25 February 2012

Vienna, Austria - Day 4

We woke up to snow today and we felt like a change from the hotel breakfast.  We braved the weather and meandered down to Cafe Schwarzenberg with its lovely old world interiors and chandeliers.

From here we tackled the enormous Hofburg Complex, the former residence of the Emperor.  A conglomeration of several grand buildings and courtyards, the complex contains sights of interest such as the National Library, the Imperial Apartments, an arms collection, the renown Spanish Riding School, the Silver Chamber displaying vessels used by the monarchs, a church and a chapel, Albertina Museum and the Treaury filled with secular and sacred treasures.

Hofburg Complex map, courtesy of Wikipedia.  The legend added are of sites we visited.

With snow on the grounds, Trini lived in the moment, frolicking and running around with daddy, loving every minute.

Finding our way around was like a maze but we managed to find the first two attractions. We entered the world of silver, gold and porcelain tableware used by the imperial family called the Silver Chamber.  Following the demise of the Habsburg monarchy, post 600 years of rule, the imperial household was amalgamated and opened to the public in 1923.  Some of the highlights were the Habsburg Service consisting of 60 plates known as "Ruin Plates".  Each plate was individually painted with different views of fortresses and castles that belonged to the Habsburg Dynasty.  The Milan centerpiece commissioned for a coronation is a whopping 30m in length and my favorite was the Minton Dessert Service.  Manufactured in London and bought by Queen Victoria, this visually stunning 116 pieces set won the highest award for aesthetics.  Gifting part of it to Austria's Emperor, the service was never used as the material was too brittle for the purpose it needed to serve.

The Silver Chamber leads to Sisi's Museum and the imperial apartments.  The museum explores her personality and life.  Married to the Emperor at 16, Empress Elisabeth, affectionately known as Sisi, struggled with court life and led a reclusive life as the years passed on.  The museum displays two incredibly stunning dresses, jewelry, portraits and the diamond studded star shaped jewels she wore in her dressed ankle length hair.  A tall woman at 182 cm, Sisi weighed a mere 45kg.  Obsessive about her figure and looks, Sisi rigorously worked out much to the disapproving eyes of the court.  With all her troubled years, Sisi was however an accomplished horse rider, spoke several languages and travelled extensively.  Not afraid of death, and perhaps welcoming it to some degree to free her troubled soul, at the age of 61 Sisi was fatally stabbed by an anarchist, whilst shopping for gifts for her grandchildren. The Emperor was devastated by the news for he loved her immensely throughout their entire marriage.

The Imperial Apartments consisted of a set of 19 rooms where the Emperor conducted business, received his subjects for an audience, held splendid festive family dinners and resided with his beloved wife Sisi.  As expected all the rooms were richly decorated, with the exception of the Emperor's bedroom.  Spartan like decor, a preferred lifestyle, the Emperor slept on a single iron bed until his death.

The study, Sisi's combined living and bedroom and the red salon.
Images courtesy of www.hofburg-wien.at

As we exited the apartments, we took a break in the Hofburg Cafe with some delightful cakes, gorgeous atmosphere and reasonable coffee (forget the price it was quite expensive).

Indulging in Esterhazy Cake and Apple Strudel.

With plenty of time left, and on our way to the National Library we happened upon Augustinerkirche, a 14th century Gothic Augustinian Church, which for a time served as the imperial church and conducted several imperial weddings.  The tomb of Maria Christina, Empress Maria-Theresien's favorite daughter, rests here.  Considered an exceptional piece of work, the tomb is shaped like a pyramid with a funeral procession approaching. 

Tomb of Maria Christina.

Nearby the church is the most spectacular and ornate interiors I have ever experienced for a library.  The State Hall is a historical library and part of the greater National Library.  Commissioned by Emperor Charles VI as his court library it was completed in 1726.  The interior decoration adorned with Baroque frescoes, marble statues, nutwood bookcases lining the walls and four magnificent globes is absolutely breathtaking.

Interior of the National Library
The beautiful nutwood bookcases.
Ceiling frescoes were completed in 1730 by the court painter Daniel Gran.
The centre of library showcasing marble statues,
globes and the grandeur of the Baroque era.
Celestial globe by Vincenzo Coronelli, 1693.
It is one of four globes located in the centre of the State Hall.

During our visit, the Library was hosting a special exhibition presenting 16th & 17th centuries' illustrations of indigenous and exotic animals, demonic skeletons and creatures.  It was the first public showing after extensive conservation and restoration.

Giorgio Liberale, a famous illustrator of the 16th century
commissioned to depict the fauna of the Adriatic Sea.
The National Library owns some 7.8 million items, several major collections such as the Globe Museum, Papyrus Museum and Esperanto Museum.  The Library is currently undertaking one of its biggest and most ambitious projects to digitise something like 600,000 historical books from the 16th-19th century.  A collaborative effort with Google Books, the Library will provide the digitised books freely to interested readers online.  This effort will in turn protect and preserve the delicacy of the original books for future generations.

On a whim and with an hour left we visited the Albertina Museum.  Once an imperial palace, the Albertina was converted into an art museum housing photographs, graphics, watercolours and drawings along with the Neo-Classical Historical State Rooms.  At the time of our visit the museum was displaying 150 works of Rene Margritte, describing the exhibition as "examining the connection between the artist’s paintings and his work for the advertising industry as well as the influence of pop culture".

Whilst the majority of the artwork was not to our taste, I was particularly fond of Paul Signac, his use of pastel colours (somewhat unusual for me since I much more prefer strong colours) and his pointillistic (tiny dots) brushstrokes which blend in the viewer's eye.

Venice, The Pink Cloud by Paul Signac, 1909.
Image courtesy of WikiPaintings
Antibes, The Towers by Paul Signac, 1911.
Image courtesy of WikiPaintings
We wrapped up the day by collecting my boots and headed back to the hotel for a divine and perfectly cooked sirloin steak and a glass of red.

Chasing birds with daddy.
100% trust that Daddy will catch her.