A huge square marks the historical centre of Vienna. As you might expect, Am Hof sits among various buildings of interest, from townhouses that hosted a young Mozart to former civil armouries and 14th-century churches.
- The area once housed Heinrich II. Jasomirgott, first Duke of Austria, in the 1100s
- History buffs should look particularly for the Kirche am Hof church and Palais Collalto
- Home to notable Christmas and Easter markets, too
- See also: Michaelerplatz square | Freyung square
The buildings and their history
When the gloriously-named Heinrich II. Jasomirgott set up court in the newly-created Duchy of Austria in the middle of the 12th century, he built his residence on what is now Am Hof.
Heinrich was not the first to live here, mind you. For example, the area formed part of the Roman military camp of Vindobona. Nevertheless, the Duke’s arrival marked the true beginning of a long and illustrious history for the location.
Given the square’s age and central position, quite a few historical buildings have graced its edges…
Let us begin with the Mariensäule (Madonna column) in the centre, which dates back all the way to 1667 and the reign of Emperor Leopold I. The metal column and figures pay hommage to the immaculate conception, crowned with a statue of Mary herself.
The column replaced a stone Mariensäule constructed around 20 years earlier in gratitude for Vienna remaining safe from the marauding Swedish army toward the end of the 30 Years War.
(Leopold made a present of the original to a certain Count Georg Ludwig von Sinzendorf in Upper Austria, where it can still be seen today.)
Kirche am Hof
Our first proper address is Am Hof 1 – the large imposing church that dominates one side of the square. Historians estimate that construction began sometime in the 1380s, which makes the Kirche am Hof almost 650 years old.
As with so many such buildings, the church underwent extensive renovations and rebuilding through time. Most notably, the interior got a Baroque makeover in the early 1600s and the façade got one in 1662.
(Image of Pope Pius VI on Am Hof in 1782 with the church in the background. Courtesy of the British Library)
That façade has its own resonant history. Three popes have celebrated mass from the balcony, for example.
Park Hyatt Vienna
Excavation work suggests Roman barracks once stood on this site at Am Hof 2. Centuries later and the location still provides temporary accommodation for visitors from afar in the form of the luxury Park Hotel Hyatt.
The neoclassical building is just over 100 years old and a former bank, which leads to another historical coincidence since the ducal mint once operated here.
You can see the previous building at Am Hof 2 (the Habsburg equivalent of the Ministry of War) in the top left corner of the above picture, which dates back to sometime around the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Am Hof 3-4
Another location that goes back through the centuries. For example, a plaque on the wall reveals it was the site of the apostolic nunciature in Vienna between 1630 and 1913. Apparently, the future Pope Innocent XII worked here from 1668 to 1671.
Today’s building is “only” just over 100 years old, but still manages to squeeze in a little history: it once provided office space for the Nazi HQ of the Vienna administrative district. (Not something commemorated with a plaque.)
Am Hof 5
When you wander around the square, simple houses that might leave a lasting impression elsewhere earn little more than a shrug and a quick photo. So it is with Am Hof 5, built in 1820.
Though let’s throw in one historical fact: the municipal cheese exchange had premises at this location back in the late 1600s. Presumably they did good business selling Gorgonzola and Parmesan to their ecclesiastical neighbours.
Am Hof 6
This relatively new building (constructed in the 1950s after the previous one suffered extensive damage in WWII) houses the main offices of the Verbund electricity company. Notable for two reasons:
- The fiaker horse-drawn carriages pass along the street outside, so you can often get a suitable photo of one with the more historical-looking square as background
- The Yellow Fog art installation by Olafur Eliasson: at dusk, a fog (no prizes for guessing the colour) rises from where the walls meet the ground, creating an eerie effect intended to mark the change from day to night.
Fire service buildings
Once past the Verbund offices, you enter fire service territory. The buildings at Am Hof 7, 9, and 10 house the headquarters of the Vienna Fire Brigade, with, for example, offices, a museum, logistics departments and, of course, vehicles and emergency units.
Completed in 1730, this house at Am Hof 7 bears the name of its original owner, Christoph von Merklein. Needless to say, the building underwent various modifications in the intervening 300 years, perhaps seen most obviously in the exits put in last century for the fire engines.
The original architect, Johann Lukas Hildebrandt, left his mark elsewhere in Vienna, too. His most notable contribution was perhaps the palaces at Belvedere that now house some of the world’s greatest works of art.
Am Hof 9-10
The Vienna Fire Service has occupied these two locations since 1686. If the house at number 9 looks a little too modern, then that’s because it is. Add its predecessor to the list of places lost to WWII bombing. This photo from the late 19th century shows the previous building on the left:
Number 10 is the so-called Bürgerliches Zeughaus, which hints at an even earlier use for the building as a civil armoury in the 16th century. Most of what you can see is from rebuilding and conversion work carried out in the early 1730s. The richly-decorated façade, for example, includes the inscription Anno MDCCXXXII.
At the very top stand two figures by Lorenzo Mattielli holding a golden sphere; the statues represent strength and perseverance. Mattielli is another of those artists whose work graces many of Vienna’s landmark historical buildings, including the Karlskirche and Michaelerkirche churches.
The Narrow House
The slender building at Am Hof 8 dates back to Renaissance times and squeezes in between the fire service’s premises. The large Johann Kattus lettering refers to the premises of a “trader in delicacies” that opened here in 1857. The Kattus family business is now a well-known producer of sparkling wine.
A small complex of houses used to reside at Am Hof 11, which is now a relatively new building from 1883. The tanners once had their guild hall in the old Ledererhof, and coffee houses and restaurants catered to the market stallholders on the square outside.
The current building continues the commercial tradition by providing office space for a major insurance company (among others).
Back in 1683, during the Ottoman siege of Vienna, an artillery ball apparently hit the house here and lodged within its walls. The building’s owner had the ball painted gold (or covered in gold; I’m not sure which) and the house became known as Zur goldenen Kugel (English: “to the golden ball”). A plaque to the left of the entrance of the current building commemorates the event and the actual ball hangs above it on an iron ring.
Am Hof 12
The white-walled Baroque townhouse at the northeast corner of the square dates back centuries, but what you can see stems from around 1730.
The building marks the transition between Am Hof and the historical Jewish quarter. Exiting the square here takes you through to Judenplatz square, home to both the Holocaust memorial designed by Rachel Whiteread and a building used by the Jewish Museum for exhibitions.
And we complete our tour of Am Hof at number 13, the Collaltopalais, a late 17th century townhouse with an early 18th century façade.
The palais enjoys a particularly prominent place in the history of music thanks to a private concert given here in 1762. The performer was a young child named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; this was Mozart’s first ever public performance in Vienna.
Not a bad historical note to end on!