World Heritage
is more…

18. April 2022

... than meets
the eye.

In order to make the diversity and many facets of our unique World Heritage sites tangible for you, we will celebrate the Austrian World Heritage Day on 18 April 2023.

Every year on 18 April, the twelve Austrian World Heritage Sites celebrate the “Austrian World Heritage Day”. As a joint day of action, it is intended to help draw attention to UNESCO World Heritage in Austria and to raise awareness of the fact that constant efforts are needed to preserve these unique cultural and natural treasures from decay or destruction. Within the framework of this day, the twelve Austrian World Heritage Sites want to make World Heritage in Austria tangible and experienceable. Special events and activities – on site and online – allow unusual views of the old, open up new perspectives or give an impression of the work and efforts to protect and preserve these unique places and sites.

Since 1983, on the initiative of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), UNESCO has celebrated 18 April as the “International Day of Monuments and Sites” or “World Heritage Day”. Following this international day, the Conference of Austrian World Heritage Sites in 2020 decided to establish such a day of action in Austria as well.

UNESCO is an important member of the “UN family” – consisting of 15 specialised agencies. Its goal: to preserve, create and secure peace through the means of culture, education, and science. A total of 193 Member States and 11 Associate Members are committed to this goal. UNESCO’s headquarters are in Paris. UNESCO was founded in November 1945, shortly after the United Nations. The catastrophes of the first half of the 20th century provided the occasion and background: two world wars with millions of deaths, the persecution and extermination of ethnic, religious, and other minorities, totalitarian systems, weapons of mass destruction: Because hatred and prejudice originate in the mind, they would have to be prevented there as well.

With numerous programmes and projects, UNESCO tries to find answers to problems and to counter them with knowledge, exchange, and cooperation. The observance of human rights, gender equality and the sustainable use of nature are essential guidelines.
In Austria, the Austrian Commission for UNESCO ensures UNESCO’s presence and acts as a contact and advisory office for UNESCO affairs in Austria.

In 1972, the Member States of UNESCO established the “Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage” (in short “World Heritage Convention”) in order to protect cultural and natural sites of global significance.

For a building, an ensemble of buildings, a natural monument, or a landscape to be considered a World Heritage Site, one key condition must be met: The cultural or natural entity must be of “outstanding universal value”. This means that it must clearly stand out from the abundance of comparable objects. And: its decay or wanton destruction would be an irretrievable loss for humanity. External expert advisors from cultural and nature conservation organisations examine the applications and recommend inclusion or rejection to the World Heritage Committee. The procedure takes special account of aspects such as cultural diversity and sustainability.

So far, 194 states have signed this international treaty and committed themselves to preserving those cultural and natural sites of outstanding universal value for future generations. There are currently 1,157 World Heritage Sites in 167 countries around the world. They are invaluable testimonies to natural and human history.


Historic Centre of the City of Salzburg
Historic Centre of 
the City of Salzburg
Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests

Ancient Beech Forests of the Carpathians and other Regions of Europe

Palace and Gardens
of Schönbrunn

Palace and Gardens of Schönbrunn

City of Graz – Historic Centre
and Schloss Eggenberg

City of Graz – Historic Centre and Schloss Eggenberg

City of Graz – Historic Centre and Schloss Eggenberg

City of Graz – Historic Centre and Schloss Eggenberg



Fertő/Neusiedler See

Fertő/Neusiedler See

Historic Centre oft Vienna

Historic Centre of Vienna

Semmering Railway

Semmering Railway

Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps
Prehistoric Pile Dwellings
around the Alps
Great Spa Towns of Europe

Great Spa Towns of Europe

Frontiers of the Roman Empire – The Danube Limes

Frontiers of the Roman Empire – The Danube Limes

18. April 2024

Historic Centre
of the City of Salzburg

Away from the hustle and bustle of the festival and the “Mozartkugel”, the World Heritage Site of Salzburg recounts the baroque splendour of the prince archbishops, the pride of the bourgeoisie and the simple austerity of the monasteries.

Type of site: Cultural site
Registration: 1996
Criteria: (ii), (vi), (iv)
State: Salzburg

Mirabell Garten in Salzburg an einem Herbstmorgen in Österreich, UNESCO
View of the Hohensalzburg Fortress from the Mirabell Gardens
Capital of Baroque on the northern margin of the Alps

The city has a fascinating history. It began as a Celtic settlement between Salzburg’s hills, where the Romans then built luvavum, an important district capital in the province of Noricum. In the Middle Ages – with the rise of the salt mines – the city flourished again.

Salzburg saw only slow and minor changes – until around 1600, when Prince Archbishop Wolf Dietrich began to transform the city into the seat of the sovereign. Entire rows of houses had to make way for impressive squares and prestigious buildings. However, parts of the burgher town were spared – just like the baroque cathedral town as a whole later escaped modernisation. World Heritage: an incomparable townscape and harmonious combination of architecture and surrounding landscape.

Salzburg is closely associated with the name of Mozart, and not only because he was born there. It was in the aristocratic and courtly milieu that the young Mozart’s genius began to unfold. And from there his fame spread all over the world.

The power of the white gold

Salzburg owes not only its name but also its origins to salt. In early historical times already, the “white gold” was mined in the area. The point where the River Salzach enters the Salzburg Basin was the ideal location for transshipment.

In the early Middle Ages, Salzburg was already an episcopal see and centre of Christianisation. From around 1350, the archbishops also assumed secular power over their territory. They resided as prince archbishops in what is now the cathedral district and only withdrew to the castle overlooking the city in times of crisis. They had Hohensalzburg developed into a fortress in several phases. It acquired its present dimensions and impressive appearance around 1500.

