Part 3: The city acquires a new look (1273–1500)
When the Babenbergers died out in 1246 the Bohemian King Ottokar II Przemysl seized Austria, and with it Vienna. As the most powerful Prince of the Holy Roman Empire and Elector, and with papal assistance, he hoped to acquire the imperial crown. When, however, in 1273 a derided Habsburg count, but later founder of a great dynasty, Rudolf I became king of the Holy Roman Empire Ottokar refused to recognise him. Even though he subjugated himself in 1276, he tried to conquer the crown with a military campaign two years later. The campaign failed and Ottokar was mortally hurt on the battlefield.
From then on (for more than 600 years) the Habsburgs dominated the city scene. This can be understood quite literally because, for the first time, Rudolf systematically integrated imperial politics with the cities and the citizenry. The financial structure was built up and extra-ordinary taxes imposed to bring in money. In brief several economic aspects began to emerge.
In 1296 Vienna obtained a new municipal ordinance which brought a fresh heyday, interrupted then by the Plague in 1349. Attendant on the creation of Vienna as a major city were the creation of secular-authoritarian institutions such as a mint and a judiciary as well as ecclesiastical bodies, not forgetting the early development of educated classes coming from the oldest university ever to be set up in a German-speaking country.
The University of Vienna was founded under difficult circumstances in 1365 – Karl IV, making allowance successfully at first for Prague, prevented the creation of a theological faculty – and established itself increasingly as an “outstanding fosterage for natural sciences” and (from 1500 onwards) for humanism.
Residence city of the Holy Roman Empire
When the city’s importance as centre of the Habsburg empire continued to grow, despite economic crises in the 15th century – partly because Vienna was elevated in 1438/39 to be the residency of the Holy Roman Empire and in 1469 to be a bishopric – possibilities for expanding were restricted to the west of the city because of the presence of the Danube to the north and east. Aside from a bridge over the river Wien in the 15th century there was only one wooden bridge over the western branch of the Danube, located at the point where the present-day “Schwedenbrücke” stands, which had to be constantly rebuilt over heavy floods and ice flows. Apart from all this Vienna in the late Middle Ages must have been a comparatively luxuriously endowed city since, for example, nearly all the streets and squares were paved with soft sandstone.
A special “muck magistrate” was mainly responsible for the cleanliness of market places – a regulation which at that time was far from common. As residence of the Holy Roman Emperors and German Kings Vienna was in part the seat of the imperial authorities and seat of the central authorities of the Habsburg empire which was on the way to becoming a major power. From 1485 to 1490 between 20,000 and 25,000 Viennese were subjects of the Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus.