Celebrating an icon of the European urban landscape
Neither Wagner's nor Tolkien's Ring - but Vienna's...
Richard Stiles / CC BY
is a year of many anniversaries. On 1st May 1865 Vienna’s
‘Ringstrasse’ was officially opened by Emperor Franz-Josef I and the 150th
anniversary of this icon of the grand urban boulevard is currently being
commemorated with exhibitions and special events all year long in the city.
As an archetype
of the grand urban boulevard, the Vienna Ringstrasse
is unique in two important respects: not only was it, together with the ‘representative’
public buildings and green spaces which it is lined, conceived and built as a Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art) but
unlike Haussmann’s Paris boulevards, which were created at much the same time,
it takes the form of a closed circle (perhaps more accurately a horseshoe).
eclectic mix of public and private buildings in a range of architectural styles
are a shop window for the historicism of the late 19th century and are
complemented by a series of small parks and other urban spaces, while the
boulevard itself and its accompanying pedestrian promenades is lined by
multiple avenues of trees.
origins of the Ringstrasse can be
traced back to the capture of the then walled city of Vienna by French forces
during the Napoleonic Wars, as a result of which Napoleon’s troops blew up part
of city’s defensive walls on their departure in 1809. The development of
military artillery had by then made the walls, which had twice protected the
city from falling to sieges by the Ottoman Empire in previous centuries,
effectively obsolete. It nevertheless took until 1857 before Emperor
Franz-Josef I finally gave the order for the city walls to be completely demolished
in preparation for the construction of the Ringstrasse.
then, Vienna’s defences had been made up, not just of the city walls
themselves, but also the ‘Glacis’ – the 450 metre wide belt of land in front of
the fortifications where building or any kind or shrubby vegetation was
forbidden, in order to allow clear lines of vision for the defending forces. In
the years following the Napoleonic occupation of the city the Glacis was
increasingly used as a recreation area for promenading, refreshment pavilions
were allowed and footpaths were planted with avenues of trees.
Although the new Ringstrasse incorporated a number of
parks (notably Stadtpark, Rathauspark) and squares, overall there was a significant loss of accessible public open space
compared to what had existed within the Glacis, following the construction of
the Ringstrasse. This lost space has
never been replaced.
The original LE:NOTRE Projects were co-funded by the European Union's Socrates and Lifelong Learning Programmes.
The LE:NOTRE Institute has been established by ECLAS as foundation under Netherlands Law.