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Settled in prehistoric times, the central European land that is now Austria was occupied in pre-Roman times by various Celtic tribes. The Celtic kingdom of Noricum was later claimed by the Roman Empire and made a province. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the area was invaded by Bavarians, Slavs and Avars. Charlemagne conquered the area in 788, encouraged colonization, and introduced Christianity. As part of Eastern Francia, the core areas that now encompass Austria were bequeathed to the house of Babenberg. The area was known as the marchia Orientalis and was given to Leopold of Babenberg in 976.
The first record showing the name Austria is from 996 where it is written as Ostarrîchi, referring to the territory of the Babenberg March. In 1156 the Privilegium Minus elevated Austria to the status of a duchy. In 1192, the Babenbergs also acquired the Duchy of Styria. With the death of Frederick II in 1246, the line of the Babenbergs went extinct. As a result, Otakar II of Bohemia effectively assumed control of the duchies of Austria, Styria and Carinthia. His reign came to an end with his defeat at Dürnkrut at the hands of Rudolf I of Germany in 1278. Thereafter, until World War I, Austria's history was largely that of its ruling dynasty, the Habsburgs.
In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Habsburgs began to accumulate other provinces in the vicinity of the Duchy of Austria. In 1438, Duke Albert V of Austria was chosen as the successor to his father-in-law, Emperor Sigismund. Although Albert himself only reigned for a year, from then on, every emperor of the Holy Roman Empire was a Habsburg, with only one exception.
The Habsburgs began also to accumulate lands far from the Hereditary Lands. In 1477, Archduke Maximilian, only son of Emperor Frederick III, married the heiress Maria of Burgundy, thus acquiring most of the Netherlands for the family. His son Philip the Fair married the heiress of Castile and Aragon, and thus acquired Spain and its Italian, African, and New World appendages for the Habsburgs. In 1526, following the Battle of Mohács, Bohemia and the part of Hungary not occupied by the Ottomans came under Austrian rule. Ottoman expansion into Hungary led to frequent conflicts between the two empires, particularly evident in the so-called Long War of 1593 to 1606.
During the long reign of Leopold I (1657–1705) and following the successful defense of Vienna in 1683 (under the command of the King of Poland, John III Sobieski), a series of campaigns resulted in bringing all of Hungary to Austrian control by the Treaty of Carlowitz in 1699. Emperor Charles VI relinquished many of the fairly impressive gains the empire made in the previous years, largely due to his apprehensions at the imminent extinction of the House of Habsburg. Charles was willing to offer concrete advantages in territory and authority in exchange for other powers' worthless recognitions of the Pragmatic Sanction that made his daughter Maria Theresa his heir. With the rise of Prussia the Austrian–Prussian dualism began in Germany. Austria participated, together with Prussia and Russia, in the first and the third of the three Partitions of Poland (in 1772 and 1795).
Austria later became engaged in a war with Revolutionary France - at the beginning highly unsuccessful - with successive defeats at the hands of Napoleon meaning the end of the old Holy Roman Empire in 1806. Two years earlier, in 1804, the Empire of Austria was founded. In 1814 Austria was part of the Allied forces that invaded France and brought to an end the Napoleonic wars. It thus emerged from the Congress of Vienna in 1815 as one of four of the continent's dominant powers. The same year, the German Confederation, (German: Deutscher Bund) was founded under the presidency of Austria. Because of unsolved social, political and national conflicts the German lands where shaken by the 1848 revolution aiming to create a unified Germany. A unified Germany would have been possible either as a Greater Germany, or a Greater Austria or just the German Confederation without Austria at all. As Austria was not willing to relinquish its German-speaking territories to what would become the German Empire of 1848 the crown of the new formed empire was offered to the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV. In 1864 Austria and Prussia fought together against Denmark, and successfully freed the independent duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. Nevertheless as they could not agree on a solution to the administration of the two duchies, they fought in 1866 the Austro-Prussian War. Defeated by Prussia in the Battle of Königgrätz, Austria had to leave the German Confederation and subsequently no longer took part in German politics.
The Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, the Ausgleich, provided for a dual sovereignty, the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary, under Franz Joseph I. The Austrian-Hungarian rule of this diverse empire included various Slav groups such as Poles, Ukrainians, Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes, Serbs and Croats, as well as large Italian and Romanian communities. As a result, ruling Austria-Hungary became increasingly difficult in an age of emerging nationalist movements. Yet the central government tried its best to be accommodating in some respects; minorities were entitled to schools in their own language, for example. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914 by Gavrilo Princip (a member of the Serbian nationalist group the Black Hand) was the immediate cause for the outbreak of World War I, leading to the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Empire was broken up according to the Treaty of Saint-Germain, and the remaining subordinate territories became independent states. However, over 3 million German Austrians found themselves living outside of the newborn Austrian Republic in the respective states of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Hungary and Italy. Between 1918 and 1919, Austria was officially known as the Republic of German Austria (Republik Deutschösterreich). Not only did the Entente powers forbid German Austria to unite with Germany, they also forbade the name; it was therefore changed to the Republic of Austria. The monarchy was dissolved in 1919 and a parliamentary democracy was set up under the constitution of 10 November 1920.
In the autumn of 1922, Austria was granted an international loan supervised by the League of Nations. The purpose of the loan was to avert bankruptcy, stabilize the currency, and improve its general economic condition. With the granting of the loan, Austria passed from an independent state to the control exercised by the League of Nations. The First Austrian Republic, lasted until 1933 when Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss dissolved parliament and established an autocratic regime tending towards Italian fascism. The two big parties at this time — the Social Democrats and the Conservatives — had paramilitary armies, which fought each other as civil war broke out.
In February 1934, several members of the Schutzbund were executed, the Social Democratic party was outlawed and many of its members were imprisoned or emigrated. In May of that year the Fascists introduced a new constitution ("Maiverfassung") which cemented Dollfuss's power but on 25 July he was assassinated in a Nazi coup attempt. His successor Kurt Schuschnigg, struggled to keep Austria independent, but on 12 March 1938 German troops occupied the country and established a plebiscite confirming union with Germany. Hitler, a native of Austria, proclaimed the annexation (Anschluss) of Austria by Germany. Austria was incorporated into the Third Reich and ceased to exist as an independent state. The Nazis called Austria "Ostmark" until 1942 when it was again renamed and called "Alpen-Donau-Reichsgaue." Vienna fell on 13 April 1945 during the Soviet Vienna Offensive just before the total collapse of the Third Reich. Karl Renner astutely set up a Provisional Government in Vienna in April with the tacit approval of the victorious Soviet forces, and declared Austria's secession from the Third Reich.
Much like Germany, Austria, too, was divided into a British, a French, a Soviet and a U.S. Zone and governed by the Allied Commission for Austria. Largely owing to Karl Renner's action on April 27th in setting up a Provisional Government, however, there was a subtle difference in the treatment of Austria by the Allies. The Austrian Government was recognized and tolerated by the Four Powers. Austria, in general, was treated as though it had been originally invaded by Germany and liberated by the Allies. On 15 May 1955 Austria regained full independence by concluding the Austrian State Treaty with the Four Occupying Powers. On 26 October 1955 Austria was declared "permanently neutral" by an act of Parliament, which remains to this day.
The political system of the Second Republic came to be characterized by the system of Proporz, meaning that most posts of political importance were split evenly between members of the Social Democrats and the People's Party. Interest group representations with mandatory membership (e.g. for workers, business people, farmers) grew to considerable importance and were usually consulted in the legislative process, so that hardly any legislation was passed that did not reflect widespread consensus. The Proporz and consensus systems largely held up to 1983.
The country became a member of the European Union in 1995 and retained its constitutional neutrality, like other EU members, such as Sweden. The major parties SPÖ and ÖVP have contrary opinions about the future status of Austria's military neutrality: While the SPÖ supports a neutral role, the ÖVP argues for stronger integration into the EU's security policy; even a future NATO membership is not ruled out by some ÖVP politicians. Since the "permanent neutrality" forms part of the Austrian constitution, a two-thirds majority in the Austrian parliament would be needed for such a change in policy.
Source: Wikipedia Encyclopedia
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