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Am Hof, which means "court", is the name of the largest and one of the most beautiful of Vienna's inner-city squares. The origins of the name date from the Middle Ages, more specifically the 12th century, as it was here that the residence of the Babenberg, the ruling dynasty at the time, was established.
In the centre of the square you'll see the column of the Virgin Mary, the Mariensäule, a Baroque monument erected in 1667 to commemorate the victory of the Austrians over the Swedes in the Thirty Years' War, which pitted Catholics against Protestants.
Designed by Carlo Carlone and Carlo Canevale, one can also admire the monument's four angels battling the four scourges of humanity, plague represented by a basilisk, heresy, by a snake, war, by a lion and hunger, by a dragon.
This open space is lent further distinction by some of the buildings that border it, such as the Bürgerliches Zeughau, the former 16th-century arsenal that nowadays curiously serves as a fire station. The building was remodelled in Baroque style two centuries later by Anton Ospel.
The façade features the coat of arms of the Habsburgs. The wonderful sculptures that crown the building are the work of the Italian artist Lorenzo Mattielli. The building also houses the Feuerwehrmuseum, or Fire Museum, which is only open on Sundays.
Very close to the fire station, at Number 9, visitors can see some vestiges of the Roman settlement of Vindobona, the origins of the city of Vienna.
The other major building here is the Kirche Am Hof, a church dedicated to the "Nine choirs of angels." Originally built in Gothic style on commission by the Carmelite friars in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, today the temple owes its appearance to a reform carried out by architect Carlo Carlone during the 17th century by order of the Jesuits, who had succeeded the Carmelites, and which gave the church the Baroque appearance it has today.
Joined to the church by a flying buttress is the Collalto Palace where, in 1762, a six-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart first performed before a select audience of the aristocracy. However, since this is a private building, you'll have to settle for contemplating the façade and using your imagination.
Meanwhile, if you're a fan of precision you may like to know that the tiny square behind the church is home to the Obizzi Palace which, in turn, is home to the Uhrenmuseum, or Clock Museum. This museum houses a stunning collection of over 3000 pieces that will make you feel you are travelling back in time, so to speak. Every hour, the three floors of the building resonate with the chimes and melodies of clocks and watches. The exhibition includes a fascinating variety of watches from around the world; so feel free to take your time! The younger members of the family, however, will surely prefer another museum found nearby, the Puppen und Spielzeug Museum, or Toys and Dolls Museum, which features a fascinating collection of pieces from the past two centuries.
But coming back to the square, you may be interested to know that markets are organised here several times a year, especially at Easter. These generally focus on common elements such as traditional costumes, handicrafts from the provinces, gastronomy and entertainment.
Hand-carved wooden figures, table decorations, glassware and ceramics and fragrant soaps all mingle with culinary specialties from the various regions of Austria including truffle and honey delicacies, breads, mustards and other spices, tasty soups, marzipan , jams, chocolates, candied fruits or the essential "Kipferln", typical Easter cookies.
If your appetite has been whetted and there is no street market, you may like to know that not far from here, at Number 4, Steindlgasse, you'll find the oldest restaurant in town: Haus zum Drachen Güldenen, the Home of the Golden Dragon, which has been open since the 16th century, no less.
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