Innsbruck and the Habsburg era
Habsburg Emperor Maximilian I.
The Habsburgs ruled Europe for almost 800 years, were the most powerful ruling dynasty and significantly shaped the world. They were responsible for expansion, progress, war and marital politics. Their century-long rule of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation was defined by their accomplishments – and their demise.
The world-famous Habsburg Imperial family also left its mark on Innsbruck. The Imperial Palace, the Court Church, the Golden Roof and Ambras Castle are valuable reminders of the time. The city was also shaped by the associated cultural and political influences. Emperor Maximilian I (1459-1519) made Innsbruck the centre of his vast empire around 1500. At this time, he implemented the Chamber of Finance and had everything come together in this seat of royal power. Emperor Maximilian I didn’t choose Innsbruck at random – he was an adventurer who loved hunting and the majestic peaks of the Tyrolean Alps.
The empty tomb
As the Emperor got older, he became concerned about preserving his legacy. He wanted to make himself immortal and so he arranged for an enormous tomb to be built. The tomb was eventually finished but no man was ever laid to rest here. The Court Church, where the tomb was to be located, was only completed 40 years after the death of Emperor Maximilian I. Today, 28 impressive bronze figures – the “Schwarzen Mander” (Black Men) – mourn the empty table tomb, while Innsbruck and its visitors enjoy this exceptional work of art. Significant marble reliefs on the cenotaph portray Maximilian I – who was actually buried at his father’s castle in Wiener Neustadt – as a great ruler and founder of the Habsburg Empire.
The Golden Roof
Prestige was clearly very important for Emperor Maximilian I. However, this was by no means unusual for the time. Gold, splendour and luxury were attributes that made a very clear statement back then, just as they do today: I’m a VIP. So it was that Emperor Maximilian I decided to draw attention to his favourite place in Innsbruck, the loggia of his alcove balcony on the main square. He had the roof covered with 2,657 fire-gilded copper tiles and this had the desired effect – the Golden Roof has become one of Innsbruck’s most famous landmarks and still enchants visitors today. The relief portrays the Emperor & his two wives, his jester & courtier and the year 1500.
Emperor Maximilian I was also a visionary: He had the entire old town renovated between 1490 and 1520 based on “maximilianischer” building code. This specified that only stone buildings with fire partition walls were allowed to be built. So we actually have Emperor Maximilian I to thank for the fact that the appearance of the colourful old town hasn’t changed or lost any of its incomparable charm today.
Originally built as a medieval fortress, Ambras Castle was remodelled in the 16th century into a comfortable Renaissance castle with magnificent gardens. Archduke Ferdinand II (1529-1595) lived within these splendid walls with his wife, the beautiful Philippine Welser. During this time, he also had one of the oldest surviving museums built – his extensive collection of armour, weapons, works of art and curiosities can still be admired in the museum today. The royal banquet hall now serves as an exceptional concert venue during the summer months.
The Imperial Palace – the “Little Schönbrunn of the Alps”
This is how Empress Maria Theresa (1717-1780) referred to the Imperial Palace in Innsbruck, which she had rebuilt in a late baroque style. She wanted something more in keeping with the times than the late medieval building that was previously located on this spot. Her son celebrated his wedding here in 1765 but the multi-week spectacle came to an abrupt end due to the sudden and unexpected passing of Maria Theresa’s husband, Emperor Francis I. The Grand Hall was swiftly transformed into a Memorial Hall. Today, this hall is home to impressive ceiling frescos by F. A. Maulbertsch and portraits of the Imperial family. In the second half of the 19th century, the Imperial Apartments were completely refurnished for Empress Elisabeth; naturally according to the current fashion of the time. Today, visitors can admire all this and also enjoy an insight into the lives of the Habsburgs. It’s even free of charge for Innsbruck Card holders.