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Vienna: Empire, Dynasty and Dream

Simon Sebag Montefiore tells the story of how the Habsburg family transformed Vienna into the capital that it is today, during a dynasty era lasting nearly 1,000 years.

  • Updated Tuesday 26th September 2017
  • Introductory level
  • Posted under TV, German
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From the 13th to 20th century, Vienna was the capital of the Hapsburg dynasty and its middle European empire.

In this series, Simon Sebag Montefiore tells the story of how the Habsburgs transformed Vienna into a multi-national city of music, culture and ideas; of palaces and churches; of coffee houses, courtesans, and conquerors. 

He describes how Napoleon, Hitler, Mozart and Freud all played their part and how Vienna has become the monumental capital of Austria that it is today.

Watch Vienna on BBC Four

The three-part series starts at 9pm on Thursday 8 December on BBC Four. For more information about the series, visit the BBC's Vienna pages.

Here on OpenLearn you can explore Vienna's long history and rich culture with our interactive map of the city, a family tree of the Habsburg dynasty, personal stories of the Viennese and a guide to words and phrases in Austrian German.

Episode 1: The Imperial City 1160-1683

The first episode begins nearly 2,000 years ago when the Romans established the fortress of Vindobona in 15BC; built to defend Rome from the hostile Germanic tribes to the north. But when Rome fell to the Goths, Vandals and Huns, Vienna was plunged into the Dark ages. The only remnant of Roman civilization that remained was the fanatical belief in the new religion – Christianity.

Centuries later, faith re-ignited the city. It became the base for invasions into the infidel lands of the south and east and also for the Habsburgs, a Swiss German family who had emerged from the religious conflicts and the bloody dynastic wars of the Middle Ages. They chose Vienna to become the centre, the headquarters and the fulcrum of power in Europe. Choosing diplomacy over the battlefield, the Emperor Maximilian I brokered some of the biggest dynastic matches in European history and created an empire that included South America, Spain, Italy and much of Central Europe.

From Maximilian onwards, the history of the Habsburgs was the history of Europe. They became a warrior dynasty that formed Europe’s front line in the struggle to defend Christendom from the Ottoman Islamic advance, and the Catholic Church from the Protestant revolutionaries that plotted to destroy it. This is the story of how Vienna became the beating heartbeat of Europe and how a unique mix of influences provided the foundations to the world we know today.

Watch Episode 1, The Imperial City 1160-1683, on at 21:00 on Thursday 8th December 2016 on BBC Four.

Episodes in this series

Episode Description
Episode 1: The Imperial City 1160-1683 We begin 2,000 years ago when the Romans established a fortress to defend Rome from hostile Germanic tribes. Read more
Episode 2: The Baroque City 1683-1814 The story of Vienna triumphant. The city was rebuilt, and no longer would it be an outpost defending the West from... Read more
Episode 3: The City of Dreams 1814-1955 Napoleon Bonaparte has lost his empire and his throne. Europe’s most powerful men travel to Vienna to rebuild the... Read more