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      Philippine Welser, Ambras Castle and a Secret Love

      As refuge for his secret wife Archduke Ferdinand II. built Ambras Castle on the foundations of a medieval fortress.

    Philippine Welser, Ambras Castle and a Secret Love

    As refuge for his secret wife, Philippine Welser, Archduke Ferdinand II. built Ambras Castle on the foundations of a medieval fortress. At Ambras Castle today, visitors get a chance to experience the world of the 16th century, the legendary life of the lady of the castle, as well as the veritable treasure trove of what is the world’s first museum.

    Myth or Reality

    •                 Philippine Welser / Innsbruck, Schloss Ambras
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    •                 Archduke Ferdinand II. / Innsbruck, Schloss Ambras
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    •                 Andreas and Karl, sons of Philippine Welser / Innsbruck, Schloss Ambras
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    Archduke Ferdinand II. was supposed to marry a Portuguese or French princess. As is often the case in matters of love, things turned out differently: In 1557, he secretly married his true love, Philippine Welser, a mere merchant’s daughter. Back then, such a union was allowed by the church but absolutely shunned by society. So Philippine Welser lived tucked away at the newly built Ambras Castle, known to many as the Archduke’s mistress. The happy marriage resulted in four children, who were excluded from succeeding to any titles by the rest of the Habsburg clan.

    After their son was appointed as Cardinal, the pair received the official permission of the pope to reveal their marriage and was finally able to abandon all secrecy. Philippine, who was said to be a true beauty, mainly helped the ailing and sick with her knowledge of herbal remedies - one of the reasons why she was very popular with commoners as well as the aristocracy. She was also rumoured to have perfected recipes for local comfort food and even has a cook book attributed to her. 

    Ambras Castle: A Haven for Art

    •                 Innsbruck Ambras castle / Innsbruck, Schloss Ambras
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    •                 Courtyard of Ambras Castle / Innsbruck, Schloss Ambras
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      Castle Courtyard

    •                 Armory at Schloss Ambras in Innsbruck / Innsbruck, Schloss Ambras
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      The armory at Ambras Castle

    •                 Ambras Castle
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      The Spanish Hall

    Surrounded by its opulent gardens, the castle houses one of the most artistically significant halls of the late Renaissance, the “Spanish Hall.” It was thanks to Ferdinand’s keen interest in the arts that an exceedingly valuable collection of portraits, rarities and other precious items was being assembled at the time.

    According to records, the Archduke had planned for the lower castle to be used as an exhibition space, which made Ambras Castle the world’s first museum. At 20 hectares (49 acres), the castle park is an horticultural Gesamtkunstwerk. Its artificial waterfall enchanted visitors just as much then as it does now. According to records, the park was home to numerous plant and animal species, fishponds, a deer park, vineyards and gazebos.

    The 16th Century Spa at Ambras Castle

    •                 Bath of Philippine Welser / Innsbruck, Schloss Ambras
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      Philippine Welser's Bath at Ambras Castle

    A special feature of the castle is the bath of Philippine Welser. A bath in the - for the time - very luxuriously furnished wellness area of the castle was a fixture in the Duchess’s daily routine. The 1,60 meter (5 feet) deep basin was heated with an oven and with hot stones to create additional warmth. As the Duchess was a passionate herbalist, herbs were added for their healing benefits.

    The opulent bathing area was not only a refuge used for relaxation. Bathing was a social ritual: The noble guests were served food and drinks and so one whiled away several hours together. The versatile space was also used for small operations and body treatments, turning the bathing tract into a veritable Renaissance spa. At the same time, bathing was a welcome opportunity to slightly loosen the strict societal norms and limitations of the age.

    Rumour has it that Philippine Welser's life ended in this very bath. The myth that her mother in-law never ever got over her son’s marriage to a commoner’s daughter, and that her death was not of natural causes, persists today.

    Theater an der Wien
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    A Knight's Tale by Schikaneder

    The unusual story of a secret love at Innsbruck’s Ambras Castle was the inspiration for the knight's tale „Philippine Welserinn, die schöne Herzoginn von Tyrol“ (Philippine Welser, the Beautiful Duchess from Tirol) by Emanuel Schikaneder. In vivid fashion, the play tells the story of the life and work of Philippine Welser and her unusual relationship with Ferdinand II. As former collaborator of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Emanuel Schikaneder gained fame as the librettist of Mozart's opera “The Magic Flute”.

    He also founded the Theater an der Wien, which still stages numerous operas today. Schikaneder is known as the father of the German opera- and theater world. The musical “Schikaneder - the Turbulent Love Story behind the Magic Flute” was dedicated to his life and premiered in 2016 at the Raimundtheater in Vienna.

    The Fairy-Tale Castle Today

    Ambras Castle / Innsbruck, Schloss Ambras
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    The Fairy-Tale Castle Today

    Today, Ambras Castle is among Austria’s most beautiful sights and as the world’s first museum, it has a strong connection with Europe’s cultural heritage. Permanent exhibitions as well as temporary shows offer visitors insight into various eras. One highlight is the Habsburg Portrait Gallery with masterpieces by Velázquez, van Dyck and Rubens.

    The armory as well as the chamber of arts and wonders (Kunst- und Wunderkammer) delight those passionate about arts and culture. The Spanish Hall is used as an impressive concert venue in summer while the magical castle gardens beckon for a walk in the footsteps of Philippine Welser, at one with nature.

    Discover more about Ambras Castle
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