Monday, 29 July 2013

The Hofburg Palace in Vienna

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The Hofburg Palace in Vienna is today the Austrian Federal President's official seat, but it wasn't always that way. Originally, Hofburg Palace was a wintertime imperial residence for the almighty Habsburgs. After the Holy Roman Empire fell and the Austro-Hungarian Empire rose, however, the Emperor of Austria assumed control of the palace. It served as the Emperor of Austria's residence until 1918. A glorious edifice it is, the Hofburg Imperial Palace looms large right in the heart of Vienna. The palace complex is quite large, having been modified and added onto consistently after the first building went up in 1279. It's almost a small city within itself, offering curious visitors plenty to explore. You can't help but notice Hofburg Palace when touring Vienna's Old Town, and it begs a visit.

In Vienna, the Hofburg Imperial Palace is often just referred to as die Burg, which translates to "the palace". Boasting some 2,600 rooms, it is quite large, which helps to explain its status within the city. The palace faces the Heldenplatz, which is one of Vienna's most historical squares. It was here, for example, where Adolf Hitler announced the annexation of Austria to Germany, which occurred in 1938. The Heldenplatz was originally to become part of the greater Kaiserforum, or imperial forum, which Emperor Francis Joseph had in mind. The forum never saw completion, however. The Hofburg Imperial Palace itself was hardly completed when it first served as the seat of government in 1279. Many notable architects and engineers had a hand in the palace's expansions. Among the list of renowned architects were the von Erlachs, who were masterful Baroque designers. Their work is also on display at the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, which was the summertime imperial residence of the Habsburgs.

It can be hard to take it all in when enjoying tours of the Hofburg Imperial Palace. Often times, it helps to focus on a few main areas. The Imperial Apartments are definitely worth a look. They are lavish examples of just how ornate European palace rooms can be, rivaling what you can expect to see at the Palace of Versailles in France, for example. The Schatzkammer, or Imperial Treasury is also something that visitors to Hofburg Palace will not want to miss. It can be accessed by a staircase that leads from the Swiss Court, which is one of the earliest parts of the palace complex. Inside the Treasury are some of the most impressive jewels that you will see anywhere in Europe. Among the sparkling exhibits is a priceless imperial crown that is encrusted with diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds. It dates back to 962! Stolen by Hitler in 1938, the crown would eventually be returned to Vienna by the American Army.

Next to the Treasury is the Imperial Chapel, and it is here where the famous Vienna Boys' Choir performs. They sing at Sunday Mass between the months of September and March. To see them, you will have to make reservations at least two months in advance, though standing-room-only spots are available for some 60 people each Sunday. One of the other main parts of Hofburg Palace that you will want to include in your visit is the New Palace Museum. It was the last major addition that was made to the palace, and it was completed not long before the advent of World War I. Among its exhibits are old musical instruments, a statuary, and an armory. The armory offers a rather different appeal than does the room of historical music instruments, and instead of claviers, violas, and lutes, you'll instead see swords, crossbows, and suits of armor.

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