The Sisi Museum in Vienna provides an incredible look into the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria (aka Sisi). I have to admit, before going to Vienna, I didn’t know much about Sisi at all. From my recollection of history class, she wasn’t mentioned so this Hofburg Palace tour was really informative. She was an extraordinary woman that fully deserves her own exhibit within the Hofburg Imperial Palace. Included in the tour was also the Silver Collection and the Imperial Apartments in Vienna. For over 600 years, up until 1918, the Hofburg Imperial Palace was the political center of the monarchy and the residence of Austrian royalty. Today it is the center of the Democratic Republic of Austria.
A Short Habsburgs History
The House of Habsburgs takes its name from Habsburg Castle, a fortress built in the 1020s in present-day Switzerland. During the 13th century, the House of Habsburgs (aka the House of Austria) reigned as the first rulers of the Austrian patrimonial lands. Starting in 1452, they became the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire until their extinction in the male line in 1740.
Then in 1806, they ascended to become emperors of Austria until the end of the monarchy in 1918. The house also produced emperors and kings of Bohemia, Hungary, Croatia, Galicia, Portugal, and Spain with their respective colonies. As well as rulers of several principalities in the Netherlands and Italy.
History of the Hofburg Imperial Palace
The Hofburg Imperial Palace was originally a medieval fortified castle dating from the 13th century. It grew with the reign of each emperor. The complex consists of 18 wings, 19 courtyards and 2,600 rooms in which nearly 5,000 people still work and live today. The medieval fortress core has been preserved, however the four corner towers, most of the moat, and the drawbridge altered over the centuries. In the middle of the 16th century, the façade was changed to the Renaissance style.
I should note that the Imperial Treasury is part of the palace, however, on the day I went it was closed, so I was unable to see it. I was able to see the Austrian National Library, which is also nearby and looks to be straight out of the Beauty and the Beast library! The last royal occupant to the Hofburg Imperial Palace was Emperor Franz Joseph who passed November 21, 1916.
Hofburg Palace Tour: The Silver Collection
I went to the Hofburg Imperial Palace, particularly for the Sisi Museum in Vienna. Upon arriving, you first go thru the Silver Collection. I’ve never seen so much gold and intricate designs on all sorts of dinnerwear! This collection alone is probably worth a fortune! Don’t get me wrong. It is not just knives, forks, and plates. Some centerpieces are about 100 feet long (30 meters)! The exhibit’s purpose is to give visitors an insight into the culture of elegant dining.
Back to the 15th century, the first written record of the office of Silver Chamberlain appears during the time of Emperors Frederick III and Maximilian I. Responsible for the table silver, table linen, and the setting of the imperial table. It became a more prominent role as time wore on, encompassing the Court Kitchen, the Court Confectionery, the Court Linen Room, the Court Cellars, the Court Silver and Table Room, the Court Depot of Victuals, the Court Firewood and Coal Depot and the Court Light Room.
Now that the royals are no longer using them, the collection is sometimes used in state banquets and dinners or put on display in the former offices of the Silver Room. There are about 7,000 items on display at the Silver Collection, of the total 150,000 that they own.
The Sisi Museum in Vienna
The Sisi Museum in Vienna houses 300 personal items that once belonged to the Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Sisi). This museum is exceptional at providing a unique view of her life and personality. If you’ve watched the 1950s Sissi film series, you’d believe that her life was something of a fairytale.
However, as with the truth of many fairytales, there are darker tones to it. Inspired by her poetry, the Sisi Museum Vienna exhibit walks you thru her life. Starting with her unconventional upbringing, to marrying Emperor Franz Joseph I at the age of sixteen, and then onto her court life and tragic death.
The Hofburg Palace tour of the Sisi Museum included her parasols, fans, gloves, jewelry, portraits, clothing, beauty products, games case, traveling medicine chest (including her cocaine syringe), and even the original death certificate. My favorite items on display were her dresses!
They have two of her reconstructed dressed on display, a summer dress she wore as a young bride on the evening before her wedding, as well as her Hungarian coronation dress! As someone who is the same height as Sisi, 5’8″, she was rather thin, called “almost inhumanly slender” in her day. From what I recall at the exhibit, she only fluctuated between 98 and 101 pounds. This probably can be contributed to her obsessive dieting, exercise, and depression.
A Look at Sisi’s Beauty
The only way she felt appreciated was thru her looks which is why her physical appearance was her top priority. Her bedchamber was installed with mats and balance beams so that she could exercise every morning. You see some of her exercise equipment on the tour of her rooms. Taking up fencing in her 50s as well as riding horses for several hours a day. Her beauty routine for her incredibly long hair took 3 hours daily! Interesting fact, while getting her hair done, she’d learn languages. Talk about using your time wisely!
The Legacy of Empress Elisabeth of Austria
There’s a load more you learn about Sisi in the museum that if I covered would make this post 8,000 words long, so I suggest reading about her further and viewing the video above. The video above includes the exhibit as well as the Schönbrunn Palace. Her life is ripe for a movie with everything from an arranged marriage gone wrong (her older sister was supposed to marry Emperor Franz Joseph) to a tragic death, 25-year-old Italian anarchist stabbed Elisabeth with a sharpened needle file that was 4 inches (100 mm) long. I highly recommend the Sisi Museum in Vienna should you be traveling there.
Imperial Apartments in Vienna
The Imperial Apartments in Vienna cover 24 rooms that were once occupied by Emperor Franz Joseph and Sisi. On the tour, you get to see his study, their private rooms, reception room, dining room, amongst others. The curators of the Imperial Apartments took special care to maintain the highest standards of historical authenticity. The fittings and furniture date mostly from the second half of the 19th century. The ceramic stoves are part of the original 18th-century wares. Up until the end of the 19th century, the chandeliers held candles, and then electricity was introduced into the palace.
Hofburg Palace Tickets
As I usually do, I got a sightseeing pass for Vienna. The Vienna Pass covered the Hofburg Palace tour of the Sisi Museum, the Imperial Silver Collection, and the Imperial Apartments in Vienna. Whether or not you get the Vienna Pass or get Hofburg Palace tickets at their ticket office, you should know they also provide visitors with audio guides for free! Available in 13 languages and handed out after the turnstiles. If you’d like to get it ahead of time and not wait for the audio guide (though there was no line when I went in the summer), you can download their zip file or iTunes guide free of charge.
Hofburg Palace Hours and Directions
The Hofburg Palace tour of the Sisi Museum, the Imperial Silver Collection, and the Imperial Apartments in Vienna are open daily, including public holidays! The Hofburg Palace hours for the ticket office end at 4:30 PM (5 PM in July and August). The Silver Collection is open until 5 PM (5:30 PM in July and August).
September to June: 9 AM to 5:30 PM
July to August: 9 AM to 6 PM
It’s pretty easy to reach the Hofburg using public transportation. I used the hop on hop off bus that comes with the Vienna Pass, but you can also use the underground or other public transport.
Underground: U3 (orange), get off at Herrengasse
Trams: 1, 2, D and 71, get off at Burgring
Bus: 1A and 2A, get off at Hofburg
Note: The only place I was allowed to take photos was in the Silver Collection; the rest are from the official Hofburg site.
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