Seegrotte (Hinterbrühl, Austria)

Seegrotte

Seegrotte

We were now on our final day of our Europe Tour and, prior to our evening departure from Vienna for Manila, Grace’s cousins Popong and Freddie organized one final morning tour, this time to Seegrotte, one of the most spectacular natural monuments in the world today.  After breakfast at the hotel, we again met up with Popong and Freddie at the hotel lobby and again boarded the same hired van we used for touring yesterday.

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Seegrotte, in southern Lower Austria, near Hinterbrühl, is a 26 km. (40-min.) drive, via the A23, from Vienna.  It is an underground cave system with a large grotto located under a former gypsum mine. From 1848 to 1912, red and grey gypsum, used by farmers as fertilizer, was mined in the mountain inside the Wagner Kogels by G. Plankenbichler. However, in 1912, an underground blasting operation in the mine went awry, opening a water pocket and causing 20 million liters of water to gush forth from behind the rock and flood the lower level galleries and adits of the mine, creating the largest subterranean (60 m. below ground) lake in Europe but causing the mine’s closure.

Listening to our guide

Listening to our guide

As a consequence, the mine remained closed for years until the 1930s when an international team of cave explorers rediscovered the unique natural spectacle and, with great enthusiasm, they opened this curiosity to the general public as a show mine in 1932.

Miners represented at work at the pause chamber of miners

Miners represented at work at the pause chamber of miners

However, during World War II, Seegrotte was requisitioned by the German military due to the fact that the subterranean site offered the best protection against bombing raids in Nazi Germany‘s “second Ruhr.” It was permanently pumped dry and inside the far flung tunnels, Heinkel Werke built an underground aircraft factory and employed over 2,000 World War II prisoners-of-war and concentration camp prisoners (1,800 forced laborers and 300 skilled workers) to produce the airframes (a total of 198 were produced) of the Heinkel He 162 Salamander, one of the first jetfighters of the world and a secret weapon of the German Luftwaffe. At the end of the war, the German armed forces destroyed the pumps that prevented the mine from filling with water.

The Three Musketeers

The Three Musketeers

After the war, a major clean-up was undertaken and Seegrotte was reopened, in the spring of 1949, as a tourist attraction of the first order. Since its reopening more than 10 million visitors from around the world have visited this former mine, 250 000 of them just last year alone. The complex also served as a location for some of the scenes from the 1993 Disney movie “The Three Musketeers,” and some of the set dressing is still in place (prison walls, and a boat in the underground lake).

The author beside the spooky gilded boat of the Three Musketeers

The author beside the spooky gilded boat of the Three Musketeers

Prison set for The Three Musketeers

Prison set for The Three Musketeers

Upon arrival and payment of admission at Seegrotte, we waited outside the entrance for the previous tour group to finish and return before entering. Above the gateway is a sign with the words “Gluck auf,” the old German miner’s greeting literally translated as “Luck up” or “Luck open.” We were forewarned that it is very cold inside (a constant 9° C, the temperature in summer and winter alike) and, as we didn’t bring a shawl, stole or jacket, we rented a blanket for €0.50. The 35-min. tour took us to 5 lighted caves depicting various activities within the mine as well as the underground lake.

The narrow tunneling adit

Popong making his way through the narrow tunneling adit

The narrow tunneling adit we passed through (anyone over 6′ would have to stoop), single file, was about 400 to 450 m. long and took us 15 mins. to traverse, a compelling recognition of the dismal workday environment of the miners as, in the past, 80 miners brought 2-3 wagons of gypsum daily to the surface through this adit.

Horse stable

Horse stable

Down the hole, we first stopped at a pause chamber, with miners represented at work, and then the former gypsum mine’s own horse stable. The horses, which pulled the heavy wagons loaded with gypsum to the surface as well as turned the horse mill, stayed up to 20 years inside the mine without going up, going blind in the process.

The 85-step stairway leading to the Blue Lake

The 85-step stairway leading to the Blue Lake

Next stop, down an easily negotiated (there’s no wheelchair access though) 85-step stairway, is the very picturesque Blue Lake whose water surface area is about 300 sq. m.  A part of the bigger lake is located 14 m. below this small lake. It is about 1.2-3 m. deep and its water temperature is about 8° C.  The eerily lovely lake’s still, lifeless (without oxygen, there is no aquatic life at all) but very clear waters glow deep blue under artificial lights.  Nearby is the spooky gilded boat and the set for D’Artagnan’s prison.

The Blue Lake

The Blue Lake

The lake is fed by 7 underground springs but has no natural drainage. The water depth is maintained constant at around 1.2 m. by pumping out 50-60 thousand liters of water daily every night.

Boat ride along the Blue Lake

Boat ride along the Blue Lake

Here, we were to make a short (10-min.) and nondescript, electric motor-powered boat ride. Manny, Popong, Grace, Cheska and Kyle boarded ahead of me and Freddie and we had to wait for their return before boarding. The boat ride  took us through cave openings that look so beautiful, especially when reflected on the crystal clear water.

Shrine to St. Barbara

Shrine to St. Barbara

After our boat ride, we again went up the stairs and proceeded to the Chapel of St. Barbara, built 25 m, below the surface by the miners in 1864 for their dead and injured comrades and consecrated to their patron, St. Barbara. Again, the two letters G + A stand for the miner greeting “Gluck auf” (“Good luck”). Every four years, the St. Barbara Celebration takes place at the Chapel of St. Barbara on the first Sunday in December.  On that day, a senior chaplain celebrates Mass in honor of the miners. At one time, the Cardinal of Vienna attended, accompanied by the Vienna Boys Choir.

A display of a scaled model and few original airplane parts of the Heinkel He 162

A display of a scaled model and few original airplane parts of the Heinkel He 162 Salamander

Mining equipment exhibit

Mining equipment exhibit

Final stops are a display of a scaled model and few original airplane parts of the Heinkel He 162 and a museum exhibiting mine lamps and former mining tools (miner’s lamps, etc.) which were used in the past gypsum mine. This was supposed to be the end of the tour, but we still had time to explore, on our own and up a flight of stairs, to the Festsaal, the ballroom of the Berwerkes where feasts were celebrated.

Door leading to the Festsaal

Door leading to the Festsaal

The Festsaal

The Festsaal

If you have half a day to spare, Seegrotte is an interesting place to visit if you are around Vienna. It is not typical cave, so if you are looking for rock formation or typical dripstones such as stalactites and stalagmites, you will be disappointed. It is simply a huge underground space with an interesting history and an underground lake as its main attraction.

L-R- Freddie, Manny, Jandy, Kyle, Cheska, Grace and the author at the Festsaal

L-R: Freddie, Manny, Jandy, Kyle, Cheska, Grace and the author.  In the background is the fireplace of the Festsaal

During our visit, it was the perfect getaway from the heat of the Viennese summer. The tour is not recommended for people who have difficulty walking or are claustrophobic. Wear sensible footwear as the mine floor can be slippery. Beside the entrance is the nice Romerquelle cafe offering cakes, doughnuts and apple strudel. The toilets/WC are PAY only and situated about 50 m. from the attraction.

