Austria is a small, predominantly mountainous country located in south-central Europe. It has a total area of 83,859 square kilometers, about twice the size of Switzerland and slightly smaller than the state of Maine. The landlocked country shares national borders with Switzerland and the tiny principality of Liechtenstein to the west (200 kilometers together), Germany (784 kilometers) and the Czech Republic and Slovakia (568 kilometers together) to the north, Hungary to the east (346 kilometers), and Slovenia (311 kilometers) and Italy (430 kilometers) to the south.
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 kilometers wide. The rest of Austria lies to the east and has a maximum north-south width of 280 kilometers. The country measures almost 600 kilometers in length, extending from Lake Constance on the Austrian-Swiss 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, Tirol, and Vorarlberg. The provinces of Burgenland and Vienna were 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.
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