I’m not going to lie. The Austriabrunnen on the Freyung square rarely makes an appearance on any tourist top 10 lists. But this small fountain shows how insignificant features within such a city as Vienna hide so much historical detail.
- Mid-19th century bronze, granite and limestone fountain
- Figures use representations of great rivers to hint at the power of the Austrian Empire
- See also: Neptune fountain
Imperial figures and rivers
Brunnen means fountain in German, which makes translating Austriabrunnen (first revealed to the public in 1846) into English relatively easy.
It seems somewhat unimaginative to name something for the country it stands in, but the Austrian Empire was still relatively young at the time, and the authorities in Vienna have never been reluctant to do a bit of patriotic showboating in bronze and stone.
Five allegorical figures make up the main part of the object.
The top figure is the personification of the empire. Armed with lance and shield, the berobed Austria looks across the square in the direction of the Hofburg (home to the emperor).
But the four figures lower down offer a more intriguing story. Each represents a river passing through imperial lands. But not just any rivers.
The Elbe, Danube, Po and Vistula represent some of Europe’s greatest waterways. Each passed through part of the Austrian Empire at the time and each discharged its waters into a different sea.
As such, the Austriabrunnen encapsulated the extent and influence of the Habsburg monarchy.
- The Elbe would have crossed much of the Austrian crown lands of Bohemia on its way to the North Sea
- The Danube passed directly through Vienna and Hungary on its way to the Black Sea
- The Po skirted the southernmost parts of the Austria-ruled Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia and emerged into the Adriatic Sea below Venice
- On its journey northward to the Baltic Sea, the Vistula marked much of the border of Austria-ruled Galicia with the Kingdom of Poland
The inscription running around the plinth that holds the four river figures reads (my rough translation):
Erected by the citizens of Vienna during the rule of Ferdinand I
The contract for designing the fountain went to Ludwig von Schwanthaler in Munich (outside the empire!), where Ferdinand Miller’s foundry also cast the various bronze figures.
Schwanthaler’s other works include such relatively famous pieces as the Mozart monument in Salzburg (not to be confused with the Vienna equivalent) and the giant Bavaria statue outside Munich’s colonnaded Ruhmeshalle “hall of fame”.
Miller’s work had an even wider impact. He cast, for example, the Columbus doors of the main entrance to the Capitol Building (!) in Washington DC.
The response to the fountain seems to have been positive: the city made Schwanthaler an honorary citizen in 1847 for his watery contribution.
How to get to the Austriabrunnen
The fountain sits in the middle of the Freyung. Follow the link for travel tips and extensive information on the many historical buildings around this square with its intimate ties to a 12th century abbey neighbour.
Address: Freyung, 1010 Vienna