Romerquelle Cafe

Romerquelle Cafe

Seegrotte: Grutschgasse 2a, 2371 Hinterbrühl, Austria.  Tel: +43 2236 26364. Website: www.seegrotte.at.  E-mail: office@seegrotte.at. Admission: adults (€10), children (from 4 to 14 years, €7), Family Card (2 adults + 2 children, €27).

How to Get There: Seegrotte is a train and a bus journey away from Vienna. Take the S-Bahn S2 train (running every 15-20 mins.) from Meilding to Modling then, from outside the station, take Bus no. 364 or 365 (25-min. drive) and get down at Seegrotte stop. From there, it is 2-3 walk. The return bus stop is 200 m. towards Modling station.

Melk Abbey (Melk, Austria)

Melk Abbey

Melk Abbey

After our tour of Mathausen Memorial, we again boarded our van for the 86.8-km. (1-hour) trip, via the A1, to huge Melk Abbey (German: Stift Melk), one of Europe’s great sights located on a rock-strewn outcrop overlooking the banks of the Danube River.  Adjoining the Wachau Valley between Salzburg and Vienna, it is a Benedictine abbey above the town of Melk in Lower Austria. 

Inner (Prelates) Courtyard

Inner (Prelates) Courtyard

The 497-room (with 1,365 windows) abbey, founded in 1089 when Leopold II, Margrave of Austria gave one of his castles to Benedictine monks from Lambach Abbey (who turned it into a fortified abbey), contains the tomb of St. Coloman of Stockerau and the remains of several members of the House of Babenberg, Austria’s first ruling dynasty who ruled Austria from 976 until the House of Hapsburg took over.

Abbey gate

Abbey gate

A monastic school, the Stiftsgymnasium Melk, was founded in the 12th century and the abbey’s influence and reputation as a center of learning and culture spread throughout Austria.  The Name of the RoseUmberto Eco‘s popular novel, was researched by Eco in the abbey’s monastic library which is renowned for its extensive manuscript collection (the monastery’s scriptorium was a major site for the production of manuscripts).

Main Entrance with statues of Apostles Peter & Paul designed by Lorenzo Mattielli

Main Entrance with statues of Apostles Peter & Paul designed by Lorenzo Mattielli

As a tribute to the abbey and its famous library, he named the apprentice, one of the protagonists, as “Adson von Melk.” Members of the Melk monastic community have achieved significant success in the fields of natural science and the arts and among its alumni was the 19th-century Austrian dramatist and short-story writer, Friedrich Halm.

L-R: the author, Grace, Kyle, Cheska and Jandy

L-R: the author, Grace, Kyle, Cheska and Jandy

Since 1625 the abbey has been a member of the Austrian Congregation, now within the Benedictine Confederation. During the Reformation and the 1683 Turkish invasion, Melk Abbey suffered damage but it was spared direct attack when the Ottoman armies were halted just outside Vienna.  In 1701, a Baroquization of the abbey church was planned but, after 1701, at Abbot Berthold Dietmayr’s instigation, a complete reconstruction of the church took place, following plans by architect Jakob Prandtauer, and completed in 1736.

Kaisergang (Emperors' Gallery)

Kaisergang (Emperors’ Gallery)

Between 1780 and 1790, under Emperor Joseph II, many Austrian abbeys were seized and dissolved but, due to its fame and academic stature, Melk managed to escape dissolution. The abbey also managed to survive the Napoleonic Wars and the period following the Anschluss in 1938, when the school and a large part of the abbey were confiscated by the state. After the Second World War, the school was returned to the abbey and now caters for nearly 900 pupils, of both sexes, in secondary and preparatory school. Today, the institution survives, funded by agriculture and tourist visits.

Rule of St. Benedict at Room 1 - Listen with Your Heart

Rule of St. Benedict at Room 1 – Listen with Your Heart

In 1947, the abbey church was damaged by fire but, after a 10-year long restoration, financed with help from the state and federal government, was finished in 1987. To celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of the first reference to a country named Österreich (Austria), another grand restoration project,  financed in part by the sale of the abbey’s Gutenberg Bible to Harvard University (which was later donated to Yale University), was completed by 1996.

Room 2 - A House for God and Man

Room 2 – A House for God and Man

Room 3 - The Ups and Downs of History

Room 3 – The Ups and Downs of History

Upon arrival, we entered Benedict Hall, above which is a leitmotif with the Latin words “absit gloriari nisi incruce” (“Glory is found only in the cross”) and a huge copy of the Melk Cross, one of the abbey’s greatest treasures (the original is hidden in the treasury, viewable only with special permission).

Room 4 - The Word of Life

Room 4 – The Word of Life

We first visited the imperial rooms with its restored inlaid wood floors, currently home to the most modern abbey museum in Austria, passing through the art-lined Kaisergang (Emperors’ Gallery) which stretches for 197 m. (644 ft.) and is decorated with portraits of Austrian royalty.

Room 5 -Now we are seeing a dim reflection in a mirror … (1 Cor. 13,12)

Room 5 -Now we are seeing a dim reflection in a mirror … (1 Cor. 13,12)

The museum’s current exhibition, entitled “The Path from Yesterday to Today – Melk Abbey in its Past and Present,” was designed by architect Hans Hoffer, also the designer of the “Klangtheater Ganzohr” in Vienna and the director of the “Linzer Klangwolke” several times.   The exhibits chronicle the ages of the abbey, and each room is lit up with a symbolic color.

Reusable coffin at Room 7 - In the Name of Reason

Reusable coffin at Room 7 – In the Name of Reason

Room 9 - The Path to the Future

Room 9 – The Path to the Future

They are divided into the blue-colored “Listen with Your Heart,” the green-colored “A House for God and Man,” “The Ups and Downs of History,” “The Word of Life,” “Now we are seeing a dim reflection in a mirror … (1 Cor. 13,12),” “Heaven on Earth,” “In the Name of Reason,” “The Whole Person,” “The Path to the Future,” “To Glorify God in Everything and The City on the Mountain” and “Motion Is a Sign of Life.”

Room 10 - a very complicated lock box that operated with a single key

Room 10 – a very complicated lock box that operated with a single key

Model of the 497-room Melk Abbey at Room 11 - Motion Is a Sign of Life

Model of the 497-room Melk Abbey at Room 11 – Motion Is a Sign of Life

The Prelate’s Hall, with its Baroque painting gallery, is one of the most beautiful rooms in the monastery. Though not open to the public, it is used by the abbot for representative purposes.

The Marble Hall

The Marble Hall

From the museum, we proceeded to the Marmorsaal (Marble Hall), the gorgeous room that served as a dining hall for the imperial family and other distinguished guests, as well as a festival hall. Containing pilasters coated in red marble and walls of stucco marble, it has impressive allegorical painted ceiling frescos, by Tirolean Paul Troger (1731), and an optical illusion framing it. The architectural painting, done by Gaetano Fanti, gives the impression that the ceiling rises up and curves higher than it does but is, in fact, flat.

Marble Hall (6)

It shows, in the middle, Pallas Athena on a chariot drawn by lions as a symbol of wisdom and moderation. To her left is Hercules who symbolizes the force necessary to conquer Cerberus (the three-headed hound of hell), night and sin. Both Pallas Athena and Hercules allude to Emperor Karl VI, who liked to be celebrated as a successor to the Roman emperors in the Hercules legend. In effect, it shows the essence of the House of Habsburg – the ruler brings the people from darkness to light, from evil to good.

