The Hofburg Imperial Palace in Innsbruck is considered to be one of the three most culturally significant buildings in Austria. (The other two are in Vienna.) Now that the palace is no longer the seat of the Tyrolian sovereigns, it is primarily a tourist attraction, but is also used for special events, as we discovered on our first day in Innsbruck when we tried to visit and found the whole building blocked off for a political ceremony. Luckily, we had enough time the next morning to check it out before our plane left for London.
The Hofburg was built in the mid-1400’s and then enlarged significantly in 1495 by Emperor Maximilian I for his second wife. The Hofburg as you see it today, though, is largely thanks to the influence of Empress Maria Theresa in the 18th century. She was the only female to rule during the reign of the Habsburgs. (That is her surrounded by her family in the painting above. She had sixteen children – her second youngest was the infamous Marie Antoinette!) An almost 20-year reconstruction project by Maria Theresa produced a more stable building with beautiful residential rooms and apartments, a chapel, and a renovation of the Giant’s Hall, adding the incredible ceiling frescoes that stretch the entire length of the banquet hall.
The palace is enormous, but only a very small portion of it is open to visitors – the Imperial Apartments and the Giant’s Hall. No photography is allowed, which I found out when a member of the staff came running at me from across the room, waving her hands at me to stop. I was, of course, mortified and did not take any photos after that, but I’ll share the few I did get before I realized I was breaking the rules. Such a rebel.
Our tour began in the South Tower, built by Emperor Maximilian I, and then moved along through a small museum before stopping in the Hofburg Chapel. Originally a sort of lobby, this room was converted into a chapel after Maria Theresa’s husband, Francis I, died in it during the course of their son, the future emperor’s, wedding celebrations. The city’s Triumphal Arch, on Maria-Theresian-Straße, symbolizes this bittersweet era in Innsbruck’s history.
Flanking both entrances to the Giant’s Hall are public rooms, each having served a different purpose many years ago. Each room’s walls are decorated with paintings of scenes from the Habsburg’s reign and portraits of family members, both of the Habsburgs and the Lorraines, Marie Theresa’s husband’s family. The room pictured above is the Guard Room where the Imperial Guard kept watch. This side of the Hofburg was considered the man’s side of the palace.
The Giant’s Hall, the most notable of the rooms within the Hofburg, was used as a large banqueting hall for parties. Portraits of Maria Theresa’s children and grandchildren line the walls of this grand space, and elegant, colorful frescoes adorn the ceiling. (Mirrors are provided so you don’t have to crane your neck or strain your eyes to see their detail.) Oddly enough, the name Giant’s Hall does not come from the size of the room, but from the frescoes of Hercules that once decorated its walls. I prefer the image of fairytale giants dining in here, but to each her own.
After making our way through more portrait galleries, we entered the women’s side of the palace – the private quarters for the female members of the imperial family. Each room was decorated in a different color, my favorite of which was the study in the North Tower. Besides the lovely blue color, this room also had the most light. (I could so see myself using this room as my writing space!)
It was in this section of the palace that I was told photography was not allowed, so I do not have pictures of the bedrooms or the servant’s quarters, but really, in my opinion, the main thing to see here is the Giant’s Hall. We spent about an hour and a half touring the palace, and about 2/3 of that time was spent in the Giant’s Hall. The lady who stopped me from taking photos apparently forgave me for my transgressions, because before we left, she took us back into the Hall and told us all sorts of stories about the palace’s history and events that took place there. She was a wealth of information, so if you visit, don’t hesitate to ask the staff questions.
An audio guide is included in the admission fee to the palace, but I found the information displayed in each room in English to be just as helpful. Also, Sundays are family days – if you bring your children, everyone is allowed free admission to the palace! Otherwise, adult tickets are €8 and children are free.
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