All the city a stage

The wealth and power of the prince archbishops were immense. It was under their authority that a grandiose ensemble of secular and sacred buildings was created in the 17th and 18th centuries. This Gesamtkunstwerk reflected the church’s absolutist claim to power and the principle of undivided rule.

The focus was on composition on a grand scale – and art imported from Italy, including works by star architects such as Vincenzo Scamozzi and Santino Solari. The sculptors and painters also made masterly use of the classical vocabulary of the Renaissance, Mannerism and Baroque. Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, who trained in Rome himself, designed some of the major buildings of the High Baroque here: Against the backdrop of the surrounding mountains, Salzburg became a magnificently appointed stage.

Salzburg historisches Zentrum mit grünen Blättern und Sonnenschein Österreich
The old town of Salzburg with a view of the fortress
City of Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg on 27 January 1756. However, his relationship with the city of his birth remained ambivalent, and Salzburg was never at the centre of his life. Mozart and Salzburg: The close connection between the city and the composer’s name – and its marketing – was a purely posthumous development.

About fifty years after Mozart’s death, local citizens established a society for the preservation and promotion of his work. Soon there was talk of celebrations and festivals. But the time was not ripe until the dramatist Hugo von Hofmannsthal and the theatre visionary Max Reinhardt founded the Salzburg Festival in 1920 and combined their ideas with the veneration of Mozart. International acclaim for the festival also put Salzburg on the world map as the city of Mozart.

Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and other Regions of Europe

Almost untouched by human influence, remnants of Europe’s last primeval forests remain hidden – and provide valuable insights into the history of nature and evolution.

Type of site: Natural site
Registration: first 2007, extension 2011 und 2017 (with Austria)
Criteria: (ix)
In 12 states
States: Upper Austria and Lower Austria

Buchenurwald im Reichraminger Hintergebirge, Nationalpark Kalkalpen, Österreich, UNESCO Weltnaturerbe
Primeval beech forest in the Kalkalpen National Park © Erich Mayrhofer

Relics of a world of nature without human beings

Before humans settled in Europe, four-fifths of it was covered with forest – predominantly beech. However, as the human populations – and hence demand for arable land and pasture – increased, the forests shrank. Wood was used as fuel and remained the most important raw material for building and making tools and utensils from the Stone Age to the Industrial Age.

Today’s forests cover only about one third of the area of Europe. The majority of these are commercial forests, which have been under intensive management for centuries. Only remnants of the primeval beech forests remain. Together with old, near-natural stands, these “enclaves” constitute a natural World Heritage Site in twelve countries.

In Austria, they include the ancient beech forests in the Kalkalpen National Park and the primeval beech forest in the Dürrenstein Wilderness Area. There scientists from various disciplines are studying the development of animal and plant species and the interrelationships between climate and the environment.

Beech (Latin Fagus sylvatica)

This species of tree is found only in Europe. It is very common from the Atlantic to east-central Europe (Bukovina translates as “beech country”), from southern Sweden to the Balkans, and in the Apennines.

The beech success story begins in the Middle Interglacial, around the fifth millennium before our time. During the Ice Age, all tree species retreated to the southern margin of Europe. When the glaciers receded, they returned to the cold steppes. The beech has been native to southern Sweden for a long time, and it is conceivable – in the light of global warming – that it will spread still further to the north.

At lower elevations, the beech gradually prevailed over all its competitors. As a shade-tolerant tree, it easily displaced the light-loving species. In the mountains, beech forests also contain firs and, on higher and cooler shady slopes, increasing numbers of spruce.

At the heart of the wilderness

The Rothwald forest forms part of the Dürrenstein Wilderness Area in the Lower Austrian Limestone Alps. A piece of primeval forest covering about four square kilometres has been preserved in its interior. The fact that the forest has escaped clear-cutting is nothing short of a miracle: Because the monasteries of Gaming and Admont were in dispute over ownership and usufruct rights for centuries, the forest remained untouched.

After periods of nationalisation and private ownership, the banker Baron Albert de Rothschild acquired the forest in 1875. The philanthropist and patron of the arts was also committed to the protection of nature. He merely had a – comfortable – carriage track laid out as far as the edge of the forest. Having also survived the 20th century, the forest now enjoys the highest status in terms of international nature conservation: Category Ia.

Buchenmischwald mit Schluchtwaldcharakter
National Park Kalkalpen © Franz Sieghartsleitner

Wild and rich in species

The Kalkalpen National Park in Upper Austria is home to a total of six beech forest communities. Where they are not remnants of primeval forests, they are near-natural stands. Some of them are in the process of reverting – or rather progressing – into forest wilderness.

With modern scientific methods, the age of the trees can be determined with great precision. Individual beech trees are over 500 years old: the oldest specimen was already growing when St. Stephen’s Cathedral was being built in Vienna.

The beech forests have a high level of biodiversity. The rare white-backed woodpecker is considered a reliable indicator of an intact environment, and six lynxes currently live in the area.

Palace and Gardens Of Schönbrunn

Where the Habsburgs once resided and the members of the court used to stroll, witnesses of an imperial past can still be discovered today at the World Heritage Site of Schönbrunn.

Type of site: Cultural site
Registration: 1996
Criteria: (i), (iv)
State: Vienna

Schloss Schoenbrunn mit Brunnen im Vordergrund
Ehrenhof © Schloss Schoenbrunn
Kultur- und Betriebsges.m.b.H. Alexander Eugen Koller
Prestigious hallmark of a formative dynasty

Schönbrunn is an iconic site of the Habsburgs. For three centuries the emperors, kings and archdukes of the dynasty and their courts spent their summers there. Schönbrunn was the splendid focus of courtly life for one of Europe’s most powerful dynasties.