The ceiling frescoes

The ceiling frescoes of Paul Troger depicting Pallas Athena and Hercules

The doors, with frames  made of genuine marble from Adnet and Untersberg (in the province of Salzburg), are inscribed with quotes from the Rule of St. Benedict, indicating the purpose of the room – “Hospites tamquam Christus suscipiantur” (“Guests should be received as Christ would be”) and “Et omnibus congruus honor exhibeatur” (“And to each the honor given which is his due”).

The abbey terrace

The abbey terrace connecting the Marble Hall with the library

From the Marble Hall, we went out into the abbey’s terrace, a balcony connecting the Marble Hall and the library. Napoleon probably used it as a lookout when he used Melk as his headquarters for his campaign against Austria. From here, we had a wonderful view of the Danube River, the western facade of the abbey church, the scenery of the Wachau Valley and the town of Melk.

View of the town of Melk from the terrace

View of the town of Melk and Danube River from the terrace

From the terrace, we entered the 12-room library  which rises two floors. Second only to the church in the order of importance of the rooms in the Benedictine monastery, the library houses around 80,000 volumes of priceless medieval manuscripts  including a famed collection of musical manuscripts,  750 incunabula (printed works before 1500), 1,700 works from the 16th century, 4,500 from the 17th century and 18,000 from the 18th century.  Together with the newer books, it totals approximately 100,000 volumes with about 16,000 of these found in this library room. They are organized by topics: beginning with editions of the Bible in Row I, theology (Rows II to VII), jurisprudence (Row VIII), geography and astronomy (Row VIIII), history (Rows X to XV) and ending with the Baroque lexica  in Row XVI.

The Library

The Library (photo: www.stiftmelk.at)

The monks had a high regard for their library as seen from the valuable artistic decoration.  The ceiling fresco, also by Paul Troger (1731 to 1732), shows, in contrast to the secular scenery of the Marble Hall, a symbolic depiction of Faith. In the center is a recognizable female figure, the allegory of Faith. She is surrounded by four groups of angels, who stand for the four Cardinal Virtues: Wisdom, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance. The four wooden sculptures are depictions of the four faculties – Theology, Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence.

Spiral Staircase

Spiral Staircase

The Small Library room contains mainly historical works from the 19th century onwards. The spiral staircase, with Rococo grate, leads to the two upper floor reading rooms of the library, which are not open to the public. Its ceiling fresco, by Paul Troger, shows an allegorical portrayal of Scientia (Science), while the architectural painting on the ceiling fresco was done by Gaetano Fanti.

Facade of Stiftskirche (Abbey Church)

Facade of Stiftskirche (Abbey Church)

The highlight and end of our abbey tour, though, is certainly the full-on Baroque  Stiftskirche (Abbey Church) with its 200-ft. tall dome, symmetrical towers and astonishing number of windows.

Dome

The 200 ft. tall dome with frescoes of the heavens opening

This grand finale, resplendent in a golden hue, is richly embellished with marble and altar paintings and frescoes by Johann Michael Rottmayr, with help from Paul Troger.

Pulpit

Pulpit of Giusseppe Galli-Bibiena

Jakob Prandtauer and, after his death, by his nephew Joseph Munggenast were the leading architects.  For the interior design and sketches for the frescoes, Antonio Beduzzi definitely was involved in the planning.

Interior of church

Ceiling frescoes by Johann Michael Rottmayr

Together with other prominent artists and masters in their fields such as Giuseppe Galli-Bibiena (designs for the pulpit and high altar), Lorenzo Mattielli (design for the sculptures), Peter Widerin (sculptures) and many others, they created a synthesis of the arts to the glory of God, an unparalleled, indisputably classic example of Baroque.

High Altar

High Altar

The inscription (from 2 Timothy 2,5), on the high altar, reads “non coronabitur nisi legitime certaverit” (“Without a legitimate battle there is no victory”). The left side altar (Coloman Altar), in the transept, contains, in a sarcophagus, the skeleton of St. Coloman of Stockerau.

St. Coloman's Altar

St. Coloman’s Altar

St. Benedict's Altar

St. Benedict’s Altar flanked by statues of St. Scholastica and St. Berthold of Garsten

The altar to the right is dedicated to St. Benedict.  It cenotaph (empty sarcophagus) bears the inscription “erit sepulchrum eius gloriosum” (“his grave will be glorious”). To the right of the altar is the statue of St. Scholastica (Benedict’s sister) while on the left is St. Berthold of Garsten.

St. Michael's Altar

St. Michael’s Altar

Glass sarcophagus of St. Clemens

Glass sarcophagus of St. Clemens

The St. Michael Altar has a glass sarcophagus with the skeleton of a so-called catacomb saint, given to the monastery in 1722 by Viennese nuncio Cardinal Alessandro Crivelli, and given the name Clemens.

St. John the Baptist Altar

St. John the Baptist Altar

Glass sarcophagus of Friedrich

Glass sarcophagus of Friedrich

Opposite is the St. John the Baptist Altar, also with a glass sarcophagus of a catacomb saint given as a gift to the monastery by Maria Theresa and displayed here in 1762. The unknown saint received the name Friedrich.

St. Sebastian's Altar

St. Sebastian’s Altar

The Epiphany Altar

The Epiphany Altar

The altar painting at St. Leopold’s Altar, painted on a lead plate in 1650 by Georg Bachmann, is from the old abbey church.  It shows a depiction of the history of the foundation on the Melk monastery. Other side altars are dedicated to the Epiphany, St. Nicolas  and St. Sebastian.

St. Nicolas Altar

St. Nicolas Altar

St. Leopold's Altar

St. Leopold’s Altar

St. Benedict’s battle for virtue, the theme most strongly expressed by the nave’s fresco, depicts victory in this battle as portrayed, on the one hand, by the large victory crown on the high altar and the dome frescoes, in which the heavens open and, on the other hand, by the victor’s laurels over the monk, who has achieved spiritual fulfillment.

Abbey Garden

Abbey Garden

Just outside is the abbey’s park, designed as a baroque park in 1750 and, in 1822, replanted as an English landscape garden.  It has a picturesque Baroque garden pavilion, built like a small belvedere by Franz Mungenast in 1748.  It houses some fine frescoes exotic animals and plants, jungles and native people created by Johann Wenzel Bergl in 1764.

Baroque Garden Pavilion

Baroque Garden Pavilion

It was renovated from 1998-1999 and, since 2000, has been opened to the public. The pavilion was once situated above the Danube River which was once much wider, reaching as far as the rock below the gardens.  Within the pavilion is a self-service café. Murals, in the courtyard, are modern additions that blend in well with the look of the place. Each is a representation of the four virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance.

Self-service cafe at Baroque Garden Pavilion

Self-service cafe at Baroque Garden Pavilion

Before leaving, we dropped by the Stiftsrestaurant Melk, the abbey restaurant located near the entrance. It serves hot meals and monastery wine in beautiful Baroque and outdoor surroundings. Here, we had some ice cream sundae.

Stiftsrestaurant Melk

Stiftsrestaurant Melk

Melk Abbey:  Abt-Berthold-Dietmayr-Straße 1, 3390 Melk, Austria. Tel: +43 2752 5550.  Open 9 AM – 6 PM. Website: www.stiftmelk.at. Admission (abbey park and the bastion): Adults: (€4,00), Students (€ 3,00), Children (6-16  years) (€ 1,00).

