The Alps occupy the southern and western portions of the country, and peak at the Grossglockner's 3797-metre summit. The upland forests of the Bohemian Massif run north to the Czech border, while the Danube Valley and the fertile lowlands of the east provide the bulk of Austria's arable land. There are numerous lakes in Carinthia and the Salzkammergut region.
Most of Austria has a moderate Central European climate though the eastern part of the country is blessed with a Continental Pannonian climate with average temperatures in July above 19°C and annual rainfall of less than 80 cm. Average temperatures are between 20 and 25°C in summer, 1 and 4°C in winter, and 8 and 15°C in spring and autumn.
Nearly half of Austria is forested, mainly with oak and beech at low altitudes; at higher elevations conifers predominate. Trees yield to Alpine meadows at just over 2000 m and orchids, edelweiss, and poppies become quite common.
In Alpine regions, fauna includes ibex (a mountain goat with huge curved horns), chamois (horned antelope) and marmots (cute little furry creatures unrelated to Marmite).
About BC 800 and 400, Indo-European Illyrians moved to the area of present-day Austria. Around the year 0, Roman rule was established in the territory. Charlemagne established a territory in the Danube Valley known as "Ostmark" in 803, and the area became Christianized and predominantly Germanic.
By 1278, the Habsburgs had gained control and this mighty dynasty managed to rule Austria right up until World War I. Dynastic marriage produced two sons: the eldest became Charles I of Spain and went down in history as he became Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire three years later; the younger son, Ferdinand, became the first Habsburg to live in Vienna and was anointed ruler of Austria, Hungary and Bohemia.
In 1556, Charles abdicated as emperor and Ferdinand I was crowned in his place. Charles' remaining territory was inherited by his son, Phillip II, splitting the Habsburg dynasty into two distinct lines - the Spanish and the Austrian. In 1571, when the emperor granted religious freedom, the vast majority of Austrians turned Protestant.
European conflict dragged on until a settlement was reached at the Congress of Vienna in 1814-15. Austria was left under control of the German Confederation but suffered upheaval during the 1848 revolutions and eventual defeat in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War. Emperor Francis-Josef was made King of Hungary, making way for the model of dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary in 1867.
In 1576, the new emperor, Rudolf II, embraced the Counter-Reformation movement and much of the country reverted, with a little coercion, to Catholicism. The attempt to impose Catholicism on Protestant areas of Europe led to the Thirty Years' War, starting in 1618 and devastating much of Central Europe. Peace was finally achieved in 1648 with the Treaty of Westphalia. For much of the rest of the century, Austria was preoccupied with halting the advance of the Turks into Europe.
In 1740, Maria Theresa ascended the throne and ruled for 40 years. During her reign, state power was centralized, civil service was introduced, army and economy underwent reform and a public education system was introduced. However, progress came to a halt when Napoleon defeated Austria at Austerlitz in 1805.
On 28 June 1914, the heir to the throne, Archduke Francis-Ferdinand and his wife were both killed in an assassination carried out by a Serbian separatist supporter in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. In the light of Germany declaring war on Russia and France in August 1914, a regional conflict in the Balkans spread to turn into World War I. On 12 November 1918, Karl I abdicated and left the country. The same day, a provisional national assembly proclaimed the Republic of Austria.
Governments dominated by the conservative Christian Socialist Party were not in a position to come to terms with social unrest or recurring economic strife. German troops invaded Austria on 12 March 1938, newly-appointed Federal Chancellor Seyß-Inquart being assigned the task of incorporating her into the Third Reich ruled by Hitler, leading to Austria becoming involved in World War II (1939 - 1945).
The State Treaty of 1955 re-established Austria as an independent and sovereign country (restoring Austria to her 1938 frontiers), enshrining a pledge to stick to "permanent neutrality", excluding any future economic or political union with Germany, banning her from possession of heavy weapons and outlining the withdrawal of Allied occupational forces.
In the post-war years Austria worked hard to overcome economic difficulties. Looking at the Austrian political arena of this period, consensus politics triumphed over confrontation. Grand Coalitions between the Austrian Socialist Party (SPÖ) and Christian Socialist People's Party (ÖVP) were followed by Socialist majority governments. Eventually, Austria joined the European Union.
Austria has a well-developed market economy with a high standard of living. The country being a member of the European Monetary Union (EMU), Austria's economy is closely integrated with other EU member countries, especially Germany.
Austria's EU-membership has drawn an influx of foreign investors attracted by her accession to the Single European Market. Major industries are machinery, textiles, iron and steel and timber. Average annual inflation is about 2.1%, unemployment amounted to 5.4% in 2000.
Composers throughout Europe were drawn to the country in the 18th and 19th centuries by the generous patronage of the Habsburgs. In fact, many of the Habsburgs were themselves gifted musicians. At various times Beethoven, Brahms, Gluck, Haydn, Mahler, Mozart, Schubert, Schönberg and the Strauss family composed world-famous music in Austria.
Today, Austria's cultural heritage (comprising the Vienna Philharmonic, the Vienna Boys' Choir, the "Staatsoper" - State Opera, the 'Musikverein' and the 'Konzerthaus') is still unrivalled.