Today Schönbrunn appears as it did in the final days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Of the palace’s former total of three hundred and seven rooms, eighty-four are still to be seen in their original state.

The castle and the gardens form an inseparable whole. The individual areas are connected by a network of paths and artistically furnished with buildings, fountains and statues: the palace, the Orangerie, the Gloriette and the zoo – each an attraction in their own right and together a gesamtkunstwerk. In 1996 Schönbrunn was declared a World Heritage Site as a unique ensemble in terms of art and cultural history.

Varied history

The history of Schönbrunn goes back to the 14th century. The area now occupied by the palace and its grounds was originally a hunting reserve located far beyond the city walls. It was first the site of a mill, then a manor house and later a summer residence, which was severely damaged during the siege of Vienna by the Turks. In 1693, Emperor Leopold I commissioned the construction of a hunting lodge.

The design and construction work were entrusted to the Baroque master builder Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach. A few years after the start of construction, however, the work stalled and then was completely stopped. A revamp and upgrade for a residential palace began in 1743 under Maria Theresa. The redesign of the palace and gardens was completed in 1780.

The names of the rooms are themselves expressions of exquisite, exotic and luxurious taste: Yellow Salon, Porcelain Room, Mirror Room, Vieux-Laque Room, Chinese Cabinets. As an extension of the prestigious interiors, the baroque garden served as a symbol of power. Several generations left their mark on the sumptuous décor.

Prestige and taste

The baroque palace was the visible expression of the absolute power of a monarch to whom all subjects had to submit. The strictly geometrical gardens with their elaborate ornamental plants speak the same language. Their message: In addition to the state, nature is also subject to the will of the sovereign.

The changes made by Maria Theresa and her husband Francis I are revealing. The design of the palace and gardens was no longer based solely on the need for prestige. Personal taste came more to the fore and – indirectly – betrayed a new understanding of governance. It was also Maria Theresa who opened the grounds to the public in 1778.

Berglzimmer im Schloss Schoenbrunn Österreich
Berglzimmer © Schloss Schoenbrunn
Kultur- und Betriebsges.m.b.H. Severin Wurnig
Where history was made

The palace was not only a residence but also the setting for the daily business of government, official receptions, festive events and glittering balls. The mighty of Europe were received and world history written there.

In 1809, Napoleon and Francis I signed the peace treaty between France and Austria at Schönbrunn. Emperor Francis Joseph I, who was born and died there, lived and officiated at Schönbrunn all year round in the last years of his life. It was in the palace that his successor, Charles I, renounced participation in the affairs of state in Austria and Hungary on 11 November 1918.

Schönbrunn witnessed not only the splendour but also the demise of the Habsburg monarchy.

City of Graz – Historic Centre and Schloss Eggenberg

Once the residence of emperors and princes, the World Heritage Site of Graz fascinates with its two centres – the old town and the castle – in the interplay between the past and the modern.

Type of site: Cultural site
Registration: 1999, Extension to Schloss Eggenberg in 2010
Criteria: (ii), (iv)
State: Styria

Arkadenhof des Landhaus Graz, Österreich UNESCO
Renaissance arcaded courtyard of the Graz country house
Gems of architectural history at the gateway to south-eastern Europe

The city of Graz and Schloss Eggenberg form – somewhat unusually – a World Heritage Site with two core zones. They ideally complement each other.

What distinguishes Graz and sets it apart from other cities are its outstanding specimens from the history of architecture – from the Romanesque period to the present day. When Graz was the residence of the sovereign, the number of prestigious buildings grew in terms of both numbers and their exceptional quality: Renaissance arcaded courtyards, Baroque mansions and churches, elegant town houses – linked by streets and squares to form a coherent whole.

Even against such a backdrop, Schloss Eggenberg clearly comes into its own. The Eggenberg family – who owed their wealth to commerce and coin minting operations – played a prominent role as politicians, financiers and diplomats. At the end of the 16th century they were raised to the nobility. Their palace is a public statement: It is an unequivocal claim to status and at the same time a reflection of the cosmic order.

Schloss Eggenberg in Österreich UNESCO
Schloss Eggenberg
Between rock and river

The old town of Graz developed at the foot of the Schlossberg in the High Middle Ages. The layout of the original farm town is still evident today: Behind the houses, animals were kept in the farmyard and crops were grown.

In the early modern period, the pace of urban development accelerated: the Habsburgs resided in their new castle. The estates assembled in the austere Renaissance Landhaus. The nobility sought the proximity of the court and built prestigious palaces. Catholic orders constructed Baroque churches and monasteries and founded a university. Emperor Ferdinand II had his monumental mausoleum erected.

The 19th century brought industrialisation, growth and change. Some of the houses in the Old Town were given Historicist or even modern facades, but the structure and substance of the old city of Graz were preserved.

Baroque model of the cosmos

A Styrian castle resembling a Spanish royal palace? Not exactly a sign of modesty! And so it is only logical that the members of the ruling family should be represented as gods in the central Planetary Room.

From the outside, the building has a withdrawn, almost forbidding aspect. Inside, however, more than 500 wall and ceiling paintings open up the boundless spaces of Olympus. 365 windows, 31 rooms on each floor, 24 state rooms on the piano nobile, four sides and four towers: a castle as a cosmological clockwork and a universe in architectural form.

