Underground Ruins of Old Vienna

During my strolls around Vienna’s old town, I invariably stumbled onto intriguing indications that life had existed for centuries beneath the surface of Vienna’s cobbled streets. There were also times when I searched these places out, having read about them. In the process I visited the Roman ruins of the fortress of Vindobona, and the medieval ruins of a Jewish synagogue.

Ancient Roman Settlement

My first encounter with Roman ruins in old Vienna was at the gate to the Hofburg at Michaeler Platz which is at the end of a lively pedestrian street. The site of the underground ruins was easy to spot from a distance because a cordoned-off open air pit in front of the palace gate usually had a group of tourists with cameras poised while peering over it. Horse-drawn carriages were usually lined up in front of the gate hoping to attract customers.

The ruins are the remains of a Roman settlement outside the (now underground) legionary fortress of Vindobona. The fortress served as a means to secure the Roman northern frontier, protecting it from the Germanic region beyond the Danube. It was prosperous from the late 2nd century to 3rd century AD.

During a free walking tour of old Vienna, our tour guide pointed out the entrance to the Roman Museum through an archway off a pedestrian street. I came back later and visited the underground ruins of Vindobona. Of particular interest were the remains of a Roman central heating system.

Medieval Jewish Settlement

When I visited the Jewish museum in Vienna’s old town, I discovered a charming, cozy, cafe attached to it. I was able to get a good, well-priced meal here, especially a vegetarian one. I returned frequently at lunchtime when professionals gathered here. I invariably struck up a brief conversation in English with a guest or staff person.

One day, armed with a walking map the museum gave me, I was able to find nearby Judenplats (Jewish Square), where the other Jewish museum was located. The small, historic square was hidden behind rows of old houses. In the heart of the square was a dramatic concrete cube which was a memorial to Austrian Holocaust victims. It was designed to resemble a library with its volumes turned inside out.

Directly underneath this memorial were the ruins of a medieval synagogue from the 15th century, which I was able to visit via the museum on the square. All that was left of the synagogue was a bit of foundation, but it was particularly interesting knowing I was prowling around underground in an area seeped in medieval Jewish history.

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