Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.3 million people in Central Europe. It borders both Germany and the Czech Republic to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west. The territory of Austria covers 83,872 square kilometres (32,383 sq mi), and is influenced by a temperate and alpine climate. Austria's terrain is highly mountainous due to the presence of the Alps; only 32% of the country is below 500 metres (1,600 ft), and its highest point is 3,797 metres (12,460 ft). The majority of the population—about 90%—speaks German, which is also the country's official language. The origins of Austria date back to the time of the Roman Empire when a Celtic kingdom was conquered by the Romans in approximately 15 BC, and later became Noricum, a Roman province, in the mid 1st century AD—an area which mostly encloses today's Austria. In 788 AD, the Frankish king Charlemagne conquered the area, and introduced Christianity. In more recent times, the Austrian Empire formed a monarchic union with the Kingdom of Hungary in 1867—creating Austria–Hungary, also known as the Austro-Hungarian Empire—which ended in 1918 with the closure of World War I. In 1938, Austria was incorporated into Nazi Germany, creating a unification known as the Anschluss. This lasted until the end of World War II in 1945, after which Austria was occupied by the Allies. In 1955, the Austrian State Treaty re-established Austria as a sovereign state, ending the occupation. In the same year, the Austrian Parliament created the Declaration of Neutrality which declared that the country would become permanently neutral. The modern name of Austria, Österreich, can be traced back to the name Ostarrîchi, first documented in an official document from 996 AD. Austria is a parliamentary representative democracy, composed of nine federal states. It is one of six European countries that have declared permanent neutrality, and one of the few countries that includes the concept of everlasting neutrality in its constitution. The capital—and with a population exceeding 1.6 million, Austria's largest city—is Vienna. Austria is one of the richest countries in the world, with a nominal per capita GDP of $43,570. The country has developed a high standard of living, and in 2008 was ranked 14th in the world for its Human Development Index. Austria has been a member of the United Nations since 1955, joined the European Union in 1995, and is a founder of the OECD. Austria also signed the Schengen Agreement in 1995, and adopted the European currency, the euro, in 1999.