If Austria ever has a revolution, this is where people will gather: Heldenplatz square in the centre.
- Huge square created in the early 1800s
- Surrounded by iconic buildings
- Venue for events (and demonstrations)
- Home to two famous statues and a military monument
- Also known for Hitler’s balcony speech in 1938
- See also:
(View across the square to the Neue Burg)
Heldenplatz (Heroes’ Square) began life in the early 1800s. French troops demolished part of the city’s fortifications and the authorities subsequently decided to leave the space so created as a large open area.
The square’s dimensions and content have changed with time, though, as various prestigious building projects went up in or around the area.
Today, the Ringstrassen boulevard lines the long southwest edge while various tracts of the Hofburg palace (most notably the buildings now used by Austria’s president) form the opposite northeast edge.
The construction of that Neue Burg wing next to Heldenplatz inadvertently led to one of world history’s most infamous moments.
On March 15th, 1938, the crowds gathered on the square to see a small mustachioed man emerge onto the Neue Burg balcony and loudly proclaim that his homeland was now part of the German Reich.
The man’s name? Adolf Hitler.
(Heldenplatz around 1877, as painted by Franz Alt; Wien Museum Inv.-Nr. 250313; excerpt reproduced under the terms of the CC BY 4.0 license)
Today, Heldenplatz largely serves as a recreational space and venue for events like the annual Festival of Joy.
Given the proximity to government offices (including those of Austria’s Prime Minister), the square also hosts the occasional demonstration.
Greta Thunberg appeared here in 2019, for example, alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said “I’ll be back” to the delight of the gathered crowd.
If you wander around, you might find two rather contemporary-looking buildings seemingly dumped unceremoniously in the middle of the square. These provided interim accommodation for Austria’s parliament while the main parliament building underwent renovation.
These buildings should disappear across 2023 and may have gone by the time you read this. They were already dismantling them when I passed through in early June.
The equestrian statues and Burgtor
(Archduke Karl’s statue)
Aside from the surrounding buildings, the standout features of the square are, perhaps, the two statues of men atop horses.
One statue is the 1860 rendition of Archduke Karl on a horse. The Archduke famously defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Aspern-Essling in 1809, which was the French Emperor’s first loss in many a year.
Not that Napoleon let the defeat affect him; a few weeks later and he was enjoying breakfast in the Habsburg summer palace having soundly beaten the Archduke at the Battle of Wagram.
(Prince Eugene’s statue)
The second equestrian statue sits right in front of the Neue Burg. This one is the 1865 portrayal of Prince Eugene of Savoy, renowned military commander and owner of the Belvedere and Schloss Hof palaces.
Another Heldenplatz feature is the Äußeres Burgtor gate, erected in the 1820s to replace the one the French destroyed.
Ostensibly a gateway into the square and Hofburg area, the Burgtor also served (and serves) as a military monument.
Conceived initially as an implicit symbol of triumph, the subsequent embellishments and below-ground expansions saw it converted into a monument to the fallen (particularly those of WWI and Austrian freedom fighters from the years before and during WWII).
How to find Heldenplatz
The square is huge, central and surrounded by tourist attractions. So you can hardly miss it on your travels. Heldenplatz is a popular part of any city walking tour and also a stop on the Future Bus VR tour (at least it was the last time I took it).
Subway: Heldenplatz lies close to four subway stations. Consider Herrengasse (on the U3 line), Stephansplatz (U1 and U3), Volkstheater (U2 and U3) and Museumsquartier (U2)
Tram/bus: Take the 1, 2, D or 71 lines to either of the Ring/Volkstheater or Burgring stops
Address: Heldenplatz, 1010 Vienna