Austria is a federal republic divided into nine provinces, each with its own parliament and governor. Each province also has a distinct ethnic and cultural character which is reflected in marked differences in the general mentality and way of life, customs, accent, and traditional dress.
Centuries of historical development and disparate geographical features are responsible for these differences. Here is a brief look at each of the provinces.
Vorarlberg (area 1004 sq miles; pop 306,000)
Natives of this westernmost province call it dasLaendle (the dear little land), implying both its small size and their fondness of it. Historically, the only access route to Vorarlberg from the rest of Austria was a mountain pass through the Arlberg massif that was often closed by snow. That’s one reason Vorarlbergers still speak a dialect of German that sounds more Swiss than Austrian. Since 1978, the 14 kilometer long Arlberg Tunnel has made the province more accessible.
The ritzy Arlberg ski region attracts thousands of visitors each winter. Another popular vacation area is Lake Constance, which borders Germany and Switzerland as well as Austria. On its shore lies the provincial capital, Bregenz, home of the internationally famous summer music festival with performances on a floating stage. Dornbirn, the largest town in the province is also its commercial and industrial center. Tourism, textiles – especially fine lace – and hydroelectric power are Vorarlberg’s most important sources of income.
Tirol (area 4822 sq miles; pop 587,000)
Most famous for its beautiful Alpine scenery, Tirol earns more foreign currency from tourism than any other province but is also an important producer and exporter of hydroelectric power. Tirol is the junction of several major highways: the Brenner autobahn takes motorists to the Italian border in less than an hour, the Inntal (Inn Valley) autobahn runs from Bavaria through Vorarlberg to Switzerland, and the Felbertauern highway provides a direct road link between North and East Tirol (separated from the north of the province by a part of Italy) without leaving Austrian territory.
Its capital, Innsbruck, hosted the Winter Olympic Games in 1964 and 1976. This university city is a center of education, arts, international seminars and conventions.
Salzburg (Salzburg Land – area 2762 sq miles; pop 442,000)
The city of Salzburg is the birthplace of Mozart, a university city, and the seat of the provincial government. Its charming, well-preserved historical center has become a focal point of international tourism. Americans know it as the Sound of Music city, and music lovers from all over the world flock to the annual summer festival of the arts.
The surrounding area is the province of Salzburg (Salzburg Land). Thermal springs (spas where emperors used to “take the waters”) mountain lakes and winter sports centers attract visitors year-round.
Carinthia (Kaernten — area 3680 sq miles; pop 537,000).
Carinthia is Austria’s southernmost province. People from other parts of Austria and ;J come to relax in its natural beauty and enjoy the 1,270 lakes that make Carinthia’s seem district a paradise for water sports and fishing. Those who prefer warmer watc rejuvenation in the region’s thermal springs. The Carinthian Summer Festival draws
lovers to unique events such as concerts by Domingo and Carreras at the ruins of the Finkenstein castle.
The provincial capital Klagenfurt is near the Woerther See (lake). The province’s most important natural resource is timber; there is also mining in the mountain regions. The town of Villach is the biggest road and rail junction in the eastern Alps. Southern Carinthia, near the borders with both Italy and Slovenia, has been the home of a small Slovene ethnic group for centuries.
Styria (iSteiermark – area 6324 sq miles; pop 1.1 million).
Extensive forests, grassland and vineyards cover almost three-quarters of Austria’s “green province”. Rich mineral resources in the mountains of Upper Styria provide most of Austria’s iron ore and have given that part of the province a distinctly industrial character. The Austrian automotive industry is based in the capital, Graz, which is the country’s second largest city and the first in Europe to impose a 30 km/h (19 mph!) city speed limit. The province is also famous for the traditional Styrian suit, made of gray loden wool, and for the annual Steirischer Herbst (Styrian Autumn) cultural festival.
Upper Austria (Oberoesterreich — area 4625 sq miles; pop 1.2 million)
This province has an incredible variety of landscapes. Granite hills in the north descend to the Danube Valley in the middle, and in the south, the Alpine scenery around the famous lakes of the Salzkammergut is among the most beautiful in Austria. For centuries, salt was mined at Hallstatt. Today Upper Austria is an important source of oil and natural gas. The region around the provincial capital, Linz, with its modern Danube port installations, is a major center for the production of iron, steel and chemicals.
Lower Austria (Niederoesterreich — area 7402 sq miles; pop 1.4 million)
Austria’s largest province is its biggest supplier of agricultural products and its excellent wines are the choice of connoisseurs. It has considerable natural resources, including Austria’s largest oil fields and hydroelectric power from the Danube, as well as a highly developed industrial sector. Several years ago, St Poelten was designated to replace Vienna as the provincial capital, but many provincial offices are still in Vienna. Both Vienna and Wien-Schwechat, the country’s largest airport, are within the province.