Mauthausen Memorial (Mauthausen, Austria)

Mauthausen Memorial

Mauthausen Memorial

Come morning, after breakfast at our hotel, Grace, Manny, Jandy, Cheska, Kyle and I were met by my wife’s cousins Popong and Freddie at the hotel lobby.  Once assembled, we boarded the rented van driven by Freddie that would take us on our 88.7-km.  journey to Mauthausen Memorial, site of the first concentration camp established by the Nazis in in Upper Austria after their annexation of country in March 1938 and one of the last remaining concentration camps from World War II in Europe.

Mauthausen

The idyllic Mauthausen countryside today

On our way out, we also picked up Vicky, another of Grace’s cousins, and her husband Isko who were to join us on our trip. Our journey took us a little over an hour, with a short stopover for snacks and a toilet break.  Upon arrival, Freddie parked the van at a big parking area just outside the complex. Upon alighting, we first walked to the new, raw gray concrete visitor’s center, just outside the site’s walls.

The modern Visitors Center

The modern Visitors Center

Designed by architects Herwig MayerChristoph Schwarz, and Karl Peyrer-Heimstätt, the center was inaugurated in 2003.  It  covers an area of 2,845 sq. m. (30,620 sq. ft.). and has a book shop, information desk, workshop, toilets and a cinema. There is also a cafe but it has different opening hours depending on the time of year.

Inside the Visitors Center

Vicky, Freddie, Grace, Manny and Popong inside the Visitors Center

The camp, situated on a 265 m. (869 ft.) rise of above Mauthausen town (2014 population: 4,913),  on the Gusen River that flows into the Danube River, presently has a serene setting that belies its sordid past as, during World War II, Mauthausen was a labor camp designed to kill its inmates. The main camp of Mauthausen consisted of 32 barracks surrounded by an electrified barbed wire, high stone walls and watch towers.

Barracks and guard watchtower

Barracks and guard watchtower

From its beginnings, in August 8, 1938 (when prisoners from the Dachau concentration camp were sent to Mauthausen to begin the camp construction), to its liberation by the US 11th Armored Division, 3rd US Army on May 3, 1945, the concentration camp, one of the largest labor camp complexes in the Third Reich, worked people to death mining granite to build the granite fortress-prison of the main camp, pave the streets of Vienna and build Adolf Hitler‘s grandiose architectural projects. About 190,000 people from all over Europe were imprisoned in Mauthausen.

Czechoslovakia Monument

Czechoslovakia Monument

They included non-Germanic people groups (Jews, Slavs, Soviet prisoners, Czech and Polish intelligentsia, Roma, gypsies, etc.) who didn’t fit the Nazi ideal of racial superiority, perceived social threats (homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.), and political dissenters (Social Democrats, Communists, anarchists, etc.). Mauthausen’s most famous inmate was Simon Wiesenthal who created the Simon Wiesenthal Center after the war to locate fugitive Nazi war criminals.

Poland Monument

Poland Monument

Inmates here were literally worked to death at the rock quarry (known as the “Wiener Graben”) and their daily diet was only half the calories necessary for subsistence.  Certain groups were simply summarily executed (including via a gas chamber) by the Nazi regime.

Soviet Union Monument

Soviet Union Monument

Over 100,000 people died. In 1949, it was declared a national memorial site and, on May 3, 1975, 30 years after the camp’s liberation, Bruno Kreisky, the Chancellor of Austria officially opened the Mauthausen Museum . The Mauthausen site remains largely intact, but much of what constituted the sub-camps of Gusen I, II and III is now covered by residential areas built after the war. Today, Mauthausen Memorial stands as a reminder of the darkest days of Austria’s history.

Mongol Gate

Mongol Gate

We entered the camp via the main entrance that former prisoners referred to as the Mongol (or Mongolian) Gate. The two identical guard watchtowers towers above the gate give the appearance of Chinese architecture. As there was a ready supply of granite, there was extensive use of this stone, making Mauthausen as the most ornate concentration camp during the war. The camp’s stone construction also made the camp look the same as when it was built in 1938.

Courtyard of SS Garage

Courtyard of SS Garage

There was once a metal eagle and swastika above the gate but it was removed when the camp was liberated in 1945. The stairs on the right lead down to the S.S. Garagenhof (garage yard) which was used  for S.S. celebrations and as an assembly area for inmates during delousing actions. Overlooking the garage is the balcony where camp commandant S.S. Col. Franz Ziereis would give speeches to his S.S. guards and inmates.

Roll Call Square

Roll Call Square

Once inside the camp, we stood on a wide open courtyard called “Roll Call Square” located in front of the hospital and gas chamber. Each day, there were 3 roll calls held in this courtyard (reduced to 2 after 1943) and inmates were assembled to hear speeches and instructions from Ziereis. The prisoner’s working day started at 4.45 AM in the summer and 5.15 AM in the winter. The day ended at 7 PM.  A number of memorials to the victims of Mauthausen are located in the roll call area.

Sarkophag Memorial

Sarkophag Memorial

Straight ahead is the “Klagemauer” (“Wailing Wall”). When prisoners first arrived here, they had to pass an initiation ritual which included passing hours and, sometimes days, standing facing “The Wailing Wall” while chained to iron rings set in the wall.

Memorial plaques at Wailing Wall

Memorial plaques at Wailing Wall

They were also interrogated and brutally beaten.  Today, the “Wailing Wall” and the wall on the left now have numerous personal memorial tablets placed there by families of the victims and a wide range of countries. There’s also a memorial to Pope John Paul II‘s visit to Mauthausen Memorial on June 24, 1988.

John Paul II Visit Memorial

John Paul II Visit Memorial

Behind the granite wall, on the right, is the quarantine camp while the building on the left, with 2 chimneys, is the hospital which contained a gas chamber in the basement. In the former kitchen is a Catholic church. The majority of the prisoners sent to Mauthausen were Catholics.

Catholic chapel

Catholic chapel

To the left of the Mongol Gate are some of the remaining wooden prisoner barracks that have been restored using the same materials used during the camp construction. These barracks were overcrowded and the sanitary conditions deplorable.

Barrack interior

Barrack interior

Each barrack had two bedrooms and two living rooms located on the left and right sides of the entrance. The prisoners were not allowed to spend much time in the living room, being forced to stay in the bedrooms, with two or three in the same bed. In front of the entrance, in the middle of the barrack, was the bathroom.

Barracks bathroom

Barracks bathroom

At the ground floor of the old infirmary is a very well explained (they also have an English translation) museum, opened in May 2013, covering the history of Mauthausen, from its inception in 1938 to the liberation of the camp on May 3, 1945.

Exhibits (8)

Museum exhibits

Museum exhibits

On display are samples of letters, clothes (the prisoners were forced to wear colored triangles in order to identify the category to which they belong – Gypsy, gay, Jewish, political prisoners, etc.) and other artifacts seen inside the camp.  This kept us occupied for quite a long time.

Typical striped concentration camp inmate clothes

Typical striped concentration camp inmate clothes

Next, we went down the basement where we followed the scene of the crime and the murder of prisoners. The gas chamber, refrigeration room, dissection room and crematorium complex, the very disturbing sections of the camp, are definitely not for the squeamish or for children.

