One lovely facade of the Hofburg Palace hints at the opulence inside
From the Silver Collection we moved on to the Sisi Museum and then the Imperial Apartments (part of the same tour and ticket as the Silver Collection), all of it often known as the Residence of Empress Elizabeth (affectionately called Sisi).
After the initial entrance into the museum, no photography is permitted. So, we were happy that we bought the book, which has many photos of the rooms and furniture.
Sisi makes a nice story. She was obviously a remarkable, fascinating person, so different and independent, way more than we expected from the hype before. They are trying to explain her, redeem her here in this museum, which is the brainchild of Rolf Langenfass, a renowned set designer. The museum has many original items of clothing and other items owned by the Empress that help bring the personality of this fascinating woman vividly to life.
Sonya enters the Sisi Museum
Nath and Sonya on the stairs to the museum
Boards about Sisi’s life at the entrance
Born Christmas Eve 1837 to an aristocratic family in Bavaria, she and her siblings appeared to have had a happy childhood. She was betrothed to Emperor Franz Joseph in 1853, which propelled her into the limelight, something that made her subdued and ill-at-ease. She apparently hated the court structure, protocol and rigid etiquette and tended to reject this life. Later in her life she withdrew almost entirely from public life, and traveled a lot. The aristocracy criticized her attitude but the public loved her. She was very beautiful and has gone down in history as an empress of eternal youthfulness and beauty: she spent hours each day trying to preserve her legendary beauty, so spent many hours riding, exercising and tending to her ankle-length hair.
The double-headed eagle features extensively both on facades and in interior, on furniture, fixtures, drapery etc
Franz Joseph and Elizabeth’s son, Rudolf, committed suicide in 1889 and she wore mourning for the rest of her life. In September 1898, while traveling in Geneva, she was assassinated. Her body was taken to Vienna and she is buried in the Imperial Crypt. During her life, Sisi was already surrounded by an aura of myth, but her violent death made her into an undying legend.
After the assassination, the monarchy’s newspapers commiserated with the Emperor, who was dealt another severe blow after the suicide of his son. People soon realized that the subject of the lonely Emperor and the beautiful, unhappy, assassinated Empress could be used for monarchist propaganda. Commemorative images, coins, postcards etc were soon made, and in countries where she’d traveled statues were erected. Empress Elizabeth still exerted a fascination even after the Austro-Hungarian monarchy collapsed; various novels were published and films made about her and her life.
Rod on stairs leading to the Franz Joseph Apartments
The Apartments are magnificent, and have a great collection and heritage. It was very crowded the day we were there but was still an amazing exhibit. For more than 6 centuries the Vienna Hofburg was the administrative center, seat of government and main residence of the Austrian rulers. Besides the royal family, about 2,500 other people lived and worked here, a fact that gives a clue to the sheer size of the palace. All members of the royal family had their own apartments, usually a huge suite.
In 1858 Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elizabeth moved into newly-renovated rooms, where they were apparently very happy, and we see these rooms in the tour.
The Franz Joseph Apartments, besides giving a glimpse into palace life, also tell some of the story of this last Emperor. It’s not a happy story in many ways, as he suffered the assassination of his brother, the suicide of his son and heir, the murder of his wife, and the assassination of his nephew Ferdinand, which sparked WW1 and heralded the end of the Habsburg monarchy.
Here he conducted most state business, met advisors and foreign leaders, hosted lavish dinners, and raised his three children.
Franz Joseph held audiences twice a week with any citizen of the Empire. Those granted an audience waited in the Audience Waiting Room, decorated with three monumental paintings. The Emperor received them (only a few minutes each person to maximize the numbers he could see) in the Audience Chamber, opulently decorated in red, white and gold.
We also saw the Conference Room, where the emperor presided over meetings of ministers. Next came the Emperor’s Study, also effectively his living room, as we worked and ate in here most days. As with the other rooms, it is very lavishly decorated with many gilt-framed paintings, crystal chandeliers, painted ceilings. By contrast, his bedroom was relatively plain. Next, the Large and Small Salons were the link to the apartments of Empress Elizabeth. After she died, he didn’t use these rooms any more.
Empress Elizabeth’s Apartments included Small and Large Antechambers, Small and Large Salon, dressing room, bedroom/living room, wardrobe rooms, bathroom, lavatory, a library and a gymnastics room, which no longer exists. All are beautifully and elaborately furnished and decorated—without pictures it’s actually difficult to really capture the dazzling wealth.
Next are the Alexander Apartments, named after Tsar Alexander 1 of Russia who stayed here during the Congress of Vienna in 1815. The Empress used these for dinners and receptions, and the Dining Room still has a long table set for a formal dinner in that era. We could easily imagine the gold, silver, gilt, vermeil and pottery sets from the Silver Collection being used here, and the table linens folded into intricate shapes.
Selfie as we exit the Apartments
It’s all rather mind-boggling. Take-home message is one of wealth, grandeur, beauty (some excessive maybe?). But, it does feel very real, compared to things from the Middle Ages or older, as much of what we saw is fairly recent—the Hofburg was used by the monarchy until 1918. We can also imagine the Emperor and Empress here, as there are actual photos of them and their lives, plus we heard a small audio clip of his voice.