The State Hall (ger. Der Punksaal) of the National Library of Austria in Vienna is widely known to be one of the most beautiful historic libraries in the world. Having experienced the awe of its charm, I have to admit that it is hard to argue with this statement. The library’s 18th century Baroque 19.6 m / 64.3 ft halls shouts-out the greatness of the Empire, the State Hall was once built to represent. 77.7 m / 255 ft in length and 14.2 m / 46.6 ft in width, make it the largest Baroque library in the world. Arguably, this mirrors the Empire’s dominance at the time. The aura within felt reminiscent of things left behind in time. As if the culture, which built State Hall is long gone and all is left is this library to mark the Empire’s influence in history. In some sense, this is exactly what had happened.
After losing the First World War and having sided with the wrong side during the Second World War, modern Austria has distanced itself from its past. Though the Habsburgs are no longer in the control, the Republic has preserved the remains of the Empire and used it as a bait to attract floods of visitors, which is a major boost to the already great economy of one of the richest nations in the world.
Fortunately, the State Hall withstood all the unrest and it is still fully intact to this day. The library contains around 200,000 books, gathered by orders of Emperors between 1501 – 1850. Among the flagman-ships of the collection are and the assembly of 15,000 volumes by Prince Eugene of Savoy’s, today located in the central oval hall. With some help from Google, it is now fully digitalized and could be reached online at www.onb.ac.at.
Though the collection dates back more than a half millennia, the State Hall was developed between 1685 and 1740 by the designs of Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, the same architect who built Schönbrunn Palace and Karlskirche (eng. St. Charles Church).
At the very center of the State Hall stands the iconic marble statue “Hercules Musarym”, representing Emperor Charles VI, the man to blame for this architectural Baroque masterpiece. It is surrounded by four authentic Venetian globes by Vincenzo Coronelli and many different statues of Habsburgs. The imperial atmosphere is completed by a typical dome, decorated with many frescoes depicting various themes including war and peace, worldly and divine images. At the very middle of it the Apotheosis (reaching a divine status) of Emperor Charles VI.
Without the historic background, Vienna State Hall is reduced to just a magical library from the Harry Potter series, which is not bad but remember that the famous universe of wizards is based on reality and not vice versa. There is no better way to understand the setting and the intentions of the author of this wonderful library than by paying a visit on a guided tour.
The State Hall is a part of Hofburg, located within the very heart of the city. The imperial complex is like the Rome of Vienna, all roads lead here. There won’t be any difficulties reaching the Inner Stadt (eng. The Inner City), where Hofburg is located. The entrance to Vienna State Hall National Library is from Josefsplatz.
Pro tip: Traveling on public transport with Vienna City Card is totally FREE.
Stephansplatz metro station is the closest you can get to Josefsplatz by a means of public transport without using a bus. Two metro lines, U1 red and U3 orange run through this stop, though it is not mandatory to take this route, because U2 purple and U4 green go along the perimeter of the Inner Stadt, making Josefsplatz within walking distance from any stop. I would say that Karlsplatz (U2 and U4) would make the most pleasant walk to the State Hall.
Trams 1, 2, 71, and D work exactly the same as U2 or U4 metro lines. They go around the inner city on the so-called Vienna ring road. Most of the trams in Vienna reach one or another point of the outer edge of the inner city. One of the main stations on the Vienna ring road is Schottentor. It is located near the majestic Votivskirche, making it a beautiful walk to Josepsplatz.
Though the buses run right by Hofburg, I don’t see a reason to take this option. Walking in the Inner City is a wonder on its own, thus I highly recommend taking either a tram or metro. In case walking is not an option for you, take bus A1 or A2 from either Schottentor, Schwedenplatz, or Schwarzenbergplatz and get out at Habsburgergasse or Albertinaplatz stop.
Vienna has great public transport, therefore I don’t see any reason to come to the Inner City by car. In case you must, just use one of the parking lots, located on the perimeter of Vienna ring road (see the map).
Having visited quite a few relics from the historical times of the Habsburgs’ Empire, I’m confident that the State Hall won’t disappoint many. Its marvelous and elegant halls were as impressive as the famous library of Melk Abbey; Just more so. The main difference between the two is the 16 statues of Austrian and Spanish Habsburgs, located along the countless shelves, filled with books up to the heavens above.
Nothing but awe, for one, can explore the Baroque library for quite some time and still get inspired. Such a beauty with its little details certainly kept me engaged for at least an hour. Not only the Prunksaal has a rare collection of ancient texts, but the historical library tells quite a story by itself. The State Hall of the National Library of Austria is certainly a must-visit in Vienna for any trip duration.