The landlocked country of Austria (bordered by Germany and Czech Republic to the north, Hungary and Slovakia to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland & Liechtenstein to the west), is best-known for being one of Europe’s great cultural destinations. With the country now known as Austria being occupied by various Celtic tribes during the Roman Empire, with invasions by Bavarians, Slavs and Avars afterwards, Charlemagne took over the land in 788 AD and Christianized the local population.
During the Middle Ages, the country became part of a ruling dynasty known as the Hapsburgs (which became one of the most important royal houses of Europe – producing kings in countries like Bohemia, England, Germany, Hungary, Croatia, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, along with provincial areas in present-day Netherlands and Italy). Austria’s sovereignty was challenged when nearby Hungary was conquered by the Muslim-practicing Ottoman Empire during the 16th century (with all of Hungary falling under Austria control as a result of the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699).
This country’s place in world history is best-remembered when it formed the Austrian-Hungarian Empire in 1867 (establishing the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary) –covering vast territories of central and eastern Europe, consisting of various ethnicities, such as Croats, Czechs, Poles, Serbs, Slovaks, Slovenians, and Ukrainians, along with sizeable Italian and Romanian enclaves. That empire collapsed in 1914, due to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo that year, which triggered World War I. With Austria and Hungary becoming separate countries by the 1920s, they were a fraction of their former geographic size by then.
Austria found itself in the middle of history again, when it became part of Nazi Germany’s Third Reich in 1938, and was cut up in different zones by the Allied Forces (USA, UK, France and Russia) after the end of World War II in 1945. Austria became a fully independent democracy in 1955 and declared itself politically neutral (during the height of the Cold War period). With the country voting itself into the European Union in 1995, Austria adopted the Euro as its official currency in 1999.
These days, tourists who visit Austria naturally flock to the country’s capital Vienna. There, many visitors trace the country’s history of classical musical innovation. Thanks to the patronage of the Hapsburgs, Vienna attracted a number of classical music composers during the 18th & 19th centuries, such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Johann Strauss. Visitors also come across sites associated with Austria’s royal and medieval periods (such as Schönbrunn Palace, Tiergarten Schönbrunn, and Mariazell Basilica). With tourism accounting for 9% of the country’s GDP, Austria attracted 20 million visitors by 2007 (ranking it 12th in international tourist arrivals).