The earliest settlement on the Danube marshes on the site of modern Vienna is thought to date back to around 500BC and was known to its Celtic inhabitants as Vindomina. The Romans built a fort here around 15BC, known as Vindobona, on the frontiers of their empire. As with other frontier forts, a town gradually grew up around the fortress and in 212AD, Vindobona was granted self-governing municipium status. With the collapse of strong central government in the Western Roman Empire and the great migration of peoples during the 4th and 5th centuries, Vindobona disappears from the records and there is evidence of a great fire in the 5th century. However, excavations have shown that the streets of early medieval Vienna stayed within the Roman walls, so presumably the fortification remained largely intact. Byzantine coins from the 6th century have been found in the city centre, so again it is assumed that a trading centre remained here thanks to its location on the Danube.

The next documented mention of Vienna is in 881, when a battle at Weniam is recorded in the Salzburg Annals, though it is not clear if the settlement or the river is being referred to. The local Langobard people were at the time engaged in many battles with the Magyars for control of the area, and it was the victory of Otto I at the Battle of Lechfeld in 955 that allowed the region to prosper once more. Modern Upper and Lower Austria fell within the Holy Roman Empire, and the emperor gave the Margraviate of Austria to the Babenberg family in 976. The Babenbergs developed the city throughout the early Middle Ages, receiving a great financial boost in 1192, when King Richard I "Lionheart" of England was taken prisoner and ransomed.

In 1278, Rudolf I of the house of Habsburg defeated Ottakar II of Bavaria to take the imperial crown and the Margraviate of Austria, though it took the famous family a while to fully establish their control over Vienna. Nonetheless, Vienna soon became established as the seat of the Emperor, at least while a Habsburg sat on the throne. The late 15th century saw Austria and the House of Habsburg itself torn apart by internecine rivalries, and it was not until the reign of Ferdinand I in 1522 that Imperial control was restored - and not a moment too soon, as in 1526 the neighbouring Christian Kingdom of Hungary was defeated at the Battle of Mohács and by 1529 the Ottoman Turks were camped around the gates of Vienna. The medieval walls barely withstood the siege and, once winter and disease had forced the Turks to withdraw, a programme of modernization was instigated and throughout the Thirty Years War (which never reached the city itself) a pattern of walls, bastions and glacis were built that lasted until well into the 19th century. These fortifications proved invaluable when the Turks besieged Vienna once again in 1683, allowing the city to hold out for months until the Polish army arrived to lift the siege.

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, the city grew into the role as imperial capital, and became a centre of art and learning. Architects such as Fischer von Erlach spent the 18th century transforming the city's churches into baroque confections and the great Schönbrunn and Belvedere palaces were built. The modernising Emperor Josef II closed the city's graveyards and instituted the Zentralfriedhof, opened factories in the new suburb of Josefstadt and instituted a postal system and house numbering.

Vienna was captured twice by the French during the Napoleonic wars, and it was Napoleon's unopposed capture of the city in 1805 that put the final nail in the coffin of the Holy Roman Empire (already satirised by Voltaire as "Neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire") and Holy Roman Emperor Franz II became Emperor Franz I of Austria. After the Napoleonic wars were over, the great and the good of Europe met in Vienna to redraw the political map of Europe, but Austria ended up footing the rather large bill that came along with playing host to that many monarchs and princes.

The 19th century was in some ways one of great progress for Vienna - her population greatly increased, drawn by the ever-growing industries. The Railways arrived in 1837, and in 1850 building was allowed outside the fortifications, which themselves were torn down in 1858 and replaced with the Ringstrasse with its grand historicist buildings. On the political front, however, the early and middle 19th century was characterised by a reactionary conservatism, particularly under the rule of Metternich who became almost a dictator in his own right until forced from power by the revolutions of 1848. In 1861, the Liberals won the first free elections, but a sense of conservatism remained, personified in the grandiose historicism of the Ringstrasse architecture.

By the beginning of the 20th century, Vienna had become like a homing beacon for half of Europe, and the census of 1910 shows an all-time high of 2,031,000 inhabitants (compared with 1,600,000 in 2005). In particular, artists, architects and philosophers from all over the empire made their way to Vienna and the city was at the cutting edge of new architectural movements such as Jugenstil (Art-Nouveau) and artistic movements such as the Wiener Secession. Mass transit in the form of trams and the Stadtbahn (the modern line U4). Karl Lueger, iconic Viennese mayor of this period, is today remembered with a sense of unease - his great social conscience and the works he instituted for the city (including a new aqueduct to bring fresh mountain water to the city) cannot be forgotten, but his rabid anti-Semitism is less comfortable, particularly as it was during this period that the young artist Adolf Hitler was spending his formative years in the city and developing his political views.

The Great War of 1914-1918 sounded the death-knell of the old Habsburg Empire, and Vienna found itself the capital of a small republic that no-one really expected to survive very long. In 1921, the administration of Vienna was separated from that of the surrounding land of Niederösterreich and the city elected a socialist administration. "Red Vienna" was considered a model throughout Europe for its housing schemes (many of which survive today), but economic problems brought about an increasing radicalisation, and the paramilitaries of the left-wing "Schutzbund" and the right-wing "Heimwehr" frequently clashed. A fire at the Palace of Justice, the collapse of the country's largest bank and the dissolution of parliament in 1933 led to an Austrian Civil War in 1934, from which the totalitarian regime of Engelbert Dollfuß emerged. His brand of "Austro-Fascism" instituted public works to create employment, but could not resist the pressures of Hitler's Germany and Austria was united with Germany in 1938. Vienna had, at the time, one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe, something Hitler was all too well aware of, and on "Kristallnacht", the pogroms in Vienna were some of the worst in all the Third Reich.

Hitler's defeat brought occupation to Vienna, in a similar arrangement to that in place in Berlin: Soviet, French, British and American troops administered a region of the city each, although in Vienna, unlike Berlin, the central zone was an international zone. This period, sometimes known as "Vier-im-Jeep" from the practise of jeeps containing one soldier from each power patrolling the central zone, is represented in the film "The Third Man". This came to an end in 1955, when the four powers agreed to pull out of Austria, on condition that she remain non-aligned in the ongoing Cold War. Marshall Plan aid helped Austria to finance an economic boom similar to the German Wirtschaftswunder and Vienna began the process of rebuilding herself after the war and reinventing herself as a modern capital city for a modern Austrian Republic.

During the 1970's, Vienna's neutrality and central location in Europe helped to make her an official seat of the United Nations and the UNO-City complex was built, served by Vienna's new underground system, the first part of which opened in 1978. Vienna became something of a political hybrid during this period as well, becoming both a byword for forward-thinking, tolerant and left-leaning politics and at the same time conjuring up an image of grand old ladies, cream cakes and coffee and a wistful harking-back to the days of the Empire. The parliamentary elections of 1999 which resulted in the right-wing FPÖ taking part in a coalition government saw enormous peaceful demonstrations in the city, most memorably at night, when the Ringstrasse was entirely occupied between Heldenplatz and the Parliament Building by demonstrators holding candles.

City of Vienna History Info