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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 2: The Baroque City 1683-1814

After the Ottomans were defeated and the threat of their mighty army receded, war broke out between the Austria and the French over the Habsburgs Spanish territories. Called the War of Spanish Succession, it ended at the famous battle of Blenheim which broke French superiority on the continent. The Austrian Habsburgs and the Spanish Bourbons, divided the spoils between them. With peace agreed and a wealth of new lands, the second episode tells the story of Vienna triumphant. The city was rebuilt. No longer would it be an outpost defending the West from Islamic invaders. Instead the Habsburgs vowed their empire and their imperial capital would become the greatest and most glittering in the world. As the Habsburg Emperors consolidated their power they transformed their city from a fortress into a great cultural capital. Vienna became a city that would define the arts; a magnet for musicians including Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. The spoils of war saw the construction of great palaces like Schonbrunn, home to the Habsburg’s first woman ruler Maria Theresa, the mother of Marie Antoinette. It was the French Queen’s execution that spawned revolution in France, Napoleon’s near destruction of Europe, the occupation of Vienna and the humiliation of the city’s imperial dynasty. But the Habsburgs were survivors. After Napoleons defeat, they would reinvent both themselves and their right to rule in an attempt to keep their troubled and fragile empire together. 

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