Disinfection Room

Disinfection Room

The gas chamber, completed and used by the spring of 1942, could murder 120 people at one time and it is estimated that around 10,200 prisoners were gassed in this room. However, its construction was inefficient and the prisoners often died of suffocation rather than the gas. The Judas Opening, a hole in the door of the gas chamber, allowed the curious or, better said, the sadists, to see what is happening inside the chamber.

Crematorium

Crematorium

The dissection room was were, after a person was gassed, they were taken to have their gold fillings removed. The box on the right was for the collection of the fillings.  After their fillings were removed, their bodies were stored in the refrigeration room before being taken to the crematorium.

Portion of the high-voltage electric fence

Portion of the high-voltage electric fence

The dissection room was also used for cruel medical experiments and for taking organs from living people. The organs were bottled and stored on shelves.  The crematorium ovens was the final procedure in the murder process of tens of thousands of inmates of Mauthausen.

Crematorium Memorial Room

Crematorium Memorial Room

Then there is the Room of Names which displays and lists the etched names of 81,000 known victims (the names are also available to view via the internet) onto various horizontally placed black glass plates.  We then left the building and walk a short distance before returning to an older part of the museum.

Room of Names

Room of Names

On a green field at the entrance in the concentration camp, between the main camp and the quarry steps, is the Memorial Garden, originally the site of the S.S. administrative barracks.

Hungary Monument

Hungary Monument

Jewish Memorial

Jewish Memorial

In 1949, the site was turned into a memorial garden with the first memorial being donated by France. Today, there are now 22 monuments and more than 30 inscribed plaques, donated by numerous nations subjugated by Germany during the World War II, to remember their prisoners from Mauthausen.

Bulgaria Monument

Bulgaria Monument

Monument to Women

Monument to Women

Also inside the camp are many graves of different nationalities. Barracks 21–24 and Camp II, formerly used as quarantine camps after 1944, now house remains of the inmates from the “American cemeteries” which were transferred here in 1961.

Camp II (Quarantine Camp)

Camp II (Quarantine Camp)

Just past the Memorial Garden Prisoners is the “Todesstiege” (“Stairs of Death”), were Jewish inmates were forced to run up the 186 steps carrying huge packs with 25 kgs. of blocks of granite on their backs from  the Wiener Graben. The weight was gradually increased and, as the prisoners tired, they would fall backwards striking other prisoners, some of them being killed by the blocks that fell, and causing a domino effect, with the S.S. guards placing bets on who would fall.

Remembering the dead at Barracks 21-24

Remembering the dead at Barracks 21-24

For their sick entertainment, the sadistic S.S. guards would frequently take those that survived that fate to the top of the quarry and often forced them to jump or push them, over the narrow ledge of the quarry, to their deaths in a procedure called the “parachute jump,” cynically referring to them as “Fallschirmspringer” (“parachutists”). Today, the ledge is now overgrown with trees and bushes but, from an observation point, we can see the valley below.

Stairs of Death

Stairs of Death

Our visit to this concentration camp was educational, making us see the awful conditions the inmates were forced to live when the world was at war, and also left us speechless as we understood the pain people here experienced at this place.  It was like taking a trip back into time that, even though it is horrific, it is still part of history, a history that, for the sake of the world’s future, none should ever forget or pretend that it doesn’t exist. The Mauthausen Memorial truly deserves a visit, not just for the camp itself, but for the memory of all the people who lost their lives here.

L-R - Isko, Manny, PPopong, the author, Grace, Kyle, Jandy, Vicky and Cheska

L-R:- Isko, Manny, Popong, the author, Grace, Kyle, Jandy, Vicky and Cheska

Mauthausen Memorial: Erinnerungsstraße 1, 4310 Mauthausen, Austria. Tel: +43 7238 22690. Fax: +43 7238 2269 40. Admission: 2 EUR. Open daily, 9 AM – 5:30 PM (March 1 – July 10); Tuesdays – Sundays, 9 AM – 5:30 PM (July 11 – October 31) and Tuesdays – Sundays, 9 AM – 3:45 PM (November 1 – February 28).  Audio guides, in a variety of languages, are available for 3€. There are a number of guided tours available but it is a case of checking the website or phoning the visitor’s centre. During winter, some parts of the camp aren’t accessible for safety reasons (ice). Website: www.mauthausen-memorial.at.

Roman Ruins (Vienna, Austria)

Directly at the entryway to the palace complex of the Hofburg, in the middle of Vienna, on the Michaelerplatz,  is a small excavation site ringed by gorgeous architecture. The cobblestoned Michaelerplatz  “square” (it’s actually circular), bounded by the Spanish Riding School and St. Michael’s Church, is a major pick-up point for tours by fiaker  (horse-drawn carriages).

The Roman Ruins

Uncovered by archaeologists between 1989 and 1991, here, traces of the structural remains, from different epochs, of a Roman legionary outpost (canabae legionis), the settlement outside the Roman legionary fortress Vindobona, have been found. In this settlement lived the families (i.e. concubines and children) of the legionaries. There were also some inns, shops and brothels. The settlement was probably destroyed between 168 and 180 by Marcomanni.

The 1st century crossroads of two main streets, the “Amber street” from the Aquae region (today Baden south from Vienna) and the street along the limes, have also been found. The final form for public presentation was done by the Austrian architect Hans Hollein.

Roman RuinsMichaelerplatz, Vienna, Austria. Admission: free.

Ephesos Museum (Vienna, Austria)

Ephesus Museum

Ephesos Museum

Our combination ticket at the Neue Berg  included entry to the Ephesos Museum and the much more memorable Treasury. This infrequently visited museum, an annex to the Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities. may be hard to find as it is hidden away on the first floor at the back of the library section of the Kunsthistorisches Museum. It is essential to get an audio guide as the exhibits are labeled in German.

Segment of gable (The Library of Celsus)

Segment of gable (The Library of Celsus)

The exhibition consists of statues, busts, reliefs, pieces of architecture and other ancient Greek pieces of art. Most of the artifacts are damaged or broken but they are very well organized and exhibited in the best possible way. Photography without flash or tripod was permitted.

Segment of an Ionic capital

Segment of an Ionic capital

Ephesos, one of the largest and most important cities of the ancient world, lies on the Aegean coast of present-day Turkey. With two million visitors annually, it is Turkey’s most-visited tourist destination after the Hagia Sophia and Topkapı Palace in Istanbul. It was here that the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, stood. The city was also the home of Heraclitus, as well as of one of the largest early-Christian communities. In Roman times,  Ephesos became capital of the Province of Asia, with around 200,000 inhabitants.

L-R: Cheska, Jandy, Manny, Vicky and Grace

L-R: Cheska, Jandy, Manny, Vicky and Grace

The museum was completely deserted as we spent time enjoying, without interruption, these vibrant and exciting depictions of gods, emperors and battle scenes in their purpose built gallery. This collection of largely Roman statuary and artifacts was apparently gifted to Austria by the Turks and it was. The museum’s collection began when Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II donated some of the archaeological findings to Emperor Franz Joseph I. Since 1895, Austrian archaeologists of the newly founded Austrian Archaeological Institute have began conducting research and excavating the ruins of Ephesos.

