If you were approaching your 140th birthday, you’d need a face lift too. Which is why parts of the exterior of Vienna’s famous Rathaus (city hall) may be hidden by renovation work.
- Whole façade should be finished around 2024
- See also: The Rathaus
Polished neo-gothic splendour
(The scaffolding around the main tower was also used for art installations; photo © Stadt Wien PID/Bernato)
The current restoration and renovation work on the Rathaus facade began in 2012 and should finish around 2024.
If that sounds like a long time, consider that this facade covers around 40,000m2 of historical surfaces and sculpted designs. Which is equivalent to about 95 basketball courts, if basketball courts were covered in reliefs and statues acting as metaphors and allegories for 3-pointers, rebounds, and tactical awareness.
(Pity the poor window cleaners, too, since the building has 2035 windows).
We’re now in construction phase 7, which covers two side towers and part of the front façade. Then the restoration experts move on to the other side towers in phase 8.
Just to give you an example of the work involved, think about the 17 carved figures that grace the exterior of the huge central tower (tackled in phase 6).
Obviously, the statues needed more than a quick blast with the leaf blower. We’re talking about valuable artefacts of the 19th century construction boom that saw such prestige projects as the Rathaus emerge from the remains of Vienna’s city fortifications.
Kathrin Gaal (City Councilwoman for Housing) reviews the work on the tower figures; photo © (PID/Markus Wache)
Built from Savonnières limestone, each figure is almost 3m high and weighs up to 1.8 tonnes. They provided both a decorative and representative role. So, for example, you have:
- Vindobona (the Roman name for Vienna) as the central figure at the front of the main tower, accompanied by two standard bearers (one for Vienna, one for the monarchy). The sculptor – Josef Fritsch – also created statues for the Burgtheater opposite the Rathaus
- Twelve figures carrying heraldic crests representing various crown lands belonging to Austria-Hungary (the name of the empire at the time of construction)
- Two figures serving as allegories for strength and justice. Like Fritsch, the responsible sculptor – Franz Gastell – also contributed to other monumental buildings of the time. For example, he did two of the figures you can see on the parapet of Austria’s parliament building
Another challenge that tested the skills of the restorers were reliefs located at the mezzanine level of the tower. These depict three particularly important Habsburg rulers:
- Rudolf I: the first Habsburg to head up the Holy Roman Empire and also the first Habsburg to include Vienna in his dominions
- Franz Joseph: Emperor at the time the building went up, which explains why he gets a relief (you don’t bite the hand that feeds you). Though, to be fair, Franz Joseph was always one of the most important personalities in Habsburg history, as this article explains
- Rudolf IV: another influential Habsburg chap. He founded the University of Vienna, for example, in the 14th century
So, if you find your view of the Rathaus curtailed a little by scaffolding, you now know why.