In 1853 Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth celebrated their engagement in the then 'Hotel Austria', a place that now houses the Museum of Bad Ischl. Come here to learn about how the town developed over the years, and in particular how the area's extraction of salt saw the place emerge as a spa resort and imperial summer residence.
The Imperial Villa in Bad Ischl is where the nobility spent their summers. As soon as the weather grew warm in Vienna, the Habsburgs escaped to the Salzkammergut - and everyone who could afford it followed their example. It all began in 1828 when the physician of the royal but childless couple Archduke Francis Charles and Princess Sophie of Bavaria advised them to visit the spa at the resort town to “take the waters”. The princess subsequently succeeded in bearing a child, who – as Emperor Francis Joseph – was himself to spend many summers at the Imperial Villa in Bad Ischl with his wife, Elisabeth. Today the Villa is open to the public and still retains the nineteenth-century ambience that was enjoyed by the emperor and his family. Even back in those days the Zauner bakery, an “Imperial and Royal Purveyor to the Court”, was pampering noble palates with its delectable cakes, and still today a visit to Bad Ischl would be unthinkable without a stopover at “Zauner”.
The legacy of Austria’s imperial past can be found wherever you go in this country - but nowhere, of course, in such concentration as in the country’s capital, where you can sense this grand imperial atmosphere even when stopping by at one of the city’s many historic coffee houses. Drop by at The Imperial Treasury of Vienna to view a symbol of the Habsburgs' wealth and power or take a look at the Augustinian Church on Josefsplatz, the venue for numerous Habsburg weddings, or the Imperial Crypt beneath the Capuchin Church which served as the final resting place for the members of the House of Habsburg. Admire the imperial Michaelertor before going to the Spanish Riding School, which has been the “Haute École” of equestrian art in the Renaissance tradition for over 450 years. The performances at the Winter Riding School, built by the Baroque architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, are a thrilling experience for young and old, with the noble horses seemingly defying gravity in a “white ballet”.
Many visitors are attracted to the many magnificent palaces, such as the Baroque Schönbrunn Palace, which contains no fewer than 1,441 rooms. Its Mirrors Room, where the polished surfaces, wooden panelling and mirrors create the illusion of increased space, was the setting for the very first concert given by six-year-old Mozart for Empress Maria Theresia in October 1762. According to history, the young boy sprang onto the Empress's lap and gave her a kiss. The elaborately laid-out grounds are also not to be missed. Stroll through the palace grounds (the superb setting for the Wiener Philharmonic's annual summer concert against the backdrop of the illuminated palace) up to the elegant colonnade known as the Gloriette, where a coffee house offers stupendous views across the city, or spend a few hours at the world’s oldest zoo.
Imperial apartments can be visited at the Habsburgs' primary residence, Vienna’s Hofburg Palace. Particularly interesting insights into day-to-day imperial life are offered by the palace silver collection. The Habsburgs’ lavish dining culture alone illustrates what enormous expense was involved in running an imperial household of up to 5,000 people. The Sisi Museum, on the other hand, gives visitors a glimpse into the private life of the famous Empress Elisabeth. In addition to her dressing and exercise room, visitors can also view a reconstruction of the dress she wore on the eve of her wedding, her dressing gown and her death mask. These are all silent witnesses to a life that was ended tragically and violently with her assassination in 1898.
Lainz Game Reserve, part of the Vienna Woods, was an imperial hunting ground and still forms a habitat for wild boar and red game. The Hermes Villa within the reserve was a gift from Emperor Franz Joseph to his wife Elisabeth. The building is lavishly furnished and is seen as a shining example of the late-romantic architecture, and is the location for one of Vienna's city museums.
The baroque chateau complex of the Belvedere Palace was built in the 18th century by order of the Austrian commander Prince Eugène of Savoy and consists of the Upper and the Lower Belvedere and an extensive garden. The Upper Belvedere boasts the awe-inspiring Marble Hall, the Sala Terrena and the monumental staircase and houses a permanent exhibition of works of art stretching from the Middle Ages and the Baroque period up to the present date. The Lower Belvedere also has beautiful rooms, such as the Grotesken Hall, the Marble Gallery and the Golden Room. It served as the residence of Prince Eugène and housed a collection of paintings, library and collection of antiques.
Emperor Franz Joseph decreed the construction of the Ringstraße in 1875 and is considered by many to be the most beautiful boulevard in the world, on account of the architectural masterpieces that can be seen on both sides. The Vienna State Opera, Hofburg, Natural History Museum, Parliament, City Hall, the Burgtheater, University of Vienna, and the Votive Church - to name just a few - are flanked by beautiful palaces, parks and gardens.
The Weltmuseum (World Museum) in Vienna opened its doors in 2017 with an extensive collection from different parts of the world. The city is benefitting from yet another unique cultural attraction, as the collection of display takes the visitor on a voyage of discovery through all seven continents. Thanks to the Habsburgs' love of collecting artifacts, much of the valuables on display come directly from Vienna.
Go to Laxenburg Castle to experience the quiet aura of an imperial park. Breathe in the regal atmosphere, stroll through the grand Castle Park and take the ferry across to pay a trip to the romantic Franzensburg Castle. It's the birthplace and place of baptism of Archduke Rudolf, crown prince of Austria, in 1858. The Persian Shah Nasreddin’s stay here in 1873 during the Vienna World Exhibition made the headlines.
The Schloss Hof formed the hunting lodge of Prince Eugène of Savoy in the first half of the 18th century. This sumptuous castle with its magnificent terrace garden (one of Europe's most beautiful Baroque gardens) was gifted by the Habsburgs as a thank you for assisting in the victory over the Turkish besiegers. In 1755, Empress Maria Theresia acquired the complex, gifting it to her husband, Emperor Franz Stephan. Baroque parties are still held on the terraces in honor of Prince Eugène.
The Benedictine Melk Abbey is situated on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Danube. An awe-inspiring sight which towers above you, take a tour which starts off in the Imperial Rooms. This gem of Baroque architecture provided Habsburg emperors with lodgings appropriate to their stature. Visit the Marble Hall to admire Paul Troger’s ceiling fresco of Pallas Athena, painted in 1731. In this masterpiece, the goddess protects the ruler with wisdom and strength.
Hall Mint Museum in Hall-Wattens looks back on a glorious history as a Habsburg coin metropolis. It was here in 1486 that the first silver coin was minted, and in 1567 Emperor Maximilian II commissioned a coin for the first time with the help of a roller with stamps. By the time Empress Maria Theresia was in power, more than 17 million famous 'Maria Theresa talers' were created and used as currency throughout the empire and beyond. A visit to the museum offers a glimpse into the world of coins and 500 years of European coin history. Come here to view the oldest taler or the largest silver taler in the world, the latter of which contains more than 20 kg of silver. Climb to the top of the Mint Tower to be treated to unforgettable views of the medieval town hall and the imposing backdrop of the Karwendel mountains, which formed the favourite hunting ground of the Habsburg princes.
Archduke Ferdinand II (1529-1595) collected special objects throughout his life. Many of these, including paintings, weapons and rare objects from around the world can now be admired in a permanent exhibation at Schloss Ambras in the south of Innsbruck.
Emperor Maximilian I chose Innsbruck, the “Capital of the Alps”, as his residence because it was the ideal base for expanding his empire into what is now Western Europe. Today the legendary Golden Roof serves as a reminder of his reign. This loggia-like projection on the building’s second floor afforded a perfect view of the city’s main square and quickly became the symbol of Innsbruck. Maximilian’s Mausoleum, in the Hofkirche, is still considered one of the most important pieces of Renaissance in Central Europe.
After Emperor Franz Joseph I and Sisi's wedding ceremony in May 1854, the newlyweds took the train from Vienna to Mürzzuschlag for the opening of the Semmering Railway to spend their honeymoon in Styria. Emperor Franz Joseph often travelled by train for his stay in the imperial hunting lodge in Mürzsteg. In the SÜDBAHN Museum in Mürzzuschlag you can see, among other things, the emporer's original travel set, complete with his pipe, pipe stopper, cigarette cutter, writing spring and blotter. You can relax in the Imperial Cafe with coffee and cake or Triester beer.
The Herzogshof in Graz is where the Habsburgs conducted their official business as sovereign princes of Styria. The building’s entire façade - over 220 square metres - was covered with murals on Greek-Roman mythological themes by the Baroque painter Johann Mayer. Whatever one might think of the Habsburgs, they certainly had exquisite taste, and you don't need to be a fan of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to take pleasure in their many cultural treasures.
Today Graz is known as an avant-garde city, but its beauty was also appreciated in the past by the Habsburgs, which is why they also made it into one of their residences. One of the most important heirlooms from the Habsburg times is the Burg in Graz. The construction of this castle began under the emperor Friedrich III and was expanded under Emperor Maximilian I. During this time one of the most important staircases, the famous double spiral staircase was also created.
This permanent collection accommodates the world's largest original armory from the late Middle Ages and early modern times. It houses an astonishing 32,000 objects that have been collected over the centuries.
Kaiser Karl VI commissioned Halbturn Palace, Burgenland's most important baroque building in the early 18th century to be used as a hunting and summer residence. He appointed Lucas von Hildebrandt, one of the most famous architects of his time, who was responsible for the construction of both Belvedere Palaces. You can hear all about the building's extensive history on a tour through the village of Halbturn, the castle park and former horse stables.
Schloss Esterhazy is one of the most beautiful Baroque palaces in Central Europe, and it offers up an impressive insight into the glorious life of the Esterházy princes. The famous Haydn Hall is one of the palace's highlights and is still viewed today as one of the best concert halls in the world. Other outstanding features are the former royal family's dining room, the luxurious mirror room and the small Chinese salon. The castle also has its own vineyard.
One of Carinthia's most important relics of the Habsburger period is the Landhaus in Klagenfurt. The castle was built in 1574 to replace the old castle which was destroyed by a fire. Today, this architectural masterpiece forms the seat of the Carinthian state government. A real highlights is its the large armory with 665 weapons from the Carinthian states and a wall and ceiling painting by Josef Ferdinand Fromiller which depicts the inauguration of Emperor Karl VI in Klagenfurt.
When the notion of a summer holiday became popular in Austria, the Habsburgs and other members of the imperial court began to build summer villas in Millstatt. Around twenty of these historic buildings that started springing up in the second half of the 19th century can still be seen today. You can walk down the Millstatt Villa Route taking in its yellow facades, green painted shutters, cosy bay windows and cheerful turrets to get a taste of years gone by, and can even stay in some of these places on your holiday.
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