1809 Terrain 3 – Austrian Villages

Many settlements in Upper and Lower Austria go back to the middle ages. While actual buildings from that time rarely survived into the period that concerns us here, namely the years around 1800, the basic layout and the way the plots of land were organised stayed pretty much the same.

From a typological standpoint, several types of villages can be distinguished.

Image from Diercke Atlas (https://diercke.westermann.de/content/dorfformen-978-3-14-100800-5-77-5-1)

The most archaic form is the “Streusiedlung” or “Weiler” (hamlet), which goes back to the 9th century. It consists of a small number of farms built near each other without any system. The “Haufendorf” is also a rather old form, with irregular plots and several, sometimes winding roads.

The “Angerdorf” goes back to the middle ages. Here, the “Anger”, a communally owned and used village green, forms the center. The Anger often features a pond (used to water livestock and to put out fires), which is fed by a brook. The church was actually rarely built directly on the Anger, but often placed a bit apart, preferably on rising ground.

The “Straßendorf” (street village) also was first seen during the middle ages and is characterised by a central road, along which the farms are arranged alongside each other. Sometimes, there is a small space between the buildings, but often they are built directly adjacent. At the back of the plots, orchards, vegetable patches and barns would be arranged. Behind those were the fields. When the villages grew larger, a road could run along the backside of the plots, the so-called “Hintaus”. Even more growth would see this develop into a secondary main road, along which new farms would be built.

Of course, actual villages not always adhere strictly to this typology and many villages grew during the 18th century, for example Aspern, which developed from a village with one central street (Straßendorf) to having a second street.

Concerning the houses making up those villages, researchers in european ethnology (as the discipline of “Volkskunde” is known nowadays) have developed another typology: 

Image from: Baukultur im Weinviertel (http://kulturpaedagogik.ph-noe.ac.at/download/Baukultur%20Weinviertel/Baukultur%20Weinviertel.pdf)

The basic type of house in Eastern Austria was the so-called “Streckhof”, a long and narrow building with the gable end pointing towards the street and the entrances to living as well as work spaces towards the yard. When a barn was added at the rear, this developed into a “Hakenhof”. When an entrance area with more living quarters was added at the front, closing the yard towards the street, it became a “Zwerchhof”. When both are present, it is called a “Doppelhakenhof”. Closing the latter with additional buildings would have transformed it into a “Dreikant-” or “Vierkanthof”.

The buildings themselves were made out of air-dried mud bricks, covered with a mixture of earth and straw and whitened with lime. Contrary to popular imagination, open timber framing was extremely rare in Austria (and Southern Bavaria). The roofs were usually covered with straw or reed. Larger buildings had wooden shingles. Tiles were very rarely used before the middle of the 19th century, when fire insurance became widespread. Before that, buildings were easily inflammable – it is no suprise that battle reports always mention burning villages.

An interesting feature of some of those buildings are the so-called “Trettn”, an arcade along the inner front of the main building. This would shelter the residents from rain and bad weather when moving from living quarters to stables and other workspaces. It could take quite elaborate forms and was probably inspired by the arcades of the big farmsteads of nobles and abbeys.

Trettn in a Zwerchhof (image looking towards the front, with the yard gate to the right). Image from Kräftner: Naive Architektur II.

Villages also had a church surrounded by a small graveyard. However, at the end of the 18th century, new graveyards began to be built outside of the villages. This was a result of hygienical ideas developed by enlightenment thinkers and officials.

Additionally, many villages also had a manor house, often called a “Schloss”, where the local noble would reside. Sometimes, this mansion would have a small park and other accompanying buildings.

In larger and more prosperous villages, such as Aspern, some mud-brick buildings were replaced by stone buildings, often with two storeys. However, the basic layout of the plots mostly stayed the same.

Outbuildings, such as stables and barns, were also often made out of mud-brick. The basic type was the “Längsscheune”, with the main door on the gable side and a very low roof. There were, of course, also wooden barns.

Längsscheune. Image from Kräftner: Naive Architektur II.

Other farm buildings include granaries. In our context, the most famous is perhaps the “Schüttkasten” at Essling, but smaller types could be found in many villages.

This image of Groissenbrunn was painted by Franz Mayer in the second half of the 18th century. Many of the features mentioned can be seen. Groissenbrunn is a small village in the Marchfeld, about 30km to the east of Aspern. It is a typical “Angerdorf”, with the Anger, a central meadow traversed by a brook, being used as a communal area for assembly and festivities. Often, the village smithy was located there.

Image from Kräftner: Naive Architektur II (original at the Abbey Melk)

The simple farm houses, most of them “Doppelhakenhöfe”, have straw roofs. In the middle, there is a small manor house (or perhaps the residence of the parish priest) with what looks like a small formal garden (it may also be a herb or kitchen garden). There is also a church with a small walled graveyard. You can also discern interesting details, such as the grave crosses, which seem to have been made out of wrought iron. Grave stones are still a rare sight. Also note the drawing well in the foreground. Judging from other contemporary images, this (and not the bucket-on-a-windlass type) was the predominant form of wells in the region and many farms would have one. The walled rectangular shapes seen in the background are actually not common features of the rural landscape: They are water basins for the fountains of nearby Schloß Hof.

Unfortunately, most buildings offered to the wargamer by terrain manufacturers are not really fitting for Austria (and some still follow the timber-framing cliché). Fortunately, more appropriate buildings are very easy to make. For mine, I used stout cardboard which I textured with filler. The windows were printed with my 3D-printer and the roof was made from a dustcloth soaked in thinned-down PVA glue.


One of the best sources for the layout of Austrian villages around 1800 is the “Franziszeischer Kataster”, the land registry started in the 1810s during the reign of Francis I. Fortunately, this very detailed map is available online for free. The legend for the map is available via Wikimedia

Contemporary drawings and paintings of villages are available, but hard to find online, especially in a good enough quality to discern individual houses.

The following books offer a useful introduction to the subject:

Kräftner, Johann: Naive Architektur II. Zur Ästhetik ländlichen Bauens in Niederösterreich. St. Pölten, Wien: Verlag Niederösterreichisches Pressehaus 1987 [Very good images, the text is sometimes informative, but very romanticizing]

Stenzel, Gerhard: Das Dorf in Österreich. Wien: Kremayr & Scheriau 1985 [A good overall history of the development of rural settlements in Austria]

15 thoughts on “1809 Terrain 3 – Austrian Villages

  1. Leigh Jackson September 8, 2021 / 1:20 pm

    Fascinating article, really like this level of detail, makes the world we game in really come alive.

  2. Adrian Mandzy September 8, 2021 / 2:23 pm

    Very cool! But what am I to do with the half timbered buildings in my collection? Use them for Leipzig?

    • Thomas Brandstetter September 8, 2021 / 3:07 pm

      Yes, they should work for Leipzig. Half-timbered buildings were quite common in large parts of Germany.

  3. Robin September 8, 2021 / 3:35 pm

    Very very informative and a real eye opener. Would the villages in neighbouring Saxony been similar or the same?

    • Thomas Brandstetter September 8, 2021 / 3:37 pm

      Thank you. Yes, the basic layouts seem to be the same in Saxony.

    • Robin September 8, 2021 / 3:48 pm

      Great! Thanks for the reply.

  4. Pete S/ SP September 9, 2021 / 3:21 pm

    Those are really nice.



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