Heinrich von Ferstel, the architect of Vienna University, designed the arcaded courtyard personally in 1871, basing it on the Palazzo Farnese in Rome.
The arcaded courtyard forms the architectonic centre of the main university building and connects the four tracts that surround it: the ceremonial chambers on Ringstraße, the library wing opposite and the two teaching tracts with lecture halls and institute rooms on the sides.
Ferstel and his consultant Rudolf von Eitelberger planned the courtyard as a kind of hall of fame for the Alma Mater Rudolphina. As a result a unique collection of sculpted portraits of professors were created over subsequent decades.
In addition to the arcades with monuments to famous scholars, Ferstel’s concept included a huge equestrian statue of the University’s founder, Rudolph IV, in the middle of the courtyard.
The latter was never realised and the Castalia Fountain was erected in 1910 instead. But the monuments were approved by the Senate soon after the University reopened in 1884. The first monument, to the penal law professor Julius Glaser, was unveiled as early as 1888 and followed by portrait sculptures from the old university and the general hospital and, indeed, a flood of monuments until the First World War.
By 2016, 161 monuments were erected and unveiled in the arcades.