The Eggenberg line soon became extinct. The heirs had little interest in the castle and limited their involvement to its upkeep. Even today the state rooms are without electricity: the perfect place to experience the Baroque in its purest form, including by candlelight.

Traditionally modern

Graz has seen a lot of change over the centuries. Unlike many other cities, however, not only individual objects and ensembles have been preserved; the basic character of the city has also remained intact.

Graz is considered a very good venue for new developments in art, literature and music. On the other hand, plans proposed a few decades ago to create a “car-friendly city” met with fierce protests. As a result, historic buildings and ensembles were given legal protection, which in turn led to the inscription of Graz on the World Heritage List.

As a World Heritage Site, Graz follows strict and proven rules for urban development; contemporary architecture is a distinctive aspect of quality in the Old Town.


Formed by salt and shaped by millennia, the cultural landscape around Hallstatt – the “Salzkammergut” – captivates with its unique history and wild natural beauty.

Type of site: Cultural heritage (cultural landscape)
Registration: 1997
Criteria: (iii), (iv)
States: Upper Austria, Styria

Blick auf See im Salzkammergut
Mountain panorama around Lake Hallstatt
Taming of a landscape in a world of salt mining

Salt has been mined in Hallstatt for three and a half millennia and is still mined today. Archaeological finds from the Early Iron Age, about 800 to 500 BC, are so significant and numerous that the term “Hallstatt culture” was adopted by the scientific community.

In historical times, salt mining was resumed in the Middle Ages. The mineral wealth from the princely “Kammergut” (estate of the sovereign) constituted a secure source of income for the Habsburgs for centuries.

The World Heritage Site comprises the inner Salzkammergut and the Dachstein. It has a total area of about 300 square kilometres. The World Heritage communities of Hallstatt, Obertraun and Gosau and their lakes are surrounded by the Dachstein massif.

The high mountains have a distinctive scenic beauty and a “diversity extending to infinity” (Friedrich Simony). It is no coincidence that nature writing, landscape painting, geography and tourism in Austria all have one of their origins there.

An epoch discovered

Miners came across prehistoric objects in the course of their work in the Middle Ages already, but the real era of great discoveries in the region did not begin until the 19th century when entire cemeteries were revealed. In addition to human skeletons, countless grave goods – vessels, helmets, jewellery, tools and weapons – were found.

In the meantime, generations of archaeologists have drawn the picture of a complex form of life and society. The Hallstatt Salzberg was a centre of economic activity: In addition to mining, the mountain dwellers also kept livestock and processed the meat themselves – mainly for “export”. How production was organised and how the produce was distributed over hundreds of kilometres is still the subject of conjecture even today.

Necessity is the mother of invention

From the Hallstatt period to Roman times, dry mining was practised. The salt was excavated from the rock – originally in shafts, later in huge underground caverns – and brought to the surface.

In the Middle Ages, solution mining was introduced. The salt was leached out of the rock in artificially created cavities using huge amounts of water. The brine was piped down into the valley and heated in pans until only the salt remained. The fires continued to burn until all the forests in the area had been cleared.

Instead of transporting wood from outside for fuel, it was decided to pipe the brine out of the valley for processing. Construction of a 40 km pipeline was no small feat and – given the resources available in the 17th century – can be considered a masterpiece of engineering.

Historische Stiege im Salzkammergut bei Ausgrabungen
Europe's oldest wooden staircase (1344 BC) in the Hallstatt Salt Mine
© A. Rausch/NHM Wien
A landscape conquered

The Salzkammergut and the Dachstein are also of great interest to natural scientists. Friedrich Simony (1813-1896), a geologist, alpinist, speleologist, writer, draughtsman and photographer of encyclopaedic knowledge, founded the Department of Geography at the University of Vienna. He not only explored the Dachstein but was also the first to climb it alone in winter.

Before Hallstatt could become a magnet for artists, summer visitors and mass tourism, the charms of the “wild” landscape had to be discovered, described, painted and otherwise popularised. The more uninviting the cities became, the more their inhabitants yearned for the unspoiled world of nature. Places like Hallstatt and the Salzkammergut as a whole were ideal for the purpose.


Where the Danube flows past mighty monasteries, romantic ruins and medieval towns, blossoming orchards and terraced vineyards form a unique cultural landscape with centuries of history.

Type of site: Cultural heritage (cultural landscape)
Registration: 2000
Criteria: ii, iv
State: Lower Austria

Stift Melk in Österreich
Melk Abbey
Picturesque blend of landscape and culture

What makes this stretch of the Danube Valley unique is the way in which nature and history combine to form a harmonious cultural landscape. Over millions of years, the Danube has cut its bed in the primary rock of the Bohemian Massif. Archaeological finds from the Stone Age confirm that there was human settlement in the area at a very early date. In Roman times it was the border of the empire.

In the Middle Ages, the Wachau became a cultural landscape: monasteries had stone-walled terraces built on the slopes for wine growing. Along the Danube, settlements were established with farms, burgher houses and churches. In the Baroque period, the monasteries of Melk and Göttweig even competed with the imperial house in terms of magnificence and size.

Starting around 1800 the Wachau was finally discovered by travellers for its great beauty. With their pictures and descriptions, painters and writers invented the “Donauromantik”. The artists were followed by summer visitors from Vienna and later by tourists from all over the world. The cultural landscape of the Wachau has been a World Heritage Site since 2000.

Nature in real time

As a natural landscape, the Wachau shows how it became what it is. The visitor is a witness to ongoing natural history. The Danube created the landscape and continues to modify it today. It also dominates the scenery to such an extent that it can almost be overlooked.

