Austria is the republic in central Europe. It is about 360 miles long and has an area of
about 32,378 square miles. Vienna is the country's capital and largest city.
Austria is predominantly a mountainous country, with an average elevation of about
3000 feet. Most of the land falls within the eastern part of the Alps. In general the major
mountain ranges of Austria run in an eastern-western direction and are separated from one
another by large valleys. The northernmost line of ranges includes the North Tirol Alps and
the Salzburg Alps. Among the central range is the Hohe Tauern, which tops in the
Grossglockner, the highest elevation in the country. The Pasterze Glacier, one of Europe's
largest, descends from the Grossglockner peak. The southernmost ranges include the ?tztal
Alps, the Zillertaler Alps, the Carnic Alps, and the Karawanken Mountains. Besides these
eastern-western ranges, several series of mountain extend in a northern-southern direction.
The mountain barriers of Austria are broken in many places by passes, including the Brenner
Pass and the Semmering Pass.
The principal river is the Danube, which enters Austria at Passau on the German
border. Austrian tributaries of the Danube include the Inn, Traun, Enns, and Ybbs rivers. In
the south, important rivers are the Mur and the M?rz. In addition to the rivers, the
hydrographic system of the country includes numerous lakes, Bodensee, and Neusiedler Lake in
Burgenland. The lake is the country's lowest elevation point.
The Austrian climate varies with altitude. Mountainous regions are subject to
moderate Atlantic conditions and experience more precipitation than the eastern lowlands.
Spring and fall are usually mild throughout the country. Summers are short with moderate
temperatures. Cold and often severe winters last about three months in the valleys. The foehn
is important to Austria's agricultural production, allowing for early cultivation of the southern
valleys. Average annual temperatures range between about 44? and 48? F throughout the
country. Average annual rainfall is about 26 inches in Vienna and about 34 inches in
Innsbruck. In some interior valleys, the average annual rainfall is between about 60 and 80
Austria has large deposits of iron ore, lignite, magnesite, petroleum, and natural gas and
is a prime world agent of high-grade graphite. Some small deposits of bituminous coal have
been mined, as well as lead, zinc, copper, kaolin, gypsum, mica, quartz, salt, bauxite, antimony,
and talc.
Deciduous trees, mainly beech, oak, and birch, are predominant in the lower altitudes.
Spruce, fir, larch, Austrian black pine, and stone pine extend to the timberline. The higher
altitudes have a very brief season during which alpine plants, including edelweiss, gentians,
primroses, buttercups, and monkshoods, come into brilliant flower. Wildlife is generally scarce
in Austria. Chamois, deer, and marmot are still represented; bear, which were once abundant,
are now almost completely absent. Hunting is strictly regulated to protect the remaining
The Austrian people are German-speaking, but the country has a varied ethnic
mixture?a legacy from the time of the multinational Habsburg Austria. About 96 percent of
the population is ethnic Austrian. Minority groups include Croats and Hungarians,
Slovenes,Czechs, as well as small numbers of Italians, Serbs, and Romanians. A large amount
of refugees in the years following World War II increased their numbers, and new groups,
such as the Turks, were added. According to the 1991 census, Austria had a population of
7,795,786. The 1996 estimated population was about 8,023,244, giving the country an
overall population density of about 248 people per square mile. About 61 percent of the
population is urban, with more than one-quarter of the people living in the five largest cities:
Vienna, Graz, Linz, Salzburg, and Innsbruck. Austria is divided into nine federal provinces:
Burgenland, K?rnten, Nieder?sterreich, Salzburg, Steiermark , Tirol, Ober?sterreich, Vienna,
and Vorarlberg.
Roman Catholicism is the religion of about 78 percent of the population of Austria.
Reformed Lutherans and various other Christian denominations account for 8 percent, and
Muslims make up 2 percent. Those without a religion or whose faith is unknown constitute 12
percent of the population.
German is the official language of Austria. About 2 percent of the population speak
languages other than German, mainly Croatian, Slovenian, Czech, and Turkish.
The basis of the Austrian educational system is the national law that requires school
attendance for all youths between the ages of 6 and 15. Austria's long tradition of free
education dates from the Educational Reform Act of 1774, instituted by the Empress Maria
Theresa. This law, which was expanded in 1867 and again in 1962, largely accounts for the
fact that virtually all of the adult population is able to read and write.