A City of Empire
Retains Her Glory

Part I - The "Hofburg"

Once the seat of a sprawling empire of fifty million, now capital of a nation of less than eight million, Vienna has maintained a facade worthy of its former glory.
Opulent neo-Gothic and neo-Baroque buildings line the boulevard ringing downtown - the "Ringstrasse", a former city wall - while the imposing spire of Gothic St. Stephen's Cathedral towers over the central city. Three stunning palaces grace various sections of the city; the Vienna Woods, inspiration for Strauss' waltzes, cradle the northwest edge. Vienna's historical roots run deep, as deep as the Danube River.

First settled by Celts around 800 BC, then conquered by the Romans, the country fell under a succession of rulers. In Roman times Vienna (Vindobona) was a military camp and the Danube was the border to "Germania". In 996 the first deed containing the name Austria (Ostarrichi); was recorded, and this year the country celebrates its 1000th anniversary.

During those early days, the country grew under the relatively peaceful reign of the Babenberg dynasty and Vienna got the status of a capital.
But this dynasty died out in 1246, and was followed by the Habsburg dynasty that would rule the Austrian and the German Empire for more than 600 years and make the country the dominant force in Central Europe for much of that time.

And as the Habsburg ruled also in Spain, which largely expanded to South America, the Habsburg could say:

"In our empire the sun does never set"  

Shortly before the Habsburg era crumbled with the country's defeat in World War I, the Austro-Hungarian Empire stretched north into what are now Poland and the Czech Republic, east to the Ukraine and Romania, and south to Bosnia, Croatia and Italy. But the vestiges of that great empire still can be seen today - in the buildings that decorate the strreet corners and in the people who populate the town.

The main Habsburg palace, Hofburg, remains one of the most important buildings in the inner city (downtown). Its earliest sections were constructed in the 1200s, and successive rulers added their own touches. Over the years the Hofburg ("royal castle") developed into a sprawling complex of more than 2600 rooms.

The royal apartments most reflect the influence of Empress Elisabeth "Sisi", who ruled over the empire with her husband, Francis Joseph, until her assassination in 1898 by an Italian anarchist. Sisi, a Bavarian (German) princess, couldn't abide strict court etiquette, and caused quite a stir by insisting on outfitting her apartments with gymnastics equipment.

Emperors and their entourage, just like everybody else, needed appropriate living quarters. Since they had enough ready money at their disposal and the most famous architects at their command, it is not surprising that one stumbles upon architectural masterpieces wherever one turns in Vienna.
Some of its wings embrace one of Vienna's most beautiful squares - the Heldenplatz; in addition to sumptuous state rooms, the Hofburg houses several museums and the Schatzkammer containing the priceless imperial treasury. The Imperial Palace also includes two of Vienna's most important tourist attractions: the inimitable Lipizzans, the White Stallions of the Spanish Riding School, established in the late 1500s, the performance has changed little over the years, as the striking white Lippizaner stallions are put through their paces, often to the strains of one of Austria's beloved composers. And on Sundays and holidays, the world-famous Vienna Boys' Choir sing Mass and performe classical and modern works in the Chapel of the Imperial Palace, the Burgkapelle.
Also located in the Hofburg: The National Library, the 14th-century Augustinian Church, the Baroque Prunksaal hall, large congress facilities, a collection of old musical instruments and the office of the Austrian president.

Heraldic - "Double-Eagle"
Image1 - Hofburg front
Image2 - Portal detail
Image3 - older Crown
Image4 - former Entry
Image5 - Dome
Image6 - Crown
Image7 - downtown Portal
Image8 - Saloon
Image9 - Empress Sisi
Image10 - Sisi's Bedroom
Image11 - Museums and Offices
Image12 - National Library
Image13 - Library Reading Hall
Image14 - Library Great Hall

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