These quaint summer cottages with their tidy gardens are typical variations of mountain homes in Austria. What's unique about them is that they are clustered together in a tiny patch of urban oasis in downtown Vienna — a walled-in, fairytale community surrounded by concrete offices and industrial buildings.

If you look carefully, you can see the rooftops of nearby factories above the tree-lines in the photos.

Italian photographer Gianmaria Gava created this photo series "Little Austria" to document the urban phenomenon, Auf der Schmelz, in Vienna.

The Schmelz follows from the Swiss, German and Austrian traditions of Schrebergärten, started in the age of industrialization, when areas at the outskirts of the towns were cultivated to give factory workers' families the possibility of spending their free time in nature, escaping the city and managing their own little gardens.

Built on the site of a former Austro-Hungarian army base dating from 1847, this land was split up into little plots in the 1920s by the hungry urban population who organized themselves and planted potatoes there without permission. After the bombings in World War II, the Schmelz was rebuilt as a kind of suburb in the center of town, and its development has continued quietly for the last fifty years.

Even during the rapid urbanization of the sixties the city did not assimilate this area and was forced to grow around it. The potato fields were slowly transformed into flourishing private gardens, the farmers' tool sheds into weekend cottages.

The history of the Schmelz area reflects the development of our society over the last century: from the necessity of self-organization during war and economic crisis, through the explosion of the metropolis and the urbanization process, to today’s central role of leisure time in modern lifestyle. It became a rural hideout in the center of the city, as a result of continued transformation around changing necessities and taste.

This microcosm of one-storeyed houses — directly surrounded by the tall, multi-level buildings of the city — displays the whole range of architecture found in Austria, as a catalogue or small-scale model of the country.

The inhabitants of these cottages can commute to their jobs in urban high-rises via a short tram ride, and return at the end of the day to their bucolic retreats.

— Text by Gianmaria Gava and Jim Casper