allies in 1944, foundations were laid for the Second Republic, which was formally established in 1955. Upon becoming an independent nation, the Austrian parliament declared permanent neutrality and, soon after, joined the UN. In 1995, Austria entered into the European Union, and also signed the Schengen Agreement, before adopting the Euro in 1999.
Did you know?
• Vienna is home to the oldest zoo in the world, the Tiergarten Schönbrunn, which began as a royal menagerie for Holy Roman Emperor Francis I in 1752.
• Because of its permanent neutrality, Austria is not a member of NATO.
• Vienna is home to more dead people than living; there are an estimated three million plus buried in the city’s Central Cemetery, though the living population only numbers around 1.7 million.
• Austria boasts some strange place names including a town called Egg and a village called Fucking, which has been plagued by spates of signage theft.