Statue of a female figure on a building
Architecture,  Austria,  Photographing Public Art

Gallery: on the streets of Vienna

Vienna must be one of the most elegant cities in Europe. Its small scale gives it an air of intimacy that contrasts with the grandeur of many of its buildings. That’s an appealing combination.

On our last visit we spent quite a bit of time simply strolling the streets, mainly in bright June sunshine, taking in (and photographing) all the wonderful architectural details and monuments. Let me share some of them for this week’s Photographing Public Art challenge.


Tall dark column with figure of woman with halo on top
Tall dark column with figure of woman with halo on top

The Mariensäule or Maria Column stands in the largest square in the inner city, Am Hof. It was commissioned by the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand III, to thank the Virgin Mary for her aid in repelling the Swedish forces during the 30 Years’ War. She stands at the top of the granite column, surrounded by four cherubs clad in armour. These cherubs are depicted fighting against a lion, a serpent, a dragon and a basilisk, representing war, heresy, hunger and the plague.


Elaborate clock with female statuettes

The Art Nouveau Ankeruhr, the Anker Clock, dates from 1911-1914, and was the work of the painter and sculptor Franz von Matsch. It bridges two buildings belonging to the Anker Insurance Company (hence the name) in the Hoher Markt. Each hour one of twelve historical figures or pairs of figures move across the bridge. Every day at noon, all of the figures parade, each accompanied by music from its own era. The figures include a number of kings and queens, Joseph Hayden and others.


Two carved figures, one female in robes, the other a man with a beard
Gold sunburst carving on a black structure

Elsewhere in the Hoher Markt (which means High Market) is a large fountain, the Vermählungsbrunnen. This ornate marble and bronze piece dates from 1732 and is dedicated to the wedding of Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph. The base on which they stand is covered by a canopy in the traditional style of Jewish weddings. Our friend pointed out that it was fortunate that the fountain escaped destruction by the Nazis, who failed to spot the Jewish symbolism. Unfortunately for photographers, the statues are covered in the netting used copiously here in Vienna to afford protection from the mess of pigeons, so are hard to capture effectively on camera.

Some architectural details

We spent much of our sunny weekend in the city simply strolling around with friends or on our own, rather than focusing on seeing specific sights. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t see a lot. In particular I enjoyed spotting and photographing a myriad of beautiful and/or interesting architectural details. The city offers Gothic, Baroque, Art Nouveau and modern in abundance; although it is probably the Baroque for which it is best known. Not being an expert I am not always sure of the period from which a building dates, especially when so many of them have been reconstructed or redeveloped over the years. But it is the flourishes of Baroque and the more recent flamboyance of Art Nouveau that continually catches my eye.

Here are a few of my favourites:

Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial

I’m finishing with something rather more modern, and more sombre. The Judenplatz was the centre of Jewish life in Vienna in medieval times. The Jews lived in a ghetto of just seventy houses, their backs turned to surrounding streets to form a wall, and in the centre was this large square. They were persecuted almost constantly. Finally in the 15th century they were driven out of this area and indeed all of Austria by Duke Albrecht V. But they returned, although settling in a different part of the city.

Modern block sculpture and ornate older houses

In this square stands a prominent memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, the work of the English artist Rachel Whiteread. Our friends have told us that at the time of its erection here in 2000 there was a lot of controversy. Not everyone felt that such a memorial was needed, while others disliked this particular design on aesthetic grounds. It is true that it is not immediately attractive. But its clean lines, such a contrast with the Baroque flamboyance of much of Vienna, have a certain calm appeal.

