The Ringstraße (Ring Road) is a circular road surrounding the Innere Stadt district of Vienna, Austria and is one of its main sights. It is typical of the historical style called Ringstraßenstil (Ringstraße Style) of the 1860s to 1890s.
The street was built to replace the city walls, which had been built during the 13th century and funded by the ransom payment derived from the release of Richard I of England, and reinforced as a consequence of the First Turkish Siege in 1529, and instead of the glacis, which was about 500m wide. The fortification had been obsolete since the late 18th century, but the Revolution of 1848 was required to trigger a significant change.
In 1850, the Vorstädte (today the Districts II to IX) were incorporated into the municipality, which made the city walls a simple impediment to traffic. In 1857, Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria issued the decree "It is My will" (Es ist Mein Wille at Wikisource) ordering the demolition of the city walls and moats. In his decree, he laid out the exact size of the boulevard, as well as the geographical positions and functions of the new buildings. The Ringstraße and the planned buildings were intended to be a showcase for the grandeur and glory of the Habsburg Empire. On the practical level, Emperor Napoléon III of France's boulevard construction in Paris had already demonstrated how enlarging the size of streets effectively made the erection of revolutionary barricades impossible.
Since the Ringstraße had always been meant primarily for show, a parallel Lastenstraße (cargo road) was built on the outside of the former glacis. This street is commonly known as 2-er Linie, named after the index "2" in the identifiers of the tram lines which used it. It is still important for through traffic.
After some disputes about competence between the government and the municipality, a "City Extension Fund" was created, which was administered by the government. Only the town hall was planned by the city.
During the following years, a large number of opulent public and private buildings were erected. Both the nobility and the plutocracy rushed to build showy mansions along the street. One of the first buildings was the Heinrichshof, owned by the beer brewer Heinrich Drasche, which was located opposite the opera house until 1945.
Sigmund Freud was known to take a daily recreational walk around the Ring.
Many of the buildings that line the Ringstraße date back to the time before 1870. The following are some of the more notable buildings:
- Vienna State Opera (formerly K.u.K. Hofoper) in neo-romantic style by August Sicard von Sicardsburg and Eduard van der Nüll
- Academy of Fine Arts Vienna
- Palace of Justice (now Federal Ministry of Justice)
- Austrian Parliament Building, in neo-attic style (a reference to the democracy of ancient Athens) by Theophil Freiherr von Hansen,
- Rathaus (Town Hall) in Flemish-gothic style by Friedrich Schmidt,
- Burgtheater (formerly K.u.K. Hofburgtheater) by Karl Freiherr von Hasenauer,
- University of Vienna, in neo-renaissance style (a reference to the beginnings of the university system in northern Italy,
- Votivkirche, in neo-gothic style (a reference to the gothic Cathedrals of France) by Heinrich Freiherr von Ferstel
- Wiener Börse (Vienna Stock Exchange)
- Ringturm, modern 1950s style
- Urania observatory
- Regierungsgebäude (formerly Kriegsministerium), in neo-baroque style by Ludwig Baumann
- Österreichische Postsparkasse (Postal Savings Bank), in Jugendstil by Otto Wagner
- Museum für Angewandte Kunst (Museum of Applied Arts) in neo-renaissance style by Heinrich Freiherr von Ferstel
- Hotel Imperial (formerly Palais Württemberg)
- Ringstraßengalerien, also known as the Korso, in modern 1990s style
- Palais Schey von Koromla
- Palais Ephrussi
The Hofburg was extended by an annex, the Neue Hofburg (New Hofburg), which houses the Museum of Ethnology and the Austrian National Library today. On the other side of the street, there are the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Art History) and the Naturhistorisches Museum (Museum of Natural History), which were built for the imperial collections. Originally, there should have been a parallel wing opposite the Neue Hofburg, which would have been attached to the Museum of Natural History. The Heldenplatz and the Maria-Theresien-Platz would have become the Kaiserforum. However, that plan was shelved for lack of funds.
The construction ended only in 1913 with the completion of the Kriegsministerium (Ministry of War). At that time, the Ringstraßenstil was already somewhat outdated, as is shown by the Postsparkassengebäude (Postal Savings Society Building) by Otto Wagner opposite the ministry building, which was built at the same time.
The Ringstraße was also generously planned with green areas and trees, the most notable parks being the Stadtpark with the Kursalon, Burggarten, Volksgarten, and Rathauspark, as well as a number of squares such as the Schwarzenbergplatz, Schillerplatz, Maria-Theresien-Platz and Heldenplatz. Dotted along the Ringstraße are various monuments. They include statues to Goethe, Schiller, Empress Maria Theresia, Prince Eugene of Savoy, Archduke Charles of Austria, the founders of the First Austrian Republic, Athena, Andreas von Liebenberg, Count Radetzky, Georg Coch, and Johann Strauss amongst many.
The biggest catastrophe was the fire of the Ringtheater in 1881, in which several hundred people died. It was subsequently demolished and replaced with the Sühnhof, which was built in memory of the more than 300 victims, and inaugurated by Emperor Franz Joseph. It was destroyed during the bombing of Vienna in 1945; today the municipal police-headquarters is there.
Other buildings that were destroyed or heavily damaged during World War II was the Opera, the opposite building Heinrichshof which was replaced in the 1950s with the Kärtnerhof. The Urania observatory, the Kriegsministerium and the Parliament building were heavily damaged, and the Burgtheater burned down. The famous Hotel Metropole, which was located at the Franz-Joseph-Kai, was completely destroyed and replaced with a monument to the victims of Nazism.
Sections of the Ringstraße
The Ringstraße has several sections. It surrounds the central area of Vienna on all sides, except for the northeast, where its place is taken by the Franz-Josephs-Kai, the street going along the Donaukanal (a branch of the Danube). Starting from the Ringturm at the northern end of the Franz-Josephs-Kai, the sections are:
- Schottenring (named after the Schottenstift)
- Universitätsring (formerly Dr.-Karl-Lueger-Ring, named after Karl Lueger; changed in April 2012)
- Dr.-Karl-Renner-Ring (Karl Renner)
- Burgring (Hofburg)
- Opernring (Vienna State Opera)
- Kärntner Ring (Carinthia)
- Schubertring (Franz Schubert)
- Parkring (Wiener Stadtpark)
- Stubenring (named after the Stubenbastei, part of Vienna's city walls since 1156)