Vienna’s City Hall is a Visual Delight
On Tuesday night, the Mayor and Governor of Vienna, Dr. Michael Ludwig hosted a cocktail reception at city hall (Wiener Rathaus in German). Delegates were fascinated by the overwhelmingly grandiose space, and could be found wandering the rich red rugs lining hallways and stairways, peering through windows or stopping still to gaze up at the ornate ceilings. Check out our photos from the event, and read on to learn about the history of this spectacular building.
Constructed between 1872 and 1883 in a Neo-Gothic architecture style with Renaissance elements, the Rathaus is still inactive use, with over 2,000 employees. It’s used by the mayor, city council, and state parliament for daily operations and is also home to the Vienna library and archive.
Like many buildings around Vienna (including in Donau City), the design was selected by a competition. German architect Friedrich Schmidt’s plans were selected from 64 entries from Austria, Belgium, Germany, France and Italy. Unsatisfied with the original location plans, Mayor Cajetan Felder personally campaigned Emperor Franz Joseph I to move the building to its current position on the parade grounds.
Felder retired in 1878, so construction completion was supervised by Mayor Eduard Uhl. Uhl “forgot” to invite Felder to the building’s opening ceremony on 12 September 1883, which so offended Felder that he never set foot inside the building. (Rumour is, despite being miffed by the slight, he did drive past it each day in a Fiaker, a horse-drawn four-wheeled carriage for hire.) In a move classic of Europe’s long history, it was officially the “New Town Hall” (in contrast to the Baroque-style Old Town Hall used prior to 1883) until 1960.
Construction costs were split between the city and the Imperial-Royal government, totalling 14 million gulden (equivalent to about 168 million euros).
Rathaus is a six story (and two basement) stone building with a center tower topped with the iconic Rathausmann statue and flanked by two shorter towers on each of two wings. Through the wrought iron entry gates, seven interior courtyards open to the sky, each adorned with soaring columns, graceful arches, a multitude of windows, fine architectural scrollwork, and carvings of figures, animals, and mythical creatures. Rathaus has 1,575 rooms and more than 2.5 kilometres of hallways, illuminated with 2,035 windows.
The building is constructed from 30 million limestone blocks using ashlar masonry. Ashlar is precision-cut masonry where all sides of the stone are cut for extremely thin joins between blocks, with the visible face polished for the Rathaus construction. The limestone was quarried in Leitha Mountains, an offshoot ridge connecting the Alps and the Carpathians to the north.
The Festival Hall where the cocktail reception took place is 71 meters long, 20 meters wide and 18.5 meters high. While hightop top tables ideal for conversations over canapés dotted the hall during the reception, the space can be transformed to allow 1,500 waltzing couples to fill it’s emptied floor. Its barrel-like shape is a deliberate effort by the architect to avoid inspiring the impression of a church. Many of the reliefs inside the hall and around the building are historical figures important to Austria, while others are allegorical figures representing virtues or bourgeois occupations.
Rathaus was heavily damaged during World War II bombing, with major restoration taking place from the 1950s to 1970s. It is currently undergoing a 25 million euro renovation project started in 2012 with anticipated completion in 2023.
If you missed the reception, you can tour this spectacular building for free on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 13:00. Leave an ID at security to check out a free audio guide in English, French, Italian or Spanish.