*Cue atmospheric instrumental music. Switch on fog machine, set on low. Imagine Anthony Bourdain’s sexy low voice, though actually it’s me, Denise, but his voice sounds much nicer.*
…Where am I? Is this a dream? Everywhere I turn metallic green statues of proud men on horses gaze at me from their high pedestals. Buildings so palatial that I feel my spirit lifting just by looking at them rise all around me. Marble figures drape each building like organic creatures growing out of the stone. The weather is bleak, the sky white, but it only makes everything more beautiful, sharper because there is no blue in the sky to distract me from the lines of the structures around me.
In a dream I might be, but only the one of architectural beauty that is the Hofburg. Well, at least it’s my dream, since I always go completely gaga over stunning architectural masterpieces. It’s just that, you know, with the modern craze over huge glass and steel covered buildings which give you the same amount of warmth as grabbing a fistful of coins does, buildings like those found in Vienna’s Hofburg (Imperial Forum) warm my heart as if it had been placed next to a pit of roasting chestnuts…now that is a huge difference, because you know, I’ll take chestnuts over cold coins any time (does that make any sense?).
Whatever it is which warms the cockles of your heart, you need to be pretty hard to please to not find this complex wonderful (though a famous blogger, whose name I won’t mentioned here, wrote that Vienna is ‘just nice’, as in, nothing special, and I wanted to slap him/her). With the first parts built in the 13th century and the last in the 19th, the complex includes Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo and Art Nouveau structures. For anyone even remotely interested in architecture, or for photography enthusiasts, this area alone can comfortably fill a day or two of slow exploration.
There are many different ways in which you can enjoy the Hofburg. Travellers on a strict budget can spend a very fulfilling few hours exploring the cobbled streets and squares surrounded by the different buildings. And those with some extra travel money to dedicate to exploring all the different museums packed in this relatively small space will find that they have enough to busy themselves with for a couple of days.
The two 19th century museums at either side of Maria Theresia square, which were built to be mirror images of one another, house the Fine Arts Museum and the Museum of Natural History. The Imperial Apartments are home to the Sisi Museum, a Silver collection, and have several rooms of the actual apartments open to the public, while for those who can’t get enough of sparkly things, the Treasury is also accessible, located in the oldest part of the Hofburg. The Palm House in Burggarten is an Art Nouveau structure which today includes a butterfly house, and the Albertina, at the time of writing the most visited Museum in Vienna, holds a world-famous collection of prints and drawings. Finally, one of its most particular attractions is the Spanish Riding school, where you can catch performances and training sessions of elegant horse ballet, or tours of the former royal stables. And those are only a few of the things on offer. Check the Vienna Tourism website for a complete list.
There is so much to see in terms of museums, churches and points of interest that if you’re interested in a little bit of everything you might find yourself a bit overwhelmed by it all, but to avoid Museum fatigue, you can easily take a break by heading to Michaelerplatz, from where a network of streets filled with cafes, restaurants and shops will take your culture-tired brain from art to schnitzels.
I visit the Hofburg wrapped up in layers and layers of winter clothes, and totting an umbrella so that my camera won’t be damaged by the gentle trickle of rain falling today. I watch tourists huddled in small groups beneath buildings, or next to fountains, listening to their tour guides, while I am more than happy quietly exploring it on my own. The comforting sound of hooves against paved streets is my soundtrack, and the pale winter sky the canvas to my photos.
It feels wonderful to be here, surrounded by so much history, so much talent, so much beauty.
-Text and Photos by Denise Pulis @ theartofslowtravel.com