The Graben (German: Trench) is one of the most famous streets in Vienna’s first district, the city centre, Austria. It begins at Stock-im-Eisen-Platz next to the Palais Equitable and ends at the junction of Kohlmarkt and Tuchlauben. Another street in the first district is called Tiefer Graben (deep ditch).
It is crossed by Wipplinger Straße by means of the Hohe Brücke, a bridge about ten metres above street level.
History of Graben
It traces its origin back to the old Roman encampment of Vindobona. The south-western wall of the settlement extended along the length of the present-day Graben and Naglergasse; before the wall lay a trench. This trench still stood in front of the medieval city walls. At the end of the 12th century, the city was enlarged by the Babenberg Dukes, using the ransom money for Richard the Lionheart.
At this time the trench was filled in and levelled. The Graben thereby became one of the first residential streets in the new section of the city. In this area of the city large unbuilt areas were still available, which probably contributed to the maintenance of the name «Graben» up until the present day.
The planned character of the city extension is still visible in the differing characters of the building patterns to the north and to the south of the Graben. The building pattern on the north side (that of the old city) has remained irregular to this day, and only one, narrow side-street opens off the Graben to the north: the Jungferngässchen, which gives access to the Peterskirche.
On the other hand, five regular side-streets were constructed to the south of the Graben in the 13th century: the Obere Bräunerstraße(today known as Habsburgergasse), the Untere Bräunerstraße (Bräunerstraße), the Färberstraße (Dorotheergasse), the Laderstraße (Spiegelgasse), and the Reifstraße (Seilergasse). Although at first these side-streets remained relatively underbuilt, the situation rapidly changed.
According to the historian Karl Oettinger, the street replaced the Hoher Markt and Wipplingerstraße as Vienna’s main arterial road. The new route supposedly led from Am Hof over Bognergasse and the Graben to Stock-im-Eisen-Platz, at that point turning in the direction of the Stephansdom, then passing over Rotenturmstraße to reach the Wollzeile.
Traffic would therefore no longer have needed to pass through the main market at Hoher Markt. However, as there was little reason at the time to travel in the direction of the Schottentor, this theory has been disputed.
At that time the street was lined primarily with wooden houses, which led to a catastrophe on March 23, 1327. A fire broke out in the Wallnerstraße house of a priest of the Stephansdom, Heinrich von Luzern, and quickly spread over Kohlmarkt to the Graben, destroying the area completely.
King Frederick the Handsome participated in the rescue effort. At that time the Graben had not yet become a preferred residence for the nobility; its seems that its residents were primarily Swabians, who had come to Vienna in the time of Rudolph I. The only building known from this time is the Freisingerhof (see below).
Where Stephansplatz meets Graben
At the turn of the 14th century, houses were built at both ends of the Graben. This activity led to the construction of the Paternostergässchen, an extension of the Naglergasse, at the northwestern end, and at the southwestern end of the Grabengasse and the infamously narrow Schlossergässchen, where the metal-workers (Schlosser) built their workshops. Other craftsmen, including blacksmiths, were found at this spot.
The narrowness of the Schlossergässchen was a source of constant criticism as an obstruction to the flow of traffic. On account of these new constructions, the Graben came to be seen more as a piazza than as a street. It was however not yet an exclusive address, particularly as the so-called Mörung originated there.
This was a stream used for sewage disposal, and gave rise to a corresponding stench. Over time, however, various local dignitaries took up residence on the Graben, at first primarily the wealthy bourgeoisie…