Fragmentary heads from an Erotes frieze

Fragmentary heads from an Erotes frieze

Between 1896 and 1906, a total of seven expeditions transported numerous recovered objects, their high quality probably equal to the Elgin Marbles or the Pergamon Gate, from Ephesos to Vienna by Austrian Navy vessels. With the proclamation of the Turkish Antiquities Law of 1907, the export of antiquities from Turkey was generally banned. However, archaeological digs, with Austrian involvement, still continue in Ephesos to this day.

Oktagon Arsinoe IV

Oktagon Arsinoe IV

For many years, the collection was provisionally warehoused and put on occasional display at the Theseus Temple (discontinued because of damage to the exhibits) in the Volksgarten (in 1911) until December 1978 when the Vienna Ephesos Museum was opened, in its present-day form, inside the Neue Burg section of the Hofburg Palace complex. Alongside the Ephesian artifacts, the museum is also home to architectural and sculptural cult relics from the Sanctuary of the Great Gods on the Greek island of Samothrace, which was explored by Austrian archaeologists in 1873 and 1875.

The Theban sphinx mangles a boy; Roman copy of a detail of the throne of Phidias' statue of Zeus in Olympia. 440 BCE

The Theban sphinx mangles a boy; Roman copy of a detail of the throne of Phidias’ statue of Zeus in Olympia. 440 BCE

Child with a Goose

Child with a Goose

We were presented with a representative selection of Roman sculptures that once decorated the’ richly decorated facades of magnificent ancient buildings such as the sprawling thermal bath facilities and the Ephesian Theater.  The highlights of the collection include the so-called Parthian Monument; remnants from the late-Classical Altar of Artemis, including a sculpture of an Amazon; the bronze Athlete statue and the Child with a Goose.

Statue of Artemis

Statue of Artemis

Staircases lead, from the entrance hall, to a large chamber, containing the The Parthian Monument, a frieze  celebrating the emperor Lucius Verus‘ victory over the Parthians.  During his Parthian Campaign of 161-165 AD, the emperor established a camp in Ephesos. Unique in both its size and importance, the friezes have a total length of about 70 m., of which 40 m. On display. are a panorama of military scenes with brilliant depictions of battle, hunt, the art of riding and victory.

Parthian Monument

Parthian Monument

Parthian Monument (2)

It was sharp and brilliant, as if quite recently carved.  Its individual pieces have been arranged in the form of a monumental altar in five thematic cycles. As they were not found in their original state, this is only a guess at their correct arrangement. There’s also a model of ancient Ephesos, on a scale of 1:500, that makes it possible for us to better understand the objects’ respective positioning within the city’s topography.

Hadrian and Antoninus Pius adopt Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus

Hadrian and Antoninus Pius adopt Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus

The Emperor's Apotheosis

The Emperor’s Apotheosis

The Ephesos Museum in Vienna serves as an ambassador for Austria’s intensive efforts in the interest of ancient Ephesos. Both the care of the ruins and the reconstruction and rebuilding of ancient monuments are also part of the Austrian researchers’ mission, and the Ephesos Museum provides an Austrian-based platform with which to represent their many years of work. 

Model of ancient Ephesus, on a scale of 1:500

Model of ancient Ephesus, on a scale of 1:500

Ephesos Museum  : Neue Burg, Heldenplatz, 1010 Vienna. Opening hours: Wednesdays – Sundays, 10 AM – 6 PM. Admission till half an hour before closing time. Tel: +43 1 525 24 4902.  Website: www.khm.at.  E-mail: info.ansa@khm.at.

Collection of Arms and Armor (Vienna, Austria)

Collection of Arms and Armor

Collection of Arms and Armor

The outstanding Collection of Arms and Armor of Neue Burg, among the best of its kind in the world, is the best-documented collection of court arms and armor in the western world.  The armor and weaponry is from military campaigns; but many were ornamental (good for checking out the girls, but not suitable for combat) – generally created or acquired in connection with important political occasions: coronations, tributes, engagements, weddings, baptisms, state events, Imperial Diets, ceremonies of homage, etc.

An array of suits of armor

An array of suits of armor

Many of the suits of armor in the displays are custom creations made by the most notable armorers. Some of the most famous examples are the elegant cuirassier armor designed for jousting for the legendary Emperor Maximilian I by Lorenz Helmschmied (the “Rathausmann,” Vienna′s odd mascot on the top of the Town Hall, was inspired by Maximilian′s costume armor), the Armor for a Horseman by the Lombardy Italian artisan Tommaso Missaglia, the Half-Armor alla Romana by Filippo Negroli and the boy-sized Folded Skirt Armor suit created by Konrad Seusenhofer for the future Habsburg Emperor Charles V.

Collection of Arms and Armor (41)

Collection of Arms and Armor (48)

The often magnificent etchings were quite frequently based on designs by such famous artists as Albrecht Dürer and Hans Holbein. Also on display are the ceremonial rapier of Emperor Maximilian II – perhaps the most beautiful ceremonial weapon ever made.  Aside from the beautiful pieces of armor for humans and horses and weapons, there are also tapestries, banners, paintings, etc.

Suit of armor components

Suit of armor components

The Arms and Armor Collection represents courts, from 14th century through the 19th century (with some even older items), of most of the western European states – Bohemia, Hungary, Galicia, various Balkan areas, territory of the present-day BENELUX countries (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg), provinces of present-day France (Burgundy, Alsace, Lorraine), Spain and large parts of Italy.

Fully armored knight and his horse

Fully armored knight and his horse

The arms and armor collection is essentially three collections of utilitarian military weapons joined and displayed in two main connected Baroque halls of honor commemorating the royal Austrian Hapsburg family history. Documented since 1436, the Chamber of Imperial Personal Armor (Leibrüstkammer) contains the ornamental weapons and suits of armor of the ruling house and associated families.

Armor for a young boy

Armor for a young boy

The Court Weapon and Court Hunting Chamber  (Hofgewehr-oder Hofjagdkammer), founded by the Emperor Ferdinand II of Tyrol, features the highest design works, created for hunting or for sport by the decorative artist, from every era up to the end of the monarchy and empire in 1918. It includes a vast array of exquisitely crafted shields, helmets and weapons, including the Adlergarnitur (Eagle Armor) for himself. Every single one of these objects is a work of art.

Collection of Arms and Armor (72)

The stunning variety of court arms and armor include all types of melee weapons, shields, full suits of armor, swords, early firearms, helmets, maces, hammers, halberds, spears, lances, you name it they got it. The first room contained full scale models of jousting knights while a number of rooms containing helmets and sumptuous suits of armor from different historical periods. Some of the more unique pieces included numerous sets of ceremonial armor for horses (one had a 3D dragon design at its tail) and a mechanical breastplate used in jousting.

A display of swords

A display of swords

At an inner courtyard, we saw rifles and hunting equipment including a number of falcon hoods. A quite interesting section featured an extensive 16th century collection from the Middle East and Near Orient – ranging from those of the Turkish enemy (who very nearly broke the empire), to those of the Persians and Egyptians, who were occasionally allied with the Habsburgs.

Middle East and Near Orient swords and firearms

Middle East and Near Orient swords and firearms

Middle East and Near Orient swords and helmets

Middle East and Near Orient swords and helmets

A quite intriguing and more curious full-metal armor had gloves with spikes at the fingertips and helmets with just a sprinklings of tiny holes (making it painfully hard to see the enemy).  Some highly decorated suits of armor, with bright, almost gaudy, patterns, just ha just enough space for a huge codpiece.

A gaudy and colorful suit of armor

A gaudy and colorful suit of armor

Others, created for festival days (probably never saw a moment of combat), have metallic visor shapes in the form of fantastical faces (probably a reflection of those inside the armor) or creatures of pure fantasy. Another curious suit of armor, with a full skirt made out of billowing metal and a rather amble chest allowance, truly amazed me as it most probably was designed for a woman, one of the more unique examples to be found anywhere.

A Japanese samurai's suit of armor

A Japanese samurai’s suit of armor

The collection, spread out over a large number of rooms, was not quite overwhelming as one of the collection’s outstanding aspects is the manner in which the items were displayed. Rather than being set out on rack upon rack, they were all set out differently as they were not hidden behind glass enclosures. We can approach each item closely and view it from 360-degrees, making for awesome pictures and allowing great detail observation.

A pair of saddles

A pair of saddles

After the first few thousands of arms and armor, it could be easily boring but the museum still does a very good job in teaching visitors about technical innovations in warfare and how they influenced the design of arms. Very quiet, with a few visitors, the exhibit was very interesting and enjoyable but not English friendly as all descriptions were in German. Still it was a must see, an ideal place to bring the boys in the family and well worth the two hour visit.

Crossbows

Crossbows

Display of rifles and pistols

Display of rifles and pistols

Collection of Arms and Armor: Neue Burg, Heldenplatz, 1010 Vienna. Opening hours:  Wednesdays – Sundays, 10 AM – 6 PM. Admission till half an hour before closing time. Photography is allowed. Admission prices: e €14 (adults), €11 (Concessions).  Children and Teens are free. A combined ticket, including the Treasures of the Habsburgs (located in another building), is €20 for adults. The Audio Guide is an additional charge of €4 and Guided Tours in groups are €3. Vienna Card Holders get a price reduction.

Collection of Historic Musical Instruments (Vienna, Austria)

Collection of Historic Musical Instruments

Collection of Historic Musical Instruments

The Collection of Historic Musical Instruments, located in the wing of the Austrian National Library that also houses the Ephesos Museum’s collection of antiques and the Collection of Arms and Armor, is home to one of the world’s most important, most comprehensive and also among the most valuable historical collections of late Italian Renaissance and early Baroque instruments.  The collection includes a particularly comprehensive range of clavichords and Viennese fortepianos. It was interesting to see such old forerunners of our current instruments such as the coronet, oboe, piano, organ, and woodwinds.

Collection of Ancient Musical Instruments (21)

The majority of the holdings of the collection have their origins in Habsburg holdings.  The art and music-loving Tyrolean sovereign Archduke Ferdinand II’s love of preciosities started the collection.  Among the richest and most valuable collections of the late Renaissance, it was part of an art chamber that was housed in the Ambras Castle in Tyrol. When the situation became dangerous due to the Napoleonic Wars, the collection was transferred from Innsbruck to Vienna in 1806.

Collection of Ancient Musical Instruments (11)

The second core group in the collection consists of instruments of the Obizzi family dating back to the late Renaissance and the early Baroque period. Family-related events were responsible for the transfer of the Obizzi Collection to Vienna in 1870.

Collection of Ancient Musical Instruments (16)

In the spring of 1947, the collection was presented in one room of the Neue Burg. Further rooms were set up an, after several years, a full range of instruments was finally on display. This process was completed in 1964. The collection has since been continually expanded via purchases, gifts and loans and, in the period since the 1980s, the collection has been expanded by a further 400 items.

The area of the Viennese fortepiano

The area of the Viennese fortepiano

Today, each of its 12 rooms are dedicated either to an era of music history or to a musical personality. The chronological approach to music history allows the presentation both of ensembles of related instruments, from the most diverse instrumental families, and of typical forms of music making.

Collection of Ancient Musical Instruments (6)

A gallery is dedicated to Joseph Haydn and his days. Some of the harpsichords were played by Mozart and Beethoven. There’s also a set of 16th century shawms that are shaped like dragons; an elaborately decorated clavicytherium; a violin made from the shells of a tortoise and owned by Empress Maria Theresa; a glass harmonica invented by Benjamin Franklin; and a crystal flute.

Collection of Ancient Musical Instruments (2)

Particularly noteworthy are the 4-stringed instruments by Jakob Stainer and Giovanni Battista Grancino, donated in 2003/04 by Dr. Herbert and Evelyn Axelrod.  The violins by Stainer, although not approaching the mastery of Antonio Stradivari or Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu, are famous or their snail carvings (mostly the scrolls), evidence of the craftsmanship of the 17th century.

A pair of harps

A pair of harps

The museum maintains and presents numerous instruments that were played by famous musicians and composers.  Among them is the violin played by Leopold Mozart (the father and pedagogue of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart), on display by itself in a glass case, making it look like a shrine that bears the magic of genius. The grand fortepiano that was once in the possession of Clara and Robert Schumann, was later owned by Johannes Brahms.

Collection of Ancient Musical Instruments (7)

You can also see the zither on which Anton Karas played the haunting theme-song from the 1949 British film “The Third Man.” Audio guides, produced in 2001 in several languages, takes visitors through the display collection, explaining organological details, affording insights into Austrian musical history and offering numerous listening examples related to the historical instruments on display.

Collection of Ancient Musical Instruments (19)

Visitors can also play on reproductions of original instruments. The Matinees of the Collection of Historic Musical Instruments give visitors the opportunity to both see and hear the instruments, insofar as their condition allows them to be played. Several of the keyboard instruments were clearly labelled as playable by visitors.

Collection of Ancient Musical Instruments (1)

The Collection of Historic Musical Instruments made us look back on a tradition that spans over four centuries. Truly the world of sound in which the composers of Viennese Classicism lived can be heard and understood here in a nearly complete fashion.

Collection of Ancient Musical Instruments (17)

Collection of Historic Musical Instruments: Neue Burg, Heldenplatz, 1010 Vienna. Opening hours: Wednesdays – Sundays, 10 AM – 6 PM. Admission till half an hour before closing time.  Tel: +43 1 525 24 4602. Website: www.khm.at.  E-mail: info.sam@khm.at.

Imperial Treasury (Vienna, Austria)

Imperial Treasury

Imperial Treasury

After purchasing our combination tickets at the Neau Berg, we started our museum tour at the Imperial Treasury (Kaiserliche Schatzkammer), entering via the 13th century Schweizerhof (Swiss Courtyard, a reminder of the Swiss Guards once stationed here), the oldest part of the palace, which was rebuilt in the 16th century in the Renaissance style under Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I.

Entrance to the 13th century Schweizerhof (Swiss Courtyard)

Entrance to the 13th century Schweizerhof (Swiss Courtyard)

Located in the medieval part of the Hofburg Palace, next to the Hofburg Chapel, the Imperial Treasury, affiliated with the Kunsthistorisches Museum, is housed in 21 rooms. One of Vienna’s most important attractions, it is divided into two collections: the secular collection (subject to the responsibility of the Chamberlain or Oberkämmerer) and the ecclesiastical collection, covering over a thousand years of European history.

Imperial Crown, Orb, and Sceptre of Austria

Imperial crown, orb, and scepter of Austria

The secular collection is a valuable collection of numerous, fascinating and rare imperial treasures and insignia from the Imperial House of Habsburg  (one of the most influential dynasties of the Christian Occident), set up from 1556 by the scholar Jacopo Strada, court antiquarian of Ferdinand I.

Imperial Regalia

Imperial Regalia

Ceremonial robe of St. Stephen-Order

Ceremonial robe of St. Stephen-Order

Among the treasures from the possessions are charming pieces of jewelry once worn by Empress Elisabeth; The regalia of the Archduchy of Austria (with the cord casing of the archducal hat made for the coronation of King Joseph II in 1764); the Burgundian Treasure from the 15th century (including magnificently embroidered robes, all part of the dowry of Mary the Rich at her wedding with Archduke Maximilian I in 1477), the original insignia (scepter and the orb) of the Kingdom of Bohemia;  and the Treasure of the Order of the Golden Fleece ( from the heritage of Mary’s father Duke Charles the Bold), unique textile art from the Late Middle Ages: precious gold and silk embroidery of the highest quality transferred from Brussels in 1794.

Chain of the Order of the Golden Fleece

Chain of the Order of the Golden Fleece

Imperial Jewels

Imperial Jewels

The Imperial Regalia (Reichskleinodien), insignia and jewels of the Emperors and Kings of the Holy Roman Empire (transferred from Nuremberg in 1800) include the Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire, circa 962, the legendary 8th century Holy Lance, and the Imperial Sword.

Imperial Sword and scabbard

Imperial Sword and scabbard

The 10th century Crown of the Holy Roman Empire

The 10th century Crown of the Holy Roman Empire

The Austrian Crown Jewels, comprising the personal crown (made in 1602) of Emperor Rudolf II (1552-1612) which, with the proclamation of the Austrian Empire in 1804, became the Imperial Crown of Austria, with sceptre and globus cruciger; the regalia worn by Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria on the occasion of his coronation as King of Lombardy–Venetia in 1835, as well as the vestments and other precious items of the Order of Saint Stephen of Hungary and the Military Order of Maria Theresa. The insignia of the imperial house of Austria, symbols of might and dignity for centuries, are set with valuable and intricately worked jewels, all witnesses to history and worth a fortune.

Coronation vestments of the Kingdom of Lombardy & Venetia

Coronation vestments of the Kingdom of Lombardy & Venetia

Emerald unction vessel (2860 carats)

Emerald unction vessel (2860 carats)

Also on display are various valuable jewels and precious stones that, due to their unique size, could not be fitted into the imperial crowns. Like all secular treasuries, it was designed to attest to the political power, glory and geographical reach of the Habsburgs. They include one of the world’s largest cut emeralds.

Unicorn horn (actually a narwhal tusk)

Unicorn horn (actually a narwhal tusk)

Meissen altar set of the Empress Wilhelmine Amalla

Meissen altar set of the Empress Wilhelmine Amalla

Also part of the treasury are the crown of the Transylvanian prince Stephen Bocskay and the two “inalienable heirlooms of the House of Austria”-  an almost two and a half meter long narwhal tooth, acquired in Poland in 1540, which was thought to be the horn of a unicorn (Ainkhürn) and the Agate bowl (the largest carved bowl of its kind in the world), from Late Antiquity (4th century), which was thought to be the legendary Holy Grail.

Agate Bowl

Agate Bowl

Furthermore, there’s the Napoleonica artifacts) of Napoleon II (including his golden cradle with over a quarter of a ton of precious metals in it), Napoleon’s son  known from his birth as the “King of Rome,” and his mother Archduchess  Marie Louise.

Mary Louis Empress of the French

Mary Louis Empress of the French

Napoleon II's golden cradle

Napoleon II’s golden cradle

The ecclesiastical collection, administered by the Hofburg parish priest, contains numerous religious treasures, including relics and objects ascribed to the private ownership of saints.  They include a piece of the cross on which Jesus was crucified (including a nail hole, thus suggesting the wood is impregnated with his blood); a tooth from John the Baptist; a piece of the tablecloth used at the Last Supper; the nail used to pin Jesus’s right hand to the cross; and a tooth from St. Peter.  There are also devotional images and altars, mostly from the Baroque era.

Golden Rose by Giuseppe and Pietro Paolo Spagna. Rome, around 181819

Golden Rose by Giuseppe and Pietro Paolo Spagna. Rome, around 181819

Imperial Treasury: Hofburg, Schweizerhof, 1010 Vienna. Tel: +431 525  24 4031. Website: www.khm.at. E-mail: info.kk@khm.at. Open 9 AM – 5:30 PM.

How to Get There:

Subway:
U1: Station Karlsplatz or Stephansplatz
U2: Station Karlsplatz or Volkstheater
U3: Station Herrengasse or Stephansplatz
U4: Station Karlsplatz

Tram:
D Burgring, 1, 2, 71 to any stop between Karlsplatz and Dr. Karl Renner Ring

Bus:
1A or 2A and 3A to Michaelerplatz or Habsburgergasse

HOP ON HOP OFF: Red Line: Kunsthistorisches Museum / Heldenplatz

Kunsthistorisches Museum (Vienna, Austria)

Kunsthistorisches Museum

L-R (standing): Popong Flores, Jandy Layug, the author, Grace Layug, Manny Sta. Maria, Freddie Sta. Maria and Isko Dionela. Seated: Cheska and Kyle Layug

The Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Art History), also often referred to as the “Museum of Fine Arts,” is housed in its festive palatial building, on the Ringstraße. The term Kunsthistorisches Museum applies to both the institution and the main building.

The ornate interior

Apotheosis Of The Renaissance (Mihaly Munkacsy, 1844-1900, Hungary)

It was opened by Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary around 1891, the same time as the Natural History Museum (Naturhistorisches Museum) across Maria-Theresien-Platz.

Gold Platter with a Relief (Christoph Lencker)

Automaton in the Form of a Ship (Hans Schlottheim, 1585)

The two museums, with identical exteriors,  were commissioned by the Emperor in order to find a suitable shelter for the Habsburgs‘ formidable art collection and to make it accessible to the general public.  Both were built between 1872 and 1891 according to plans drawn up by Gottfried Semper and Karl Freiherr von Hasenauer.

The author (let) beside painting of The Peasant Wedding (Pieter Bruegel, 1568)

Vanitas group by Michel Erhart or Jörg Syrlin the Elder, c.1470-80

This rectangular building, with its sandstone façade, is topped with a 60 m. high octagonal dome.  Its interior is lavishly decorated with marble, stucco ornamentations, gold-leaf, and paintings.

Jandy beside sculpture of Theseus Defeats the Centaur (Antonio Canova)

Golden Candlesticks

Here are some interesting trivia regarding the museum:

Saliera or Salt Cellar (Benvenuto Cellini) (1)

Notable works in the picture gallery include:

The Art of Painting (Johannes Vermeer)

Tower of Babel (Pieter Bruegel)

John the Baptist Preaching (Bernardo Strozzi)

Lot and his Daughters (Albrecht Altdorfer)

Madonna of the Meadow (Raphael)

Madonna and Child with Saints Catherine and James (Lorenzo Lotto)

The collections of the Kunsthistorisches Museum  include the Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection, Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities, Collