Old Vienna: The Hofburg

Imperial Vienna is a city that is rich, very rich in both history and culture.  Just visit the Hofburg or the Imperial Palace and you will understand what I mean.  The palace is a complex comprising 10 or more buildings and is reflective of the six centuries of Austrian rule.  Now, most of it has been converted into museums whilst part of it has been turned into the President’s office.  Lucky him to be working in such a beautiful building.

I don’t know where to start, there’s the Albertina Museum which houses one end of the complex and is home to one of the world’s finest collections of watercolours, prints and drawings.  There, I saw breathtaking peices by Durer, Rubens, and Michelangelo to name a few.  I was also lucky enough to be there during the Munch exhibition an got to see some of the most famous works, “The Scream.”  If you are bored of the prints or they aren’t really your taste, you can also walk around some of the newly renovated rooms.  This used to be the residence of Maria Theresa’s daughther, Maria Christina and her husband Duke Albert.  The rooms have beautifully inlayed floors and silk panel coverings.  Exquisite.

If you are a book lover, stop by the Austrian National Library (Prunksaal) and be mystified by it’s wood paneling and flamboyant gold coverings.  Walls and walls of books await whilst the painted ceiling overhead just takes your breath away.

There’s a statue of Prince Eugene in front of the Neue Burg which is a great place to take photos because of its curved architecture added in 1881-1913.  It’s beautiful and grand. It’s no wonder this is where Hitler chose to proclaim “the Anchluss” in 1938.  The Neue Burg was also the latest addition to the Hofburg as Imperial power faded.  A mere 5 years after it’s completion, the Habsburg empire ended.

To see all the glory of the Habsburg empire, do not miss the State Apartments, Silberkammer and Schatzkammer (Treasuries).  In this part of the Hofburg, you will walk through rooms and rooms of ornate interior.  This was the home of Emperor Franz Joseph, the famous Empress Sissi, and even those of Tsar Alexander I.  There is an incredible 10th century crown dating from the time of the Holy Roman Empire and the cradle of Napoleon’s son with Maria Louisa.  There are golden crowns and chairs from the order of the Golden Fleece.  There are so many treasures here you get dizzy.  Museums in other countries seem to have but a fraction.  These are things you read about in history books and see in movies.  These objects from history are behind stories of knights in armour and wars.  Stories of love and marriages and hidden childs.  All this you must not miss.  You could spend a good part of the day roaming around the quarters and delving into the treasures.

My favorite part of the complex, aside from the treasuries, has to do with horses. The Winter Riding School.   By now you probably know I love horses.  This is the Spanish Riding School (horses from Spain bred with Arab and Berber horses) believed to have been founded in 1572 to train riders in horsemanship.  Here, they have shows showing you horses dancing to music as if they were part of a ballet.  The horses leap into the air completely in control of their legs with such grace, you wonder if its really a horse.  And all this, happens amidst a hall filled with carvings, intricate plasterwork and crystal chandeliers.  If you changed the flooring to wood, it could very well be a beautiful ballroom.  That’s how beautiful the building is.  I saw the morning training session, even then it was so beautiful. 

Yes, the Hofburg is large. You could get lost roaming around the place, but its definitely a site not to be missed.  At least see all the treasures.  It is amazing.  You’ll see how rich Imperial Vienna was and still is.


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