It is intended to resemble a library in a room, maybe from one of the surrounding houses, turned inside out. The books are uniform, and their spines turned inwards; we see only the edges of their pages. They stand for the vast number of victims, as well as the notion of Jews as the ‘People of the Book’. The library has doors, but they too are inside out and have no knobs or handles. They suggest the possibility of coming and going but cannot be opened. It is deliberately bunker-like and brutal. Beneath the ever-closed doors a text in German, Hebrew and English reads:

In commemoration of more than 65,000 Austrian Jews who were killed by the Nazis between 1938 and 1945

I last visited Vienna in 2014 when these photos were taken


      • Alli Templeton

        I’ll get there one day. I’ve always been intrigued by it because of its connection with Mozart, one of the historical figures outside the medieval era that I’ve always been fascinated in. Always thought it was sad and ironic that a man with such genius ended up in an unidentified pauper’s grave there.

  • Annie Berger

    Very moving tribute to the Jewish memorial. I remember also being struck by its starkness initially but then grew attached to it when learning the meaning behind the design.

  • Amy

    Wow… these monuments! Beautifully captured. These reflect the glorious time of the glorious time of theor history.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I definitely recommend it for a city break! As I said to the other Margaret below, it has excellent food and drink (especially the wine!), beautiful architecture, great museums and a lovely cathedral 🙂

  • lisaonthebeach

    That last photo, and your description is quite chilling. It’s hard to image those who suffered and died. And the heart-breaking thing is that people are still being persecuted even today. Thank you for sharing!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Yes, it must be amazing to see the inner workings, as you say. Next time we go to Vienna I must try to be there at noon, when all the figures parade!

  • Marsha

    Unlike your other friends, I’ve never been to Vienna. The opulence of the first picture contrasted with the detail and style of the other statues definitely makes the Jewish art stand out. Having been well acquainted with a Holocaust survivor, the plain lines of this piece and the reference to libraries all seem so authentically Jewish. Great post, Sarah.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Marsha. It’s a beautiful city – this is just a taster of the public art there 🙂 As I said, we spent much of this visit with friends so I took fewer photos than usual! I’m glad you appreciated and understood that Holocaust memorial. It wasn’t (and perhaps still isn’t) popular with all the locals but I find it very moving and appropriate.

  • margaret21

    Only the other day we were saying we should visit Vienna. Malcolm’s never been, and I was about 10, which hardly counts. You’ve stiffened our resolve with this lovely post.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Oh yes do – it’s a super city for a weekend break or longer! Excellent food and drink, beautiful architecture, great museums and the wonderful Stephensdom 🙂

  • drk-themroc

    It’s always interesting to hear how tourists see my hometown. The scene depicted on the so-called Marriage Fountain does not belong to the Old Testament, but is part of the story of Jesus, and was perhaps considered by the Nazi ideologues to be part of the Christian history of salvation. This may have been one of the reasons why it wasn’t destroyed. The “Hohe Markt” is already mentioned in 1233 as “forum altum” (i.e. High Market), while the “Heumarkt” (Haymarket) is outside the old town, today beyond the “Stadtpark”. The Hoher Markt is one of the most historic squares in Vienna, where you can get an idea of Vienna’s history, from the excavations of Roman Vindobona to the “Anker Clock” from the last years of the Habsburg monarchy.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      And always interesting to get feedback from a local – thank you 🙂 Yes, the wedding of Mary and Joseph is indeed a New Testament period event (although I don’t believe it is described in either Old or New?) But of course they were Jews and married according to the Jewish tradition, hence the canopy. I will change my comment about the meaning of Hoher Markt – thank you!

  • CliffClaven

    I first visited Vienna early in 1971, to spend a week with a Bulgarian girl whom I had met when we were studying in Paris two years earlier. Vienna was building its metro system and the city was a patchwork of excavated sites under sprinklings of snow. It was easy to imagine the dark Vienna of Harry Lime and the Third Man during the post-war Allied occupation. And somehow dark-haired olive-eyed Nina and I never recaptured the Summer of ‘69 in the Winter of ‘71.
    Thanks for the memories!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Happy to have brought back some memories for you Michael 🙂 My first (brief) visit to Vienna was in 1979 so a little after yours. I liked it then but I think it’s been scrubbed up well since, so the buildings and monuments show to better advantage. I do find the netting a pain however, even if it does protect them from the birds!

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