The Hofburg Palace complex in Vienna houses diverse and interesting museums that shall garner admiration. Among those, the first among equals that should be considered are three museums - Imperial Apartments, Sisi Museum, and The Silver and Tableware Collection. All of them can be accessed with a single ticket. The related exhibitions are especially interesting and enriching because they lead the visitors through the stories of the personal lives of the empire’s popular but extremely unlucky monarchs. You shall also be introduced to the last decades of the Hapsburg rule, sumptuous official and private chambers and apartments, and the world of fine arts.
The exhibitions that answer the questions
Although varied exhibitions cover diverse topics of the imperial life, they are mostly centred on two main figures of the Austrian, and later Austro-Hungarian Empire – Franz Joseph I and his wife, Elizabeth (Sisi). A separate section is dedicated to Elizabeth at the Sisi Museum, located next to the Imperial Apartments, which presents the formal etiquette and the way of life of the royal couple.
Franz Joseph I and Sisi
The beginning of the story about the second longest ruling European monarch (only Louis XIV ruled longer) and his wife brings you to the unusual marriage that was accompanied by a few bad omens from the beginning. Despite their great love, the way of living and state affairs that required Joseph’s full attention separated them as much as thousands of miles would. On top of it, Sisi’s free spirit couldn’t bear the environment that required strict etiquette, and this, among other things, got her into confrontations with her mother-in-law. Thus, she spent most of her time travelling in Europe, before she was assassinated in 1898 in Geneva, Switzerland. Before the assassination, the couple got through the suicide of their son, Rudolf, the heir to the throne, in 1889.
Franz Joseph I, besides losing his wife and son, had to endure two more tragedies. In 1867, he lost his younger brother, Maximilian I of Mexico, who was shot by a Mexican revolutionary firing squad, as well as his heir to the throne, Franz Ferdinand, in 1914. The latter loss proved to be too much, and Franz Joseph initiated the string of events that led to the beginning of the first great war of the 20th century (World War I).
The Imperial Apartments and Sisi Museum provide the settings to these extraordinary life stories. Running a vast empire that encompassed present day Austria, Hungary, Czech, Slovakia, parts of Italy, Slovenia, Croatia and eventually Bosnia and Herzegovina, required full dedication of its ruler.
Placement and type of furnishings in private chambers in the Imperial Apartments indicate highly demanding daily routine that required early hours, extensive engagement and working around the clock. Aside from ornately decorated staterooms, you’ll see rooms where Franz Joseph and Elizabeth had their physical practices in order to stay in shape. The lack of exaggerated luxury in the Emperor’s private rooms testifies his aversion toward it.
Another room you should pay close attention to is the dining room, where a formal procedure was always honoured, no matter whether it was an official lunch or private dinner. Especially interesting (you’ll be astonished) is how the napkins are arranged. During the Hapsburg rule, no more than two carefully chosen servants at a time were allowed to know how the napkins should be folded and arranged. The practice remained till today, and when one of these two people passes away, the secret is only then passed to his/her successor.
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In the Sisi Museum, you can familiarize with the personal style and character of the empire’s favourite Empress, who was the main driving force behind the unification of Austria and Hungary in 1867. Her numerous personal belongings are displayed here; such as dresses, a parasol, gloves, even a reconstruction of a dress she wore on the eve of her wedding. Portraits, stories of her activism and assassination, accompanied by circumstances that brought to it, conclude this interesting exhibition.
Silver and Tableware Collection
The silver and tableware collection makes an interesting addition to the above-mentioned exhibitions. Being inclined toward the arts, numerous Hapsburg monarchs collected various tableware items originated throughout the world. In addition to domestic manufacture, pieces from the Far East are most desirable. Since each ruler was expected to master a skill of manual crafting, you’ll find certain examples influenced by some of the rulers, Franz II (I) in particular.
Additionally, you can see numerous exclusive items such as porcelain and gift sets, candlesticks, etc. decorated with floral, mythological and other scenes and motives, or simply coated in gold or silver.
Plan your visit
All three museums are connected with one another, and are covered by the Sisi ticket, which provides the best price and value. The full price is 28 EUR (31.50 USD). Besides these museums, it enables fast track visit to the Schönbrunn Palace, and the Imperial Furniture Museum. The audio guide is included. Note that taking photos in the Imperial Apartments and Sisi Museum isn’t allowed.
Tickets can be purchased at the ticket office in the In der Burg, and the queue, which happens to be several dozen meters long from time to time, goes really fast and you’ll hardly wait more than 15 or 20 minutes.
The Hofburg Museum can be quickly explored between two and three hours, but if possible, try to allocate four or five hours to make the most of your visit.
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