When Emperors build gates, they require more than a bit of wrought iron and a large key. The monumental Burgtor with its triumphal arches serves as a gateway to Vienna’s Hofburg complex but also as a military monument.
- Erected in 1821 in honour of Austrian military success against Napoleon
- Redesigned (internally) across the 1900s to honour the WWI fallen, resistance fighters, and others
- Also known as
- The Äußeres Burgtor (outer Burgtor)
- Heldendenkmal (heroes monument)
- See also:
Gate, monument, place of reflection
Burgtor translates directly as castle gate, which leads to entirely the wrong expectations given the lack of moats, bastions or, indeed, any castle at all in the vicinity.
The name does make sense, though, when you consider the nearby area was once an entranceway in the walled fortifications that surrounded Vienna’s old town in earlier centuries.
Napoleon’s intervention set in motion the eventual conversion to a free-standing monument. Following his 1809 occupation of Vienna, French troops blew up parts of the city fortifications (largely because they could, I think, rather than through any military necessity).
Over the next few years, the Austrians set about various rebuilding efforts, which included constructing the Burgtor: a gateway within a purely representative curtain wall, leading onto Heldenplatz and the Hofburg complex.
(View of the Burgtor (original concept by Cagnola) and court stables behind (today’s MuseumsQuartier); Jakob Alt (Artist), 1819; Wien Museum Inv.-Nr. 31250; excerpt reproduced under the terms of the CC BY 4.0 license; photo: Wien Museum)
The original design by Luigi Cagnola was never completed. Instead, most of what we see can be ascribed to Pietro Nobile (1774-1854). This Swiss-born architect also designed, for example, the nearby Theseus Temple.
The Burgtor’s monumental nature and triumphal arches stem from its second role commemorating the efforts of the Austrian military in dealing with the by-now defeated French. This symbolism was brought home by using soldiers as construction workers and setting the official unveiling for October 16th, 1824.
That date was the anniversary of the 1813 Battle of Leipzig, where troops led by Vienna-born Karl Philipp Prince of Schwarzenberg dealt a decisive blow to Napoleon (the prince has his own equestrian statue over on the aptly-named Schwarzenbergplatz square).
Once all the fortifications (new and old) came down in that great period of urban expansion in the late 1800s, the Burgtor remained as a free-standing monument.
While the outside has survived largely intact, the insides underwent rebuilding and repurposing through the years.
For example, the 1930s saw the Burgtor become a monument to the fallen of WWI (with a veneer of fascism overlying everything given the timeline), with a crypt and open-air halls of honour accessible through gates at the sides.
(This monument adjacent to the Burgtor honours police officers who lost their life in service.)
The 1960s saw the addition of a commemorative room to Austrian resistance fighters, and the whole now serves as more of a general tribute to military sacrifice and effort in pursuit of democratic ideals.
As such, you might consider the Burgtor a symbol of Austria trying to escape its past, difficult though that might be.
Three large inscriptions dominate the long sides of the monument (my rough translations):
- Franciscus I. Imperator. Austriae. MDCCCXXIV (Franz I, Emperor of Austria, 1824)
- Iustitia. Regnorum. Fundamentum (Justice is the foundation of rule)
- Laurum. Militibus. Lauro. Dignis. MDCCCCXVI (Laurels to soldiers worthy of laurels 1916) (after a WWI fundraising initiative)
(Provided no cars are on the road, you can get a nice shot of the Maria Theresa monument framed in the arches of the Burgtor.)
How to get there
Just follow the travel tips for Heldenplatz square.
Address: Heldenplatz 21/4, 1010 Vienna