Austria includes much of the mountainous territory of the eastern Alps (about 75% of the area). The country contains many snowfields, glaciers, and snowcapped peaks, the highest being the Grossglockner (12,530 ft; 3,819 m). The Danube is the principal river. Forests and woodlands cover about 40% of the land. About 99 percent of the population is ethnic Austrian. Minority groups include Croats and Hungarians (in Burgenland), Slovenes (in Kärnten (Carinthia)), Czechs (in Vienna), as well as small numbers of Italians, Serbs, and Romanians.
Settled in prehistoric times, the central European land that is now Austria was overrun in pre-Roman times by various tribes, including the Celts. After the fall of the Roman Empire, of which Austria was part, the area was invaded by Bavarians and Slavic Avars. Charlemagne conquered the area in 788 and encouraged colonization and Christianity. In 1252, Ottokar, king of Bohemia, gained possession, only to lose the territories to Rudolf of Hapsburg in 1278. Thereafter, until World War I, Austria's history was largely that of its ruling house, the Hapsburgs. Austria emerged from the Congress of Vienna in 1815 as the continent's dominant power. The Ausgleich of 1867 provided for a dual sovereignty, the empire of Austria and the kingdom of Hungary, under Franz Joseph I, who ruled until his death on Nov. 21, 1916. The Austrian-Hungarian minority rule of this immensely diverse empire, which included German, Czech, Romanian, Serbian, and many other lands, became increasingly difficult in an age of emerging nationalist movements. When Archduke Francis Ferdinand was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo in 1914, World War I, as well as the destruction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, began.
Austria has a rich heritage in art work which includes wood carvings, Gobelins tapestries, hand-carved and hand-painted chests, intricately forged grates and other ironwork, stained-glass windows, Augarten porcelain from Vienna, lace, and leatherwork. Wood carving and sculpturing have long been popular among the people of the Alpine valleys. Austria is also known as the land of music and has seen the birth of many a musicians and composers like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Anton Bruckner, Joseph Haydn…the list can go on and on. The capital, Vienna, has two famous opera houses, the Volksoper (People's Opera), opened in 1904, and the Vienna State Opera, completed in 1869 and stories of its beautiful architecture and fine performances are spread far and wide.
Austria's hills are alive with the sound of music. Composers throughout Europe were drawn to the country in the 18th and 19th centuries by the generous patronage of the Habsburgs. During this period Vienna became to classical music what Seattle is to grunge. Austria has its fair share of fantastic buildings just to prove that some arty types were actually outside wearing tin hats and big boots instead of slippers and wigs. The Gothic style was popular between the 14th and 16th centuries, as evidenced by the number of imposing buildings with flying buttresses, pointed arches, ribbed ceiling vaults and pigeon toes.
There's plenty of beautiful Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque art in Austria's churches. Biedermeier, which is more well-known as a furniture style, also had its day in the gallery - and Biedermeier artist Moritz Michael Daffinger even found his way onto the AS20 note. The most famous Austrian painters were probably Gustav Klimt (Art Nouveau ) and Oskar Kokoschka (Viennese expressionism), but the most outrageous publicity was reserved for Viennese Actionism. The biggest splash in the world of art, however, was made by an Austrian psychiatrist called Sigmund Freud. The originator of psychoanalysis gave us The Interpretation of Dreams, The Ego and the Id, penis envy, surrealism, a whole new language of symbolism, and large cushy leather couches. Other scary Austrians include the great film director Fritz Lang and muscly motormouth Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Traditional Austrian food is stodgy, hearty fare of the meat-and-dumpling variety. The most famous Austrian dessert is the strudel, a baked dough filled with a variety of fruits and a sprinkling of raisins and cinnamon. You'll need to wash down this calorie hit with a cold glass of Austrian beer or a swig of fine Austrian wine. Austrians are fond of eating bits of beasts that other nations ignore. Beuschel may be translated on menus as 'calf's lights' but it's really thin slices of calf's lungs and heart. It's quite tasty. Really. Austria's excellent pastries and cakes are effective at transferring bulk from your money belt to your waistline.