Austria’s Heeresgeschichtliches Museum
While the Habsburg Dynasty fell at the end of the First World War, its legacy can still be seen in the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum in Vienna, Austria. Located in the Landstraße district of the Austrian capital it is fittingly not far from the Belvedere complex, which served as the summer resident for Prince Eugene of Savoy – the French-born general who first saw action for his adopted home during the Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683.
Designed by architect Theophil Hansen, the Heeresgeschichtliches has laid claim to being on the oldest and largest purpose-built military museums in the world. It is part of the Arsenal complex, which was built following the 1848 revolution that began in Vienna. Completed in 1856 at the behest of Emperor Franz Joseph I, the museum’s original purpose was to chronicle the history of Austria. This includes one of the world’s largest collections of bronze cannons, many of which are displayed on the grounds outside the main museum building.
While more than 150 years old, the building features a Byzantine style design mixed with some Gothic elements, which make it look far older. It was badly damaged during the Battle of Vienna at the end of the Second World War but repaired to its original splendor, even if the Arsenal appears to have seen some better days. The museum now features five main elements, which include the entrance hall that contains the “Hall of Generals,” along with four large exhibition halls, along with a gallery of armored vehicles outside the museum.
The history of Austria is closely linked to that of the Holy Roman Empire, and the original intent was to include the vast Habsburg collection of arms and armor. However, due to the limitations, today the medieval armor is housed with the New Castle wing (the Neue Burg) in the Hofburg Palace complex.
As such the collection of the Heeresgeschichtliches begin with the Thirty Years’ War and the conflicts with the Ottoman Turks, and continue through the Napoleonic Wars, World War I, the inter-war revolution and World War II. In the fall of 2013 the museum began a major renovation of its World War I galleries in anticipation for the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. The museum also contains a notable gallery of Austrian naval history, which is all the more unique today given that the nation is now landlocked!