After the busy and research filled visit to Trieste I thought our time in Vienna would be a quieter more relaxing stay, and in a way it is. The historic centre is traffic restricted in many places, and you are more likely to be knocked down by a bicycle than a bus. The roads are extremely wide and the side streets, on the whole, are pleasant and interesting, with few pedestrians. The same can’t be said for each of the many tourist attractions, which are heaving and occasionally pretty claustrophobic.
Every corner that you turn reveals a magnificent structure, be it a palace, a museum, a library, public offices or even an apartment building. On every other corner there is a café, a chocolate shop, or a konditorei (cake shop).
On the street where we are staying, the façades are classic early 20th century, flat front but embellished, architecture. It is exactly how I would have imagined it. I love it. But, for some reason it doesn’t inspire me to write, at least it doesn’t fire my imagination to create any fiction. I’ve tried to work out why this is and I think it might be because everywhere is opulent. We’re staying close to the historic centre and one would think I would be bursting with ideas for some romantic, fiction about the young Hapsburg children running about in the palace grounds or a fictional depiction of the much discussed and possibly reinvented wife of Franz Joseph of Austria, Elizabeth (known as Sisi). Their whole lifestyle, the grandness and sheer ‘overthetopness’ of it all leaves me a little cold. Sisi had long hair down to her ankles which took three hours everyday to groom and style. It took a whole day for her to have a bath and wash it. I mean honestly! There is no doubt that Sisi is an interesting character and you can read more about her here.
Vienna was, or should I say, ‘is’ The Hapsburgs’. The family ruled the Austro Hungarian Empire from 1867 until 1918 and before that the Austrian Empire from 1804. The House of Hapsburg was founded in the 11th Century so they have been around for a very long time. However, when visiting the palaces and museums here, the emphasis is most definitely on Franz Joseph (ruled 1848 – 1916) and Maria Theresa who ruled from 1740 – 1780 with her husband Francis 1st. Her father, Charles IV, paved the way for her succession with the Pragmatic Sanction in 1713 which would allow a women to take the crown when there were no male heirs. A forward thinking man maybe, but in reality, he just wanted to make sure the Hapsburg line continued to rule.
These two monarchs, Franz Joseph and Maria Theresa, feature heavily in all the attractions of the city, even though there were others obviously – in 600 years there had to be. I didn’t know very much about either of them before I came here, at least I knew of them but that was about it. For me, it was interesting to see the connections between Trieste and Vienna and the Hapsburgs. In Trieste we visited the Miramare Castle built by Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria who was the brother of Franz Joseph. He was the Emperor of Mexico but was deposed and subsequently shot in 1867. In fact Franz Joseph was an unlucky man, first his brother is killed, then his son commits suicide (see below), then his wife was murdered (also see below), and to cap it all, his nephew and heir, Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in 1914 leading to the beginning of WWI and the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire. Franz Joseph died in the Shönbrunn Palace on 21st November, 1916 at the age of 86. He ruled for 68 years.
Below are some of the facts that have grabbed my interest whilst in Vienna:
Trieste was the sea port for the Austro Hungarian Empire for many years.
Marie Antoinette was one of the daughters of Maria Theresa.
Sisi was assassinated by an Italian anarchist who went specifically to kill somebody else in Geneva but the guy he had planned to stab had left the building earlier that day. He went on to stab Sisi, he didn’t care who he assassinated:
‘ I am an anarchist by conviction… I came to Geneva to kill a sovereign, with object of giving an example to those who suffer and those who do nothing to improve their social position; it did not matter to me who the sovereign was whom I should kill… It was not a woman I struck, but an Empress; it was a crown that I had in view.
The son of Sisi and Franz Joseph died in 1889 at their country hunting lodge known as Mayerling. It was all a bit of an intrigue as he was there with his young mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera, and they both died in what was suspected to be a murder-suicide pact. This incident is of particular interest to me because of course there is a ballet of the same name choreographed by Kenneth Macmillan to the music of Franz Liszt. based on the story. Read more here
It’s all history innit?
PALACES IN VIENNA
There are a number of palaces in Vienna, we managed to visit three, The Schönbrunn Palace, The Hofburg, and The Belvedere,
Yes, it was a bit seen one you’ve seen ’em all but…The Belvedere housed a wonderful exhibition of sculpture and art and we browsed the various rooms with pre and post WW2. Very interesting. The Schöbrunn was all all about Queen Elizabeth wife of Franz Joseph I, known as Sisi, (see above).
Photographs from the Belvedere Exhibition
The Hofburg Palace was also home to the Spanish riding school. I was unable to get a ticket to see a performance but I did do a tour of the stables. Photos were limited, we weren’t allowed to take any actually inside the stables where all the mature stallions were kept. So I just got a couple of shots of the younger ones. I didn’t take very good ones but…
I’ve never liked the idea of the stallions performing all those high dressage steps and dancing but visiting the stables and listening to the tour guide I became convinced that the horses lead a very happy life with plenty of holiday time during their working life. The mares are kept at the Lipica Stud Farm in Slovenia. It was pointed out to me that they only use the mares for breeding and in any case the mares are not interested in ‘showing off’ like the stallions are. They don’t need to bother with all that sort of malarky. The stallions on the other hand love to flaunt themselves and be the centre of attention. There is a fascinating history to the breed and to the Spanish Riding School. You can take a look at some videos on Youtube if you want to see performances and more about them.
The Man and I also took a tour of the Opera House. Tickets weren’t available for a performance, which was just as well because they were a tad pricey! €250 for one. An expensive night out which we couldn’t really run to. But, we could visit the opera house for the small price of €9 each as were are over a certain age. The English speaking tour was fully booked so we had to choose between Japanese or Italian. Yes, of course we chose Italian. I was surprised at how much I understood although he did rather rattle through things.
We did a huge amount of walking around Vienna and everywhere there are beautiful buildings to see. The Man and I feel we barely scratched the surface of this wonderful city and it’s definitely worth a second and even third visit. Have you been? Let me know in the comments what you think.