On the trail of Emperor Franz Joseph in Vienna
Emperor Franz Joseph’s erstwhile private garden provides a great setting for an initial encounter with the great man. The Burggarten in Vienna’s old town contains a statue of the monarch in typical dress – in his case, military uniform. Originally unveiled in front of a barracks, it later took up residence in the park on the Ringstrasse boulevard in 1957. The statue now stands just a stone’s throw from the Hofburg, where he ruled over the Habsburg empire for 68 years. Franz Joseph lived in the complex during the winter, and the former Imperial Apartments are open to visitors. Highlights include his study, his wife Elisabeth’s drawing room and bedroom, various salons and a positively antediluvian bathroom. Also located in the Hofburg, the Imperial Treasuries is a trove of priceless items including Emperor Rudolf II’s crown, which would later be adopted as the Austrian coronation crown.
Each summer Franz Joseph relocated his entire operation to Schönbrunn Palace – where he was born (1830), spent his dotage and died (1916). Passionate about nature, he was particularly fond of the Schlosspark where he would take regular walks. As a child Franz Joseph would spend countless hours in the park with his brothers, and is reputed to have learned to swim in a pool behind the obelisk fountain. He also visited the zoo regularly. Schönbrunn Palace has 1,441 rooms, 45 of which are open to the public. The Emperor’s offices and private apartments are simple and unadorned, while the staterooms and guest apartments are the epitome of opulence. The Imperial Coach Collection at Schönbrunn Palace presents a huge range of examples of imperial transportation, from the larger-than-life imperial coach to more modest children’s sleighs.
Another related highlight, the Hofpavillon Hietzing can be found close to Schönbrunn Palace. Adorned with intricate Jugendstil (Austrian Art Nouveau) elements, the pavilion was actually a station designed by Otto Wagner for the Stadtbahn railway. Exclusively reserved for the monarch and his entourage, the imperial station building even contained a private study for the emperor. However, he only used his private station on a grand total of two occasions – today it is open to visitors. Anyone interested in finding out how the emperor really lived should head for the Vienna Furniture Museum. This unique museum contains furnishings from the royal and imperial households. The thousands of items covering some five centuries include an imperial travel throne and a prayer bench upholstered in velvet.
Other places with strong connections to the emperor include the Museum of Military History which puts painting and uniforms from the Emperor’s day on display in the Franz-Joseph-Saal, and the Votive Church which was built to thank God for saving the young Emperor’s life following a failed assassination attempt. Vienna’s Ringstrasse boulevard can also be seen as a symbol of his reign. In 1857 Emperor Franz Joseph ordered the fortifications surrounding Vienna’s city center to be demolished, and for a boulevard complete with showpiece buildings to be constructed on the grounds in front of the old walls and towers.
In-keeping with tradition, the “Old Man of Schönbrunn” was laid to rest in the Capuchin Crypt, which is the final resting place of members of the Austrian Habsburg dynasty. Since 1633 a total of 149 Habsburgs, including 12 emperors and 19 empresses and queens, have been buried in the crypt beneath the Kapuzinerkirche (Church of the Capuchin Friars). Franz Joseph was the last of the emperors to be buried here. The sarcophaguses containing the remains of his spouse Empress Elisabeth and Crown Prince Rudolf are also in the chamber.
www.habsburger.net is an excellent source of information on the history and lives and times of the Habsburgs (in German and English).