The humid, cooler air from the higher plateaus mixes with the warmer air from the valley. Together with the soils, the microclimate creates ideal conditions for wine growing, which has a long tradition in the Wachau.

In addition to farmland, the region has riparian forests and steep wooded slopes interspersed with deep side valleys. There, a unique flora and fauna has been preserved in all its diversity.

Idyllic vineyards

It all began with border fortifications for the Roman Empire, which soon attracted the first civilian settlements. Then there is the Danube with its importance as a waterway, which has been maintained and even increased to this day.

The cultural history of the region is the product of a cultivated plant: the grape vine (vitis vinifera), which was introduced by the Romans. From the early Middle Ages onwards, the Wachau was the vineyard of numerous monasteries and abbeys in what are now Bavaria, Salzburg, Upper Austria and Lower Austria. Most of the Wachau’s fifteen World Heritage communities owe their origins to wine growing and trading.

As wine and fruit growers, the people of the Wachau were very protective of the soil. The houses huddle in the middle of the settlements, which are cleanly delineated from the surrounding countryside. The towns and villages themselves are dominated by monasteries, churches, ruins and castles. With the ribbon of the Danube and a backdrop of hills, the Wachau is noted for its typical “picturesque” views.

Aggstein an der Donau im Sonnenuntergang in Österreich
Aggstein castle ruins with a view of the Danube
Careful management

The Wachau is an example and proof that aesthetic enjoyment and practical use are not mutually exclusive, but – on the contrary – benefit and reinforce each other: The traditional notion of the picturesque is in fact a product of the interaction of nature and culture.

But the people of the Wachau were quick to recognise that usage also has a price: Public protests prevented the construction of a hydropower plant on the Danube in the 1970s – well before nature conservation and environmental protection became common causes. Today, the complex requirements of navigation, flood control, agriculture and tourism are carefully reconciled with the values of a unique cultural landscape.

Fertő/Neusiedler See


An intersection of cultures for millennia, the vast landscape around Europe’s westernmost steppe lake forms the heart of a transboundary World Heritage Site where human and natural history blend together.

Type of site: Cultural heritage (cultural landscape)
Registration: 2001
Criteria: (v)
2 States: Austria and Hungary

Burgenland in der Kirschblüte in Österreich
Cherry Blossom at Lake Neusiedl © Martin Horvath Photography
Diversity of nature and culture on a steppe lake

The Neusiedler See is the westernmost steppe lake in Eurasia – lying between the eastern foothills of the Alps and the western margin of the Pannonian Plain. With the reed belt and shoreline landscapes, the lake forms a natural ensemble and has a significant influence on the climate, and the fauna and flora.

It is no coincidence that the Neusiedler See / Fertő is one of the – rather infrequent – cross-border World Heritage Sites: Until the end of the Habsburg Dual Monarchy, Burgenland belonged to the Hungarian half of the Empire. Linguistically, culturally and economically too, it remains a region of unity in diversity to this day.

The Neusiedler See and Seewinkel is a nature protection area: No less than 320 different bird species are native to it. However, the Neusiedler See / Fertő has been inscribed on the World Heritage List as a cultural landscape shaped by man and nature alike. Prehistoric trade routes (Amber Road) passed through the area before the arrival of the Romans (province of Pannonia), while Celts and Illyrians kept livestock and grew crops.

A steppe lake in Central Europe

The surface of the Neusiedler See accounts for almost half of the entire World Heritage Site. From north to south, the lake has a length of thirty-six kilometres. The distance between the shores is fourteen kilometres at the widest point and three kilometres at the narrowest.

Like all steppe lakes, the Neusiedler See is very shallow. The water level does not depend on inflows, but on precipitation. A compact layer of mud on the bed of the lake prevents the water from seeping away (the lake has dried up several times over the centuries – most recently between 1865 and 1871). These characteristics make the lake extremely sensitive to environmental impacts.

Confined space, great diversity

The area is ideal for agriculture: The soils are fertile and easily worked. In autumn, the lake gradually releases the heat of summer, which ensures above-average temperatures. They give the grapes the high sugar content needed for top quality wines.

The landscape – with grass meadows, crop fields, vineyards and orchards -– has a traditional, fragmented structure. The settlements are clearly delineated, which adds to the diversity and charm of the landscape. A characteristic feature of the villages is the long, slender farmhouse known as the “Streckhof”: The gable end of the residential quarters fronts onto the street, with the outbuildings in a continuous row behind it and a narrow courtyard formed by the neighbouring farmhouse.

With the lake and the reed belt, the hills and the plain, the area of the Neusiedler See is naturally varied. The geology, climate and landscape support a high level of biodiversity.

Ort Rust am Neusiedlersee in Burgenland Österreich
View of Rust on Lake Neusiedl in Burgenland
A cultural space in equilibrium

The natural diversity of the area is matched by its cultural diversity. The Hungarian landed gentry, above all the Esterházy family, determined its history for centuries. Multilingualism is still – and again – a striking feature.

The Free City of Rust is interesting not only in terms of architecture, with its burgher houses and wineries, but also for its history: In 1649, its self-assured citizens paid their way out of servitude to the Habsburgs – with money and large quantities of their very best wine.

The Neusiedler See continues to be a popular local recreation area and holiday destination. At the same time, its very attractions are a potential threat to its natural and cultural resources and call for prudent management.

Historic Centre of Vienna

Whether a hidden town house or a magnificent palace, a boulevard or a hidden alley – Vienna’s vibrant urban landscape bears witness to two thousand years of history as a European metropolis.

