Michaelerplatz is one of the most famous squares in Vienna due to its proximity to the Hofburg Imperial Palace. Many tourists head straight for the palace, but there are other notable sights around the square. Michaelerplatz is dominated by the impressive Neo-Baroque Michaelertor, the entrance gate to the Hofburg. The Looshaus opposite is one of the first modern buildings in Vienna. The oldest building in the square is the Mayerkirch church. In the center of the square is an open area with Roman and medieval remains.
The domed Mayertract is one of the most impressive wings of the imperial palace. It was originally designed in the 1720s by Josef Emanuel Fischer von Erlach, but the project stalled until 1888 when the old Burgtheater was demolished and construction really began. Austrian architect Ferdinand Kirchner followed von Erlach’s original Baroque design and completed the wing in 1893.
In the center of the wing is the monumental Michaelleor Gate. Along the sides of the three entrances are colossal statues of Hercules. At both ends of Michaelerplatz there are large fountains with sculptural groups. The fountain on the right is the Mastery of the Earth, designed in 1897 by Edmund Hellmer and symbolizes the Austrian army. The fountain on the left is known as the «Craftsmanship of the Sea». It was sculpted in 1895 by Rudolf Weir and symbolizes Austrian naval power.
People now hardly notice the Looshaus when they walk towards Michaelerplatz. At the time of its construction in 1911, the Looshaus caused a lot of controversy due to its modern facade, devoid of scenery. This was highly unusual in Baroque Vienna. Adolf Loos was influenced by the nascent skyscraper architecture he had studied on a trip to the United States and used a business style with straight lines and little embellishment.
The modern design provoked such protest, and construction was even temporarily suspended. Loos received approval only after he promised to decorate the facade with balconies. Emperor Franz Joseph despised the modern façade opposite his palace, and it is said that the curtains on the wing opposite the Looshaus were always closed. Today, the building is considered an example of innovative modern architecture. It is thanks to such facilities that Vienna is one of the most popular cities in Austria.
Opposite the Looshaus is a more traditional Viennese building, Herberstein Palace, built in 1896-1897. It replaced the older Dietrichstein structure, which was famous for its Café Griensteidl, where a group of young poets and writers gathered. After the café was demolished, they moved to the nearby Café Central, today the most famous of all cafés in Vienna. In 1990, a new, reconstructed Café Griensteidl was opened in the Herberstein Palace.
Mayerkirk Church (St. Michael’s Church) is a former parish church of the Austrian monarchy. It was originally built in 1221, but has been regularly expanded and improved so that it now consists of a combination of many architectural styles. The neoclassical façade was designed in 1792, and the tower is still Gothic. Of note is Lorenzo Mattielli’s group of baroque sculptures above the porch depicting the Fall of the Angels.
The Baroque interior is decorated with Renaissance frescoes and contains a magnificent organ built in 1714 by Johann David Sieber. The church also contains several tombs, but more impressive are the catacombs, where the bodies of people who died between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries are buried. They have survived intact due to the constant climate. This part of the church can only be visited with a guide. Excavations at Mayerplatz have unearthed the remains of a Roman house, as well as some medieval foundations and the remains of the former Burgtheater. The ruins are open to tourists and visible from the street.