O’er thee, like thine own sea birds
I’ll circle without rest
For me earth holds no corner
To build a lasting nest.
The Sisi Museum is a decade or so old, but still a huge attraction in Vienna. Publicity and souvenir shops are everywhere. No photos were permitted in the Sisi Museum, so the above two offerings are all I returned home with. But the good news: read further on in this post for beautiful photos the other museums we visited on the 17th let us take : treasures, weapons, art… But Sisi was fascinating, so I start with her…
As royal celebrity goes, long before our modern love affair with Lady Di, there was the very different, complicated Empress Elizabeth of Austria, known affectionately (to some) as Sisi. Sisi was a beautiful, brunette, Bavarian, royal teenager with long, long, long hair. The teenage Elizabeth’s china doll radiance swept Emperor Franz Josef I off his feet, causing Franz to defy his mother, Sophie, for perhaps the only time. Sophie had selected Elizabeth’s sister. Both were Sophie’s nieces.
Franz stood firm for Sisi. Eight months later, on April 24, 1854, at the tender age of 16, Elizabeth married Franz.
Sisi, introverted, ascetic and devoted to reading and writing, had little interest in the conservative, unimaginative Franz and even less in the social and political responsibilities of the Imperial Court. Sisi was obsessed with her own beauty. She had a wooden climbing thingy next to her bedroom and maintained her 110 pounds and her physical fitness, with extreme creativity and determination, through and beyond her four pregnancies. Empress Elizabeth was not a commoner like Diana, Princess of Wales, but had much empathy for free-thinkers and those who eschewed the pampered luxuries of Empire.
There was much sadness in Elisabeth’s life. In 1857 her firstborn, named Sophie after Franz’s bossy mom, died just after her second birthday. Sisi’s only son, Rupert, died in a suicide pact scandal in 1889. Sisi, grieved, kept diaries that included her poems and longed for another, freer, life.
Ironically when one considers her sympathies with the common people, Sisi was killed in Geneva in 1898 by a crazed assassin who wanted to kill the pretender to the French throne but, after missing his chance, killed the first royal he came across.
On May 17 we bought our tickets for all the Hofburg stuff we wanted to see (see below for ticket details).
The Schatzkammer (Imperial Treasury)
First, a shout-out to a crafty, Calvinist, Transylvanian noble named Stefan Bocskay. Bocskay, before he was poisoned, formed alliances with pesky, war-like, emancipated peasants called haidus and, with their help, successfully fought two battles against the Habsburgs. Stefan also cleverly took the often belligerent haidus out of the Ottomans’ way by granting them noble titles and persuading them to set up further north and prosper. The Ottomans appreciated this help so much that they allowed him to rule Transylvania and gave him the crown below.
Most of Hungary was eventually conquered by the Ottomans. Vienna, as discussed before, held out because of their city wall defense, friends like the Spanish HRE, Carlos V, and, later, the talent for war possessed by the great strategist, Prince Eugen of Savoy. Eugen is the subject of my next post. His beautiful Belvedere Palace overlooking Vienna now houses several important pieces of Gustav Klimt’s, including The Kiss.
And now to the subject at hand: Treasure!
Being the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, Vienna got to collect all the ancient Imperial Regalia going back to Charlemagne. Most of it is in Vienna now. Replicas of Charlemagne’s stuff remain in Aachen, Northern Germany, Charlemagne’s favorite place. He built an octagonal chapel there, in which he now rests since 814. The chapel was later expanded into the Kaiserdom, an amazing World Heritage Site and the oldest cathedral in the world.
In 1796, when Napoleon’s troops threatened Aachen, the Regalia were moved several times ending up, via Nuremburg and Regensburg, in Vienna c. 1800. Hitler moved them back to Nuremburg. Discovered after WW II by American troops, the treasures were given back to friendly Vienna in 1946.
So many other treasures were in the Schatzkammer, but let’s move on. We had a busy day.
The Weapons and Armour Collection:
The artistry shown in this collection of armour and weapons was the best in the world. The engraving of those times was unsurpassed. I was surprised by the number of beautiful items from the Ottomans, even after visiting Istanbul. Here is just a small selection of the variety that we found cruising through the collection:
The Imperial Silver Collection:
Though we saw this collection immediately following the Sisi Museum, I thought it would be nice to end on a gentle note. Serious editing and cutting, believe it or not, has been done on the myriad of beautiful objects we saw just in this one day at the Hofburg. And we still had not yet visited the Kuntshistoriches Museum of paintings and sculptures. Caravaggio’s David holding the head of Goliath would have to wait for a couple of days…