Kultur- und Themenführungen - Wien Fremdenführer - Wien

Cultural walking tours - Vienna

Guided tours - Vienna


Medieval Vienna



In 1156, the Babenberg sovereign Heinrich II Jasomirgott transferred his residence to Vienna, thus electing the small town capital of his newly created dukedom. Under the Babenbergs the city grew steadily, and during the reign of Leopold VI it reached the extent of today’s first district. The Babenbergs did not only found religious orders such as the monastery of the Scots (1155), they were also great benefactors of the town and patrons of medieval literature. The famous minstrels Walther von der Vogelweide and Neidhart von Reuental were residents at their court. The latter has gone down in history for singing about pretty country maids and peasant life – the gorgeous frescoes in Tuchlauben illustrate Neidhart’s favourite topics.

After the death of the last Babenberg Friedrich the “Warlike” in 1246, Austria was unified with the Bohemian lands under King Ottokar II, in 1278 the Habsburgs came to power. In the beginning the citizens opposed the Habsburg rule because the new dynasty was not willing to confirm the privileges Ottokar had granted them earlier.

The most charismatic personality of the early Habsburgs was Rudolf IV known as the “Founder”. He laid the cornerstone for the imposing south tower of Saint Stephen’s Cathedral and in 1365 established the University of Vienna. Rudolf also reformed the city administration, jurisdiction, the guilds and the tax system. Under his reign Vienna became one of the most prestigious and prosperous cities in the German speaking countries.

The 15th century, however, marks a period of crisis and decadence: the city was shaken by the Czech Hussites, economical demise, plague epidemics, the horrific pogrom organized against the Jews in 1420-21 by Albrecht V as well as by fraternal rivalries within the ducal family, leading to the civil war of 1462-63 and the cruel execution of mayor Wolfgang Holzer who was quartered on the square Am Hof. Only at the end of the 15th century - during the late years of Fiedrich III’s reign (who was lucky to outlive all his enemies) - the Habsburg lands could again be unified and the city was able to follow up the path of stability and prosperity.

At that time new ideas coming from Italy began to spread over Europe: Humanism and Renaissance which turned out to be a great challenge to the medieval primarily religious world order.




We start at the charming little Ruprechtskirche, Vienna’s oldest church dating back to the early middle ages. After crossing the Schwedenplatz which used to be a commercial port for the Danube boats we come to the medieval lane Griechengasse with its endearing historical houses. Not very far away lie the quiet grounds of the Heiligenkreuzerhof owned by the Cistercian monastery of Heiligenkreuz. Leaving the Heiligenkreuzerhof we come to Schönlaterngasse, one of Vienna’s oldest lanes. The houses there, built at the time of the Babenbergs, have a lot to tell about fabulous creatures and mysterious events.

The Bäckergasse (“lane of the bakers”) leads us into the district of the German merchants (Lugeck) and further to the old market square Hoher Markt. It was here that the guild houses and the Courthouse with the ill famed “Narrenkottl” (a kind of cage where drunkards, prostitutes, fortune-tellers were imprisoned) once stood.

An extraordinary gem of gothic art is the intimate little church Maria am Gestade (“Mary on the river bank”) which we will then visit. The medieval Jewish quarter on Judenplatz is just a few minutes away. Here the first synagogue was built during the 13th century. On this spot we will have to recall the terrible pogrom of the years 1420-21.

Crossing the square Am Hof where the Babenbergs had their ducal residence we come to the triangular square Freyung dominated by the monastery of the Scots, the oldest religious house founded by Heinrich II in 1155. The great highlight at the end of the walk are the unique frescoes inspired by Neidhart’s folk poems in Tuchlauben 19. These profane mural paintings showing season scenes, peasants’ merrymaking and children’s games decorate what was once the ballroom of a wealthy cloth merchant of the early 15th century.


Practical information


MEETING POINT: in front of Ruprechtskirche (Ruprechtsplatz) 1st district.

DURATION OF THE WALK: 2 hours. Please notice that this walk does not contain the Cathedral. If you want to include St. Stephan’s Cathedral the tour lasts 1 hour longer and you have to calculate the entrance fee to the Cathedral.

END OF THE TOUR: Tuchlauben 19.

ADMISSION FEES: Neidhart Fresken (Tuchlauben 19).

FURTHER READING: Nicholas T. Parsons: Vienna. A Cultural and Literary History, Oxford 2008.

Henriette Mandl: In Search of Vienna. Walking Tours in the City, Vienna 1995.