- Mika Vepsalainen
Römermuseum - Visit The Historic Vindobona That We Know Today as Vienna
Join us for a visit to the Römermuseum and have a look at how the huge city of Vindobona with its 30000 inhabitants lived in the Roman times!
Vindobona, from Gaulish windo- "white" and bona "base/bottom" was a Roman military camp in Pannonia some 2000 years ago. Established in 97 AD it secured the northern border of the Roman Empire for over 350 years. One of the Danube Limes frontier defences - on UNESCO's World Heritage List - the military complex covered 20 hectares where Vienna’s 1st Bezirk now stands.
More than 30,000 Romans, locals and immigrants from all over the empire lived here. The 6000 Roman soldiers, civil servants and craftsmen enjoyed all the usual services and leisure facilities from taverns and baths to brothels. The rest of the city supplied everyday things and food such as grain, bacon and cheese for the military. Even the vineyards and the Viennese winery culture date back to the Romans.
As a result, Vienna is full of places with Roman history. When you get to the Römermuseum, you will first see a giant map that shows the extent of the Roman presence compared to today’s Vienna. The layout of the military camp is still recognisable in Vienna's street plan: Graben, Naglergasse, Tiefer Graben, Salzgries, Rabensteig and Rotenturmstraße. In Michaelerplatz, next to Hofburg, you can see some excavations of a Roman street junction. Parts of the Roman wall are still visible in Ringstraße. Some remains of a Roman wall is still visible by the Ruprechtskirche and inside the U-Bahn station Stubentor, too! The Kohlmark was probably one of the main streets that amber merchants took on their way to Southern Europe and Graben still takes it name from a Roman ditch. Emperor Marcus Aurelius died in Vindobona in 180 AD, commemorated with Mark Aurel Straße in Hoher Markt where he stayed in Vindobona. Archaeological evidence also provides information of a devastating fire in the storage area at the beginning of the 5th century - the end of the good times.
Vienna's first Roman museum, Museum Vindobonense, was opened in 1903, but it was destroyed by a bomb in 1945. Three years later, the remains of the tribune houses of the Vindobona legionary camp were discovered on the Hoher Markt but the ruins were difficult to access with only a narrow staircase leading down to the the basement of the building.
Located diagonally across from the Anker Clock in the Hoher Markt, the branch of the new Wien Museum was opened in May 2008 with such a succes that the Museum received the Promotional Prize of the Austrian Museum Prize from the Federal Ministry for Education, Art and Culture only a year later. Many of the objects on show were previously part of the Habsburg Emperors’ art treasures collection.
Being the most important Roman time excavation in Vienna, the museum demonstrates how large and developed Vindobona was. This realisation brings out the regret that it all disappeared in the dark ages, with centuries needed for us to get back to the previous level of civilisation.
There are some fascinating ruins of tribute houses from the legionary camps and some three hundred archaeological finds that help us understand how the city lived in the second and third centuries. You will see everyday and cult objects, fragments of buildings, figures and toys, manhole covers and crockery, statues of gods and knick-knacks. Perhaps one of the most important pieces on show is a fragment of a city rights plaque, which reveals privileged municipal rights granted by the emperor.
As a curiosity, in the American film “Gladiator” (2000), Maximus fights in the battle of Vindobona under the order of Marcus Aurelius with a couple of lines referring to Vindobona. In one, the lead character's servant, Cicero, trying to get the attention of Lucilla, states, "I served your father at Vindobona!” and in another, the lead character asks if anyone in his group of gladiators has served in the army, to which an anonymous fighter responds, "I served with you at Vindobona.” Also, the historical novel “Vote” by Welsh writer John James begins in "Vindabonum" and dimagines 2nd century C.E. life there. The Film set for “The Third Man” was set in Hoher Markt.
The museum is not fully accessible. The exhibition space in the rear area of the ground floor is only reachable taking eight steps up. The excavations below street level and the exhibition on the 1st floor are accessible with a stair-climbing chair which, unfortunately, comes with some limitations. Please contact the museum before your visit! There is an accessible loo in the ground floor behind the ticket counter.
There are some lockers and a coat rack behind the ticket counter. There is no café in the museum but as you couldn't be more centrally located in Vienna, take a coffee or a lunch in any of the fancy restaurants around Stephansplatz!
There is a small museum shop at the ticket counter with some books and gift items. You might wish to consider an Asterix cartoon on his visit to Austria!
Hoher Markt 3, 1010 Wien