Type of site: Cultural Heritage
Registration: 2021
Criteria: (ii), (iv), (vi)
State: Vienna

Wien Innenstadt Blick von Oben
View of the historic cityscape of Vienna
Monuments of a European capital

Gothic churches and monasteries, baroque aristocratic palaces, modern stores and office buildings, streets, alleys and gardens all crowd together in an area of less than four square kilometres – a gesamtkunstwerk and stage for art, culture and high-level politics.

The townscape reflects the various dramatic stages of historical development. They led from the Roman legionary camp of Vindobona and the medieval mercantile city to the baroque seat of the Habsburgs and one of the most splendid cities of the 19th century.

Political and economic power was accumulated and bundled in Vienna. It was also a city of flourishing artistic and intellectual life. Vienna’s cultural attraction and aura is at its strongest in the field of music.

Vienna’s historic centre was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2001. The decisive factors were the city’s history, its urban and architectural qualities, the numerous monuments of art and cultural history, and the exceptional role played by music in the past and present.

Lines and spaces

Vienna is at the convergence of major European landscapes: the Alps, the Pannonian Plain and the Danube region – to the benefit of trade and transport. In addition, the region is rich in water, fertile soils and building materials such as clay, lime, sand and wood.

On the city map of Vienna, major lines of historical development are still visible today: The wide thoroughfare of the Graben indicates the southern limit of the Roman camp Vindobona. The winding narrow streets around St. Stephen’s Cathedral date back to the medieval mercantile city. The lines cross and overlap without being blurred.

In the Middle Ages the city boomed. The Babenbergs made the city their residence; they established monasteries and built a city wall. In 1365, the Habsburg Rudolf IV founded the University of Vienna, today the largest in the German-speaking world.

Power and splendour

In the Baroque period, the city was transformed into a metropolis – with aristocratic palaces, churches and monasteries. Planners with vision even created buildings which – like the Karlskirche or Belvedere Palace – lay well beyond the city centre at the time. It was a golden age of architecture, art, music and theatre.

The “Gründerzeit” between 1870 and 1914 brought a further – and so far the greatest – transformation. The Danube was tamed with hydro-engineering works, the outer boroughs were incorporated into the city, and the old city walls were demolished. They were replaced by a magnificent boulevard with parks, monumental buildings and the palaces of the rich and very rich: the Ringstrasse – a single gigantic monument in the taste of the time. Around 1900 Vienna was the fifth largest city in the world – and an incubator of modernity.

Schloss Belvedere und Park
The Baroque Belvedere Palace
Full programme

“My language is understood throughout the world,” said Joseph Haydn to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mozart himself – like Beethoven – studied music in Vienna.

Vienna and music – that is more than a myth: the Habsburgs were noted for their love of music. As patrons and clients, the court and the nobility vied for virtuosos and composers. From the Biedermeier period onwards, music permeated the Vienna bourgeoisie – from music in the home to the Vienna Musikverein. The genius of musical greats like Schubert, Brahms, Mahler and Schönberg flourished in this milieu. Vienna Classicism became the epitome of art music.

Today, contemporary and experimental music are just as much at home in Vienna as jazz and early music. The programme of concerts and performances in all genres is one of the finest and fullest in the world.

Semmering Railway

As it makes its way through the alpine scenery, this masterpiece of engineering from days gone by continues to captivate passengers and guests.

Type of site: Cultural site
Registration: 1998
Criteria: (ii), (iv)
States: Lower Austria, Styria

Semmering Blick auf Semmeringbahn und Gebirge in Österreich
20 Schilling Blick © Michael Liebert
Crossing the Alps with iron and steam

At the time, the construction of the Semmering Railway was celebrated as a tremendous triumph over nature, an achievement of superhuman dimensions, comparable with the deeds of ancient heroes.

Even by today’s standards the planning and execution of the project must be considered a masterpiece: In a construction period of less than five years, the engineers managed to literally carve a path for freight traffic through the most challenging natural terrain. From the beginning, the solutions to the various technical problems were selected with due regard for the landscape. The resulting combination of technology and aesthetics, the useful and the beautiful – made the Semmering Railway a model for similar projects all over the world.

The railway also transformed Semmering into a cultural Arcadia – sophisticated and rustic at the same time, at a remove from everyday life but easily accessible from Vienna by train. People came to write, compose, make music and play, or simply to live and love: fin-de-siècle in the countryside.

Vienna – Trieste

Trieste was Austria’s main port and one of the most important in the entire Mediterranean. A railway link between Vienna and Trieste was a top priority in the development of the network.

In the 1840s, there was a continuous railway line as far as Ljubljana – with the exception of the short stretch over the Semmering: The cargo had to be unloaded onto carts and then back onto the train. A solution, if any were possible at all, seemed very far away.

Having been made planning chief for the Empire’s Southern Railway in 1842 and following a five-month study trip in America, Carl von Ghega (born Venice 1802, died Vienna 1860) presented a sensational proposal for the Semmering. After some initial scepticism, his plan met with great enthusiasm.

A return ticket to the Alps

The towns of Gloggnitz and Mürzzuschlag are only 21 kilometres apart. But between them lie mountains and valleys, and the vertical rise to the Semmering Pass is about 450 metres.

The project was something of a risky real-life experiment: There were no models, and the surveying required new methods and instruments. Even a locomotive that could climb the steep gradients and negotiate the tight radii had yet to be built.

Such a transalpine railway was a major challenge in terms of engineering, logistics and economics. Ghega’s solution was a line with a length of 41 kilometres built in steep mountain terrain with 14 tunnels, 16 viaducts, and more than 100 bridges and cuttings.

Panorama eines Eisenbahnabschnittes der Semmeringbahn, Semmering in Österreich
Railway Viaduct - Semmering Railway "Kalte Rinne"
Mountain backdrop

From the start the Semmering Railway was seen as a work of art. For the viaducts, Carl von Ghega employed masonry in the style of Roman aqueducts. In 1854 he personally published a Pictorial Atlas of the Railway over the Semmering.

The ride provided passengers with a completely new experience of landscape – the journey became an aesthetic pleasure. Seen from the train window, a panorama unwinds like an animated film. The repeated blackouts caused by the many tunnels in no way detract from the enjoyment, quite the opposite.

The Semmering Railway was originally designed for use by goods trains. The fact that it gave the well-heeled Viennese access to a cultural space complete with villas and grand hotels quickly proved to be a much appreciated side-effect.

Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the alps

Hidden from all too curious eyes, unique archaeological testimonies of inestimable value remain under water and tell a story from the early days of human kind.

Type of site: Cultural site
Registration: 2011
Criteria: (iv), (v)
5 States (111 archaeological sites in total)
Provinces: Upper Austria and Carinthia (5 sites)

Pfahlbauten in Österreich
The remains of prehistoric villages are sometimes visible under the water
Sunken witnesses to ancient human settlement

The sunken lake shore settlements are of inestimable value from a scientific and cultural-historical point of view, but tend to remain largely hidden to “normal” visitors. But what are pile dwellings exactly?

Pile dwellings are settlements built above the water, near the shore or on marshy terrain. Because of the proximity to the water, the houses often occupied a raised position on stilts or wooden piles. Over a thousand such sites have been identified, most of them in Switzerland, followed by Germany and Italy.

After the retreat of the glaciers at the end of the Ice Age, the first humans migrated to the foothills of the Alps. Around 5000 BC they also began to settle on the lake shores. The attractions: fertile soils, additional source of food, advantages for defence, and the accessibility of remote areas by boat.

In 2011, 111 individual locations in Italy, France, Austria, Germany, Slovenia and Switzerland were recognised as the serial World Heritage Site titled Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps. In Europe, the preserved remains have proved numerous enough to deliver extensive insights into the way of life of the original inhabitants.

Invisible abundance

Pile dwellings offer incomparable insights into one of the most significant chapters in the history of mankind. Organic materials in particular, which are irretrievably lost elsewhere, have been preserved – immersed in the water or packed airtight in the bog. At many sites, the remains of several settlements are stacked on top of each other so that entire cultural strata can be distinguished and examined.

With such a wealth of finds – building materials, food (raw and digested), and objects of daily use made of wood, bast, bark, plant fibres, straw, animal skins or hair – scientists have been able to reconstruct everyday life in the settlements, their economic practices and contacts with other cultures. Analysis of sediments and vegetable matter now even allows conclusions to be drawn about climatic conditions.


The original number of lake settlements in Austria cannot even be estimated. Some are probably still undiscovered, while others have disappeared forever. At present, 27 sites are considered to have been scientifically verified. Most of them are from the Mondsee culture of the 4th millennium BC. The latest were inhabited almost until historical times – around 500 BC. The western shore of the Attersee was probably the most densely populated area.  

Another interesting detail: the pile dwellings in Lake Keutschach in Carinthia are located not on the shore but in the shallows in the middle of the lake. They were discovered in 1864 by Ferdinand von Hochstetter, the first director of the Natural History Museum in Vienna. Some important finds are on display there today.

Unterwasser Taucher überprüft das Welterbe Pfahlbauten in Österreich
Research divers regularly check
the condition of the UNESCO World Heritage Site
Underwater laboratories

Early researchers assumed that the pile dwellings had stood in the water; the romantic image of independent, fortified villages on stilts was simply too tempting. Later, the accepted theory was that the settlements had originally been built on the shore and later flooded by rising water levels. In the meantime the two theories are considered equally probable.

Today, the sites have become scientific laboratories. Cross-border projects have been established involving a wide range of disciplines including archaeology, biology, ecology, climatology, and cultural, social and economic history. This very much reflects the thinking behind the World Heritage Convention and the goals of UNESCO, namely cooperation in the fields of education, science and culture.

Great Spa Towns of Europe

All over Europe, flourishing towns developed around the healing power of water – offering not only recovery and recuperation, but also entertainment and social amenities.

Type of site: Cultural heritage (cultural landscape)
Registration: 2021
Criteria: (ii), (iii)
States: Lower Austria, 11 Health resort in 7 European countries

Villa Hahn, designed by Otto Wagner © Fürnkranz
Centres of leisure and pleasure

Eleven locations in seven countries together form the “Great Spa Towns of Europe” World Heritage Site. They have one thing in common: a long tradition as spas and a heyday between the late 18th and the early 20th century. If there is one place in Austria where this is clearly the case, it is Baden bei Wien.

All these locations witnessed a special form of urban development in response to two questions: how to make use of the curative properties of the waters, and how to combine the benefits with pleasure. The result was the classic spa – in a beautiful natural setting far from the big city, ideal for recreation, leisure and pleasure, yet still offering room for diplomatic and business interests.

When the aristocracy was joined by an economically powerful middle class, the spas were transformed into the summer capitals of Europe. Bathhouses, pump rooms and parks, theatres, mansions and villas, hotels, cafés and theatres shaped the outdoor picture while indoors, medical discipline, personal comfort and a cultivated lifestyle were dominant. Socially and politically, the First World War brought profound change. But the waters of the spas continued to flow.

Baden – spa resort for a metropolis

Baden is to Austria as Karlovy Vary is to the Czech Republic or Vichy to France. The Romans gave the place the simple and meaningful name of aquae (“waters”). The Habsburgs took advantage of the powers of the sulphurous thermal waters for centuries. The real boom came to Baden when Francis, the last of the Holy Roman Emperors and the first Emperor of Austria, established his summer residence there.

Baden’s location in the rolling hills of the Wienerwald, just twenty-five kilometres from the noise and heat of the big city, made it ideal for the purpose. Though not cut off from the world, it was far enough away to leave everyday life far behind. Every summer, Baden became something of an exclusive district of Vienna without actually being in the city.

Curative waters

Baden’s thermal waters were traditionally considered to be particularly efficacious – a kind of panacea for all kinds of illnesses and ailments.

The vital element emerges at fourteen different points, at a temperature varying between 22° and 36°. Originally, the spa facilities were located directly above the springs. It was only in the course of the 19th century that a network of pipelines was created to supply baths, hotels and sanatoriums.

The Frauenbad, the Josephsbad and the Hotel Sauerhof are some of the most impressive facilities from the period around 1800. The Engelsbad and the Hotel Badener Hof, on the other hand, prove that the waters were not just the preserve of the upper class: They were established specifically for the needy.

Undine Fountain in the historic Kurpark © Fürnkranz
Side effects

The cure was never the sole objective, and often not even the main purpose, of “taking the waters”. Walks in the park, enjoyment of the countryside and relaxed socialising were always a part of the kur. Also, as at all major European spas, the calls of health were managed in a casual combination with diplomacy – and entertainment: It was likely to be good for you and bound to be a good time!
The summer visitors stayed in palaces, villas and hotels – noble but not glamorous, without the disadvantages of the big city, but with all the benefits of a health resort: relaxing baths, good air and a lively social life with lots of music, dancing and games. The Art Nouveau Municipal Theatre and the Summer Arena in the Kurpark testify to Baden’s theatrical life, which had a certain reputation for permissiveness.

Frontiers of the Roman Empires – The Danube Limes (Western Segment)

Where the Romans once guarded the borders of their empire, visible and invisible traces still bear witness to ancient life and work on the edge of the empire.

Type of site: Cultural heritage (cultural landscape)
Registration: 2021
Criteria: (ii), (iii), (iv)
States: Upper Austria,
Lower Austria, Vienna

Western fort wall with late antique horseshoe tower
(Mautern, Favianis) © Florian Schulte
Flowing frontiers

When their empire reached its greatest extent, the Romans built a military border defence system, the Limes: a chain of watchtowers, forts and legionary fortresses, with connecting roads for the fast communication of news and the efficient movement of goods and soldiers, plus visual contact between the individual points. Where there were no natural barriers – coasts, rivers or mountains – artificial ones were built, namely walls, ramparts and ditches.

The frontiers were not impermeable, and they were not only the scene of conflict; numerous finds bear witness to trade and peaceful contact with the “barbarians”. Civil settlements sprang up around major military installations to keep them supplied. They were also a source of significant civilising stimuli – on both sides of the border.

Geographically, the World Heritage Site covers the course of the Danube from Bavaria via Austria to Slovakia. It does not form a continuous ribbon, however, but comprises no less than 77 individual components: archaeological sites along the ancient border, with visible and hidden signs and traces.

From the periphery to the centre

The Limes (Latin for “boundary”) was a military defence system. It was also interpreted as “the end of the civilised world”. To that extent Limes signified not only a fortified border but also an idea.

In the sense of “delimiting”, “circumscribing”, the Limes literally delineated the circle of the earth: at the centre the eternal city and on the periphery a continuous line passing through three continents – from North Africa to Britain, and from Iberia to the Persian Gulf. From the margins, roads led to the provincial capitals and from there to the centre. As is well known, all roads led to Rome.

The first of the limites date back to the first century AD, and the word started to be used in the modern sense around to the turn of the second century. With the fall of the Roman Empire, the Limes also fell.

Visible remains

On the territory of present-day Austria, the Limes extended along the Danube through Upper and Lower Austria and Vienna. The Norian Limes ran from Passau to Greifenstein northwest of Vienna. This border defence system consisted of numerous watchtowers, fourteen forts and a legionary camp at Lauriacum (Enns). The Pannonian Limes – with the legionary camp at Vindobona (Vienna) – extended as far as Carnuntum, a legionary camp and provincial capital, before continuing further along the Danube to the east. It includes some impressive towers, gates and fort walls – some of which are several storeys high – in the Tullnerfeld area outside Vienna. As many structures were incorporated into civilian settlements in the Middle Ages, some impressive remains of the Roman fortifications have been preserved here and remain visible to this day.

Quadriburgus from Oberranna - westernmost Limes fortification in Austria
Peace on the border

The Danube was the border between two different worlds – the Imperium and the Barbaricum – with citizens speaking a common language and living under a unified administration on one side and a multitude of – from the Roman point of view – wild tribes on the other.

With the movement of people and goods easily controlled, there was lively contact between the two spheres. Apart from occasional attacks and raids, peace prevailed, and there were even orderly business and diplomatic relations.

This is one reason why the border regions were prosperous and highly developed, as confirmed by finds of utensils, jewellery and luxury goods. Much still remains in the ground, under settlements and in the open countryside. Archaeologists work to unearth this hidden heritage.