Historical Outline: Vienna's Market Authority and Important Markets

Vienna Christmas Market - History

The assumption that the first precursors of the Vienna Christmas market were already held more than 700 years ago does not hold true. Usually these assumptions refer to 1296, the year in which Duke Albrecht I renewed Vienna's city rights and the privileges related to them, which had been granted by his father King Rudolph I (of Habsburg) in 1278. These rights also allowed for the organisation of certain 14-day fairs. However, these markets did not include a fair associated with the celebration of Christmas. We can safely say that medieval Vienna did not have Christmas markets because the city's accounts from that time do not show revenue and costs in this context. Since the 17th century bills are only fragmentary, it is not possible to know the exact date of the first Christmas markets. Chronicles of the year 1626 mention "huts" at Graben and Brandstätte - in front of Saint Stephen's Cathedral -, which were taken down on 9 January and set up again on 16 and 17 December. Bakers, gingerbread vendors and confectioners sold their goods in these booths. During Christmas time, this market was held in the area around Graben and Stephansplatz until the year 1761 when it was shut down.

Already in 1764 there was mention of a Saint Nicholas and Christmas market at Freyung. As this was also the location of a regular market, conflicts between stand owners of both markets led to the provisional relocation of the Saint Nicholas and Christmas market to Platz am Hof in 1842. In 1843 it became the permanent site for the market: every year on 5 December, 132 "crèche market stands" were put up and remained there until New Year's day.

In 1872 the municipal council decided to end the traditional Viennese fairs because they had lost their original meaning in a large and modern city - "with the exception of the so-called Christmas market". In 1903 its 128 stands were renewed and for the first time electrically illuminated.

Between Wars

Christmas Market Am Hof, 24 December 1917 (Photo: Bildarchiv - Austrian National Library)World War I marked the beginning of difficult times for the event which was now regularly referred to as Christmas market ("Christkindlmarkt"). In 1923 it took place again at Freyung, from 1924 to 1928 in a modest form in front of Saint Stephen's Cathedral, and in 1929 it moved to Neubaugürtel (above the Hesser monument) before returning to Am Hof in 1938. Around Christmas 1943 the market was once again held at Stephansplatz. In the following years war reached Vienna and swept over the city and there was no Christmas market. At Christmas time in 1946 there was a new start at the square in front of the Messepalast (trade fair palace).

The Christmas Market after World War II

Christmas Market at the Neubaugürtel (Photo: MA 59)The Christmas market moved back to Neubaugürtel in 1949 where it was to stay until 1957. The following year it was again held in front of the Messepalast. In 1963 attempts to establish the Christmas market as counterpart to the Fastenmarkt (lent market) in Kalvarienberggasse in the 17th district failed. In 1975 the market needed a new location because the underground car park in front of the Messepalast was being built. As a temporary solution, it was held at Rathausplatz in front of the city hall. Very soon, however, the combination of Christmas market and "Wiener Adventzauber" in the adjacent park created such a special ambience that the location of the Christmas market seems to be secured for years to come.

© Photos: Municipal Department 59

Historical Outline: Vienna's Market Authority and Important Markets

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