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    The smallest country in the world offers the heart of Catholicism and among the world's finest art collections, including the Sistine Chapel and the Raphael Rooms (ceiling pictured). Go to Vatican City!

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  • Austria!

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History of Austria

Austria begins its current history in about the 600s when the Bavarians took control over most of the land; however the rise of true power in Vienna didn't begin until the 1100s when the region surrounding Vienna became a Duchy. Also during this time Austria as a whole began to form as the king and his people remained outside the realm of what is today Germany in order to create an independent entity.

In the 1200s Austrian power grew as the political structure became more defined. In the late 1200s there was chaos in Austria until the first Hapsburg ruler came into the region to take control and rule the region. Initial Hapsburg rule was strict as the new ruling family had to weed out threats to their power and establish a new governmental structure. Over the next century the Hapsburg rulers were determined to maintain peace with both the Bohemians (Czechs) and Hungarians, which were their two biggest threats.

The 1400s experienced various wars with the invading Turks and multiple exchanges of power, eventually leading to the Hapsburgs taking the Holy Roman Empire crown. This enlargement of power continued in the 1500s, however wars separated Austria from much of Western Europe, but during this time the Hapsburgs assumed power over the Holy Roman Empire and hence, much of Europe. This was an advantage in many ways as Austria joined with both Bohemia (Czech territories) and Hungary to create a huge empire.

The 1600s experienced more wars, in particular the counter-reformation, the Thirty Years War, and further battles with the Turks. These wars again altered power as Austria became more of a nominal, rather than a direct ruler over much of Europe. The 1700s were much the same as Austria got involved in wars with the Russians, Swedes, Prussians, and French among others.

With the arrival of Napoleon in the early 1800s came more change. He brought with him a wave of excitement, fighting against the rule of monarchs and encouraged nationalism. This influence destroyed the Holy Roman Empire forever, but the Hapsburgs maintained their grip on power over Austria, although they too had lost much of their power.

After Napoleon's defeat, Austria experienced the industrial revolution, but also faced challenges from its people who sought greater freedoms and a voice in the government. The French Revolution in 1848 further damaged the Hapsburg Empire as the people began demanding an entirely new government. This created a parliament, but it was short lived as the Austrian and Hungarian monarchs unified to create a dual monarchy in order to satisfy the people and strengthen each other's control over their people. This union created a government in which the two countries operated fairly independently of each other, only sharing a few governmental branches.

Austria found itself as the center piece of World War I (WWI) when their Archduke was assassinated by a Serb nationalist in Sarajevo (in modern day Bosnia & Herzegovina). This war expanded across most of the continent and ended in Austrian defeat and the loss of their long standing royal family in addition to their union with Hungary.

At first, democratic rule in Austria was unstable and led to discontent and the eventual takeover of Austria by Germany in 1938, which some internal groups were pushing for and supporting of their native son, Adolf Hitler, who was himself Austrian. Other groups however, particularly in the Tirol region fought this and actually supported the Yugoslavs independence movement from Austria. Soon after this, World War II (WWII) began as both Germany and Austria were in economic shambles.

WWII became an "ethnic cleansing" in Austria as the Nazi party killed Jews simply for being Jewish. Well over 50,000 Austrian Jews were killed in the Holocaust during the war. This seems to have been the end of a long and inconsistent relation between the two groups, which historically went from working together to uprisings and massacres. At the end of the day, Austria again found itself on the losing side of the war, catapulting them to independence as a democratic country.

The new Austria declared itself neutral, they buried their past, and focused on economic growth and stability from the late 1940s until 1986 when a presidential candidate was accused of war crimes as a Nazi soldier. This led to the country digging up its past so it could move forward with its future and, a big part of this involved addressing the Holocaust.

Today, Austria is a modernized country and a leader within the European Union (EU) and the world. They work successfully with past enemies and their former occupied countries through communication and their continuing neutrality.

This page was last updated: March, 2013