Austria is a small, predominantly mountainous country in Central Europe, approx. between Germany,Italy and Hungary. It has a total area of 83,859 km², about twice the size of Switzerland and slightly smaller than the state of Maine.
The landlocked country shares national borders with Switzerland (164 km) and the tiny principality ofLiechtenstein (35 km) to the west, Germany (784 km) and the Czech Republic (362 km) and Slovakia(91 km) to the north, Hungary to the east (346 km), and Slovenia (311 km) and Italy (430 km) to the south (total: 2563 km).
The westernmost third of the somewhat pear-shaped country consists of a narrow corridor between Germany and Italy that is between thirty-two and sixty km wide. The rest of Austria lies to the east and has a maximum north–south width of 280 km. The country measures almost 600 km in length, extending from Lake Constance (German Bodensee) on the Austrian-Swiss-German border in the west to the Neusiedler See on the Austrian-Hungarian border in the east. The contrast between these two lakes – one in the Alps and the other a typical steppe lake on the westernmost fringe of the Hungarian Plain – illustrates the diversity of Austria's landscape.
Seven of Austria's nine provinces have long historical traditions predating the establishment of the Republic of Austria in 1918: Upper Austria, Lower Austria, Styria, Carinthia, Salzburg, Tyrol, andVorarlberg. The provinces of Burgenland and Viennawere established after World War I. Most of Burgenland had been part of the Kingdom of Hungary, but it had a predominantly German-speaking population and hence became Austrian. Administrative and ideological reasons played a role in the establishment of Vienna as an independent province. Vienna, historically the capital of Lower Austria, was a socialist stronghold, whereas Lower Austria was conservative, and both socialists and conservatives wanted to consolidate their influence in their respective provinces. Each province has a provincial capital with the exception of Vienna, which is a province in its own right in addition to being the federal capital. In Vienna, the City Council and the mayor function as a provincial parliament and provincial governor, respectively
Austria may be divided into three unequal geographical areas. The largest part of Austria (62%) is occupied by the relatively young mountains of the Alps, but in the east, these give way to a part of the Pannonian plain, and north of the River Danube lies the Böhmerwald, an older, but lower,granite mountain range.
The Danube has its source near Donaueschingen in southwestern Germany and flows through Austria before emptying into the Black Sea. It is the only major European river that flows eastwards, and its importance as an inland waterway has been enhanced by the completion in 1992 of the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal inBavaria, which connects the Rhine and Main rivers with the Danube and makes barge traffic from the North Sea to the Black Sea possible.
The major rivers north of the watershed of the Austrian Alps (the Inn in Tyrol, the Salzach in Salzburg, and the Enns in Styria and Upper Austria) are direct tributaries of the Danube and flow north into the Danube valley, whereas the rivers south of the watershed in central and eastern Austria (theGail and Drau rivers in Carinthia and the Mürz and Mur rivers in Styria) flow south into the drainage system of the Drau, which eventually empties into the Danube in Serbia. Consequently, central and eastern Austria are geographically oriented away from the watershed of the Alps: the provinces of Upper Austria and Lower Austria toward the Danube and the provinces of Carinthia and Styria toward the Drau.
Three major ranges of the Alps – the Northern Calcareous Alps, Central Alps, and Southern Calcareous Alps – run west to east through Austria. The Central Alps, which consist largely of a granite base, are the largest and highest ranges in Austria. The Central Alps run from Tyrol to approximately the Styria-Lower Austria border and include areas that are permanently glaciated in the Ötztal Alps on the Tyrolean–Italian border and the Hohe Tauern in East Tyrol and Carinthia. The Northern Calcareous Alps, which run from Vorarlberg through Tyrol into Salzburg along the German border and through Upper Austria and Lower Austria toward Vienna, and the Southern Calcareous Alps, on the Carinthia-Slovenia border, are predominantly limestone and dolomite. At 3,797 m, Großglockner is the highest mountain in Austria. As a general rule, the farther east the Northern and Central Alps run, the lower they become. The altitude of the mountains also drops north and south of the central ranges.
As a geographic feature, the Alps literally overshadow other landform regions. Just over 28% of Austria is moderately hilly or flat: the Northern Alpine Foreland, which includes the Danube Valley; the lowlands and hilly regions in northeastern and eastern Austria, which include the Danube Basin; and the rolling hills and lowlands of the Southeastern Alpine Foreland. The parts of Austria that are most suitable for settlement – that is, arable and climatically favorable – run north of the Alps through the provinces of Upper Austria and Lower Austria in the Danube Valley and then curve east and south of the Alps through Lower Austria, Vienna, Burgenland, and Styria. Austria's least mountainous landscape is southeast of the low Leithagebirge, which forms the southern lip of theViennese Basin, where the steppe of the Hungarian Plain begins.
Bohemian Forest (mountain range)
The granite massif of the Bohemian Forest (known in German as the Böhmerwald), a low mountain range with bare and windswept plateaus and a harsh climate, is located north of the Danube Valley and covers the remaining 10% of Austria's area. Notable is the Manhartsberg a granite ridge which separates Waldviertel fromWeinviertel.