Heldenplatz or Heroes' Square is a historical place in the Vienna's 1st district that belongs to the complex of the Imperial Palace Hofburg. In its long history, it was a place where many important events took place. It has seen many heroes but also some cowards. Let me explain this statement in the following article.
The square that you can see today dates back to the end of the 19th century. Before, at this spot were the bastions of the Hofburg Palace. In 1809, the troops of Napoleon occupied the city of Vienna and blew up some parts of the city fortifications, including the palace bastions. After the removal of ruins, several squares and gardens were formed, but not as lavish and as big as today’s Heldenplatz. Only the Outer Castle Gate was not demolished, and it still stands as the entrance to Heldenplatz from the Ring Road.
Today’s appearance Heldenplatz received as a part of the lavish Vienna Ring Road project. The project that was undertaken from the 1860s to the 1890s included the demolitions of the medieval city fortifications and lying out of a circular grand boulevard.
As a part of a never finished Imperial Forum (Kaiserforum) of Vienna, Heldenplatz has never got its planned appearance. Kaiserforum should have been the culmination of the Ring Road project. Hofburg should have been extended for one more wing to the north, mirroring the structure of an already built Neu Burg. Together with the two biggest twin Vienna museums, it should have built one huge forum. However, its conceptual creator Emperor Francis I lost the interest in the project after the assassination of Empress Elisabeth, and the Kaiserforum was never finished. Nowadays, when you enter a vast Heldenplatz, you feel discomfort. Since it is too big and open from one side, you notice that something is missing there.
The square is actually empty. Only two big equestrian statues are sticking out. The first statue is dedicated to Prince Eugene of Savoy, who was a general of the Imperial Army and one of the most successful military commanders in modern European history. He has accomplished great achievements in his military career. He saved the Monarchy from the French conquest. Also, he saved Vienna from the Ottomans at the Siege of Vienna in 1683, he broke the Ottomans thrust liberating central Europe after a century and a half of Turkish occupation. The other statue represents Archduke Charles of Austria, a field-marshal and the brother of Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor. Although being epileptic, he is regarded as a very successful commander and a reformer of the Austrian army, and as a hero of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. In history, he is considered one of the most challenging opponents of Napoleon.
On 15 March 1938, at Heldenplatz from the balcony of the New Castle (Neu Burg), Adolf Hitler announced the Austrian Anschluss to Nazi Germany. The proclamation was a gesture of triumph over the previous government, and he was greeted by the masses with frenetic cheers, some because they had to do so, some not. There is a theatre play with the title "Heldenplatz" by Thomas Bernhard that refers to this event.
Heldenplatz plays an important role in Vienna’s history as the place of gathering. A vast majority of events were organized at the square. A lot of them were dedicated to heroes, but the one with cowards casts a shadow to this unfinished square. But, it is still worth visiting.
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