The Semmering Railway, built over 41 km of high mountains between 1848 and 1854, is one of the greatest feats of civil engineering from this pioneering phase of railway building. The high standard of the tunnels, viaducts and other works has ensured the continuous use of the line up to the present day. It runs through a spectacular mountain landscape and there are many fine buildings designed for leisure activities along the way, built when the area was opened up due to the advent of the railway.
The Semmering Railway represents an outstanding technological solution to a major physical problem in the construction of early railways. The railway, built over 41 km of high mountains between 1848 and 1854, is one of the greatest feats of civil engineering from this pioneering phase of railway building. The high standard of the tunnels, viaducts and other works has ensured the continuous use of the line to the present day. Furthermore, with its construction, areas of great natural beauty became more easily accessible and as a result these were developed for residential and recreational use, creating a new form of cultural landscape.
The transport route from the valley of the Mürz to the Vienna Depression has been used since prehistoric times. In the Middle Ages it was considered to be one of the few secure Alpine crossings. Transport was possible using pack animals and wagons drawn by oxen, and it had become one of the most important international land routes from Venice by the 12th century. However, the Semmering had lost much of its trade by the 15th century owing to the opening up of the Brenner and Radstatter Trauem routes further south. In 1728 the Emperor Karl Vl ordered it to be improved as both a commercial and a military road, joining Austria with Trieste rather than Venice (hence its name, the Trieste Route).
The first railway line (horse-drawn) of any significance on the European continent was opened in 1824-32 between Linz and Budweis (?eské Budejovice), and 1837 saw the installation of the locomotive-hauled line between Florisdorf and Deutsche Wagram. The southbound Vienna-Gloggnitz line opened in 1841 and the section from Mürzzuschlag to Graz was added in 1844, leaving a gap over the difficult Semmering stretch. The line was later extended southwards to Cilli in 1846, Laibach (Ljubljana) in 1849, and finally, over difficult karst terrain, to Trieste in 1857.
Most of the portals of the tunnels are simple but monumental in design, and are variously ornamented. Support structures are largely in stone, but brick was used for the arches of the viaducts and tunnel facings. The 57 two-storey attendants’ houses, sited at approximately 700 m intervals, that are a very characteristic feature of the Semmering line, were built from coursed rubble masonry with brick trimmings. Little remains of the original stations, which were planned originally as no more than relay stations and watering points, but later became converted into more impressive structures as tourist traffic increased.
The appearance of the whole line was significantly changed between 1957 and 1959, when masts were erected to carry the contact wires needed by the conversion to electrical locomotives. The Semmering pass itself is well known for the ‘summer architecture’ of the villas and hotels that were built for Viennese society between Gloggnitz and the small market town of Schottwien in picturesque locations. It became one of the first artificially laid out Alpine resorts in the decades following the opening of the railway line. This process had begun even before that project began, with the development of Reichenau an der Rax and Payerbach, to the north-west of Gloggnitz, as tourist areas in the early decades of the 19th century.
Romantic historicism influenced the appearance of the villas and hotels built in this area, a number of which have Gothic or Renaissance antecedents. The steep-gabled and fantastically ornate ‘Swiss chalet’ also found favour with many builders. The Semmering pass itself was not affected by tourist development for some time after the line opened in 1854. The Southern Railway Company, operators of the line at that time, began development in 1880, at the urging of the court sculptor, Franz Schönthaler, with the construction of the Semmering Hotel. It was, however, Schönthaler’s own villa south of the hotel that had the strongest influence on architectural design along the Semmering line. The use of traditional Alpine wooden-frame construction by his architect, Franz von Neumann, was eagerly seized upon by other patrons, and the ‘Semmering style’ predominated in the buildings erected in the latter part of the 19th century.
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