After a great time in Prague we jumped on a train and traveled to Vienna - the second leg of the trip to Europe.
Prague and Czechia
Vienna and Melk
As early as the 1100s, Vienna was a seat of power for the families ruling this area. In 1437, Vienna became the de facto capital of the Holy Roman Empire (800-1806) as well as a cultural center for arts and science, music, and fine cuisine. More importantly, in 1440, Vienna became the resident city of the Hapsburg Empire. Until the European ruling dynasty collapsed after WWI, the Hapsburgs had ruled an empire that encompassed not just Austria and Hungary, but Bohemia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, large parts of Poland, and Romania. For anyone who is interested, I've hyperlinked many of the Hapsburg rulers to their Wikipedia page - I just find the history of this family so interesting.
St Stephen's Cathedral
Hundreds of years before the powerful Hapsburgs reconstructed the city in their own image, St. Stephen's dominated the horizon.
Several major expansions occurred in the 13th and 14th century. The current form of the cathedral was largely initiated by Duke Rudolph IV of Hapsburg. Although the cornerstone was laid in 1359, it took over 200 years for the cathedral to reach its present shape.
The oldest remaining parts of St. Stephen’s, the 'Giant Gate' entrance and adjacent Roman towers date back to the early 1200s.
Construction of the massive South Tower lasted 65 years from 1368 to 1433. It is 461 feet tall or roughly the height of a 45-story office building, yet it was built more than 600 years ago before the invention of the modern skyscraper.
The colored tiles on the roof looked incredible from either close up or far away.
The north tower was originally intended to mirror the south tower, but the design proved too ambitious, considering the era of Gothic cathedrals was nearing its end. So construction was halted in 1511. In 1578, the tower-stump was augmented with a Renaissance cap, nicknamed the 'water tower top' by the Viennese. The tower now stands at 223 ft tall, roughly half the height of the south tower.
Preservation and repair of this medieval cathedral has been a continuous process a since its original construction in 1147. Laser cleaning techniques are being used to remove the centuries of soot and pollution that blackens the exterior. What a difference between the front and the side of the cathedral.
The interior of the cathedral is as beautiful as the exterior.
The High Altar was built over seven years from 1641 to 1647 as part of the first refurbishment of the cathedral. The altar represents the stoning of the church's patron St. Stephen.
Here is the tomb of Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor, who was the first emperor of the House of Hapsburgs from 1452 until 1493. Work on the dense red marble sarcophagus began 25 years before his death.
The Wiener Neustädter Altar at the head of the north nave was ordered in 1447 by Emperor Frederick III. Each Sunday the 4 panels of the altar are opened showing gilded wooden figures depicting events in the life of the Virgin Mary. Restoration began on its 100th anniversary in 1985 and took 20 years, 10 art restorers, 40,000 man-hours to complete.
The 15th century pulpit is astounding for its Renaissance sculptural ornamentation. Four church doctors (St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Ambrose, St. Gregory the Great and St. Jerome) are part of the pulpit; each of them in one of four different temperaments and in one of four different stages of life.
Beautiful Madonna status in the cathedral.
We were lucky to hear a chorus rehearsal during our tour of the cathedral.
Vienna Opera House
Vienna State Opera is is one of world's most legendary and largest opera houses with 1,709 seats and room for 567 more standing. It houses 350 performances every year, making it one of the busiest too.
Decked out in red, the Emperor's box or salon was strategically centered in the auditorium.
The stage doesn’t exactly appear small — it’s 88 feet high — but behind the curtain it’s four times the size of the massive auditorium. The stage allows for different sets to rotate using hydraulic lifts that require so much power the Vienna Opera has two of its own electrical substations. The picture below shows just a tiny fraction of the backstage.
Imperial Hofburg Palace
Vienna's Imperial Palace, the Hofburg, was for centuries the seat of the Hapsburgs, rulers of Austria until the end of WWI. The complex is particularly interesting as its major buildings reflect more than 700 years of architectural history; nearly every Austrian ruler since 1275 ordered additions or alterations. Together with its many squares and gardens, the Hofburg occupies an area of some 59 acres and is in many ways a 'city-within-a-city', comprising 18 groups of buildings, 19 courtyards, and 2,600 rooms. Unfortunately, no cameras are allowed in most areas inside the Palace.
The double-headed eagle: the omnipresent emblem and coat of arms of the Habsburgs.
The Alte Burg, the oldest section of Hofburg, is known as the ‘Swiss Wing’. The Swiss Gate, which marks the entrance to this sector, was built in 1552. This wing now houses the Imperial Treasury, where the regalia of the Holy Roman Empire and the Austrian Empire are kept.
The Imperial Chancellery Wing constructed from 1723–1730 served as government office for the Holy Roman Empire. After the Empire was dissolved in 1806, the chancellery was converted into residential suites for the imperial family including Napoleon, The Duke of Reichstadt and later those of Emperor Francis Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth of Austria.
We toured the Imperial Treasury and got a chance to view the 2 crowns which were so important to the Hapsburg Dynasty. Left: Crown of Rudolph II, Crown of Austrian Empire (1602). Right: Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire (late 10th or early 11th century).
In the middle of the Inner Castle Square is a bronze statue of Francis I dressed as a Roman emperor. Francis I was Holy Roman Emperor and Grand Duke of Tuscany, though his wife Empress Maria Theresa effectively executed the real powers of those positions.
The Main Gate passing through the Imperial Chancellery Wing which leads out of the palace through the St Michael Wing. The sculptures at the gate are known as 'The Labours of Hercules' by Lorenzo Mattielli.
It was not until the end of the 19th century that the northern area of the castle was completed with construction of the St. Michael’s Wing. With its curved facade and 50 meter high dome it dominates the view from the city center.
The Main Gate at the St Michael's Wing.
One of the fountains that adorn the St Michael's Wing.
At the beginning of the 20th century, shortly before the end of the monarchy, the Neue Burg, an imposing south-east wing was built. With the sweeping curve of its impressive monumental facade, it was originally planned as part of a much larger 'imperial forum'. Neue Burg was never actually used as a palace. Today it houses the main reading room of the national library and it is home to no less than four museums.
There is a statue of Prince Eugene of Savoy in front of the Neue Burg.
St Peter's Church
A previous church on the site burned down in 166. Emperor Leopold I vowed to rebuild this church when Vienna was ravaged by the plague in 1679-1680. Construction began in 1701. By 1722, most of the building was finished, and in 1733 the Peterskirche was finally consecrated. An incredible interactive panorama photo in the church interior is available at this link to St Peter's church.
St Michael's Church
St. Michael's Church is one of the oldest churches in Vienna dating back to the early 1200's. Over time, there have been many alterations, but is basically unchanged since 1792. The high altar designed in 1782 represents a cloudburst of angels and cherubs, falling from the ceiling towards the ground. The centerpiece is Maria Candia, a Byzantine icon of the Virgin Mary.
A marble statue of the deposition of Christ.
Schönbrunn Palace was the main summer residence of the Habsburg rulers, located in Hietzing, Vienna. The history of the palace, 1,441 rooms and its vast gardens spans over 300 years, reflecting the changing tastes, interests, and aspirations of successive Habsburg monarchs.
The Schonbrunn Palace was built and remodeled during the 1740–50's during the reign of empress Maria Theresa who received the estate as a wedding gift. The tour of key rooms in the Palace was great, but again no cameras were allowed.
Dave welcoming everyone to my birthday party in Vienna.
Dave arranged for the hotel staff to decorate the room as a surprise for my birthday. They were also nice enough to send up a bottle of champagne.
Food was awesome. Schnitzel and their version of ice cream sundaes.
The ornate exterior of the Natural History Museum.
The Empress Maria monument in Museum Square depicts Maria Theresa, the only female ruler of the Habsburg Empire. Her 40-year reign (1740-1780) was considered to be very successful when compared to other Habsburg rulers. Her full title was:
Maria Theresa, by the Grace of God, Dowager Empress of the Romans, Queen of Hungary, of Bohemia, of Dalmatia, of Croatia, of Slavonia, of Galicia, of Lodomeria, etc.; Archduchess of Austria; Duchess of Burgundy, of Styria, of Carinthia and of Carniola; Grand Princess of Transylvania; Margravine of Moravia; Duchess of Brabant, of Limburg, of Luxemburg, of Guelders, of Württemberg, of Upper and Lower Silesia, of Milan, of Mantua, of Parma, of Piacenza, of Guastalla, of Auschwitz and of Zator; Princess of Swabia; Princely Countess of Habsburg, of Flanders, of Tyrol, of Hainault, of Kyburg, of Gorizia and of Gradisca; Margravine of Burgau, of Upper and Lower Lusatia; Countess of Namur; Lady of the Wendish Mark and of Mechlin; Dowager Duchess of Lorraine and Bar, Dowager Grand Duchess of Tuscany
We took every advantage to walk through the beautiful parks throughout the city.
One evening we took a walk along the Danube and found a music festival. We listened to some music, ate and drank and enjoyed the sunset along the river.
While in Vienna we planned a side trip to the Melk Abbey and a Danube River boat cruise from Krems to Melk followed by a 24-mile bike back to Krems. Click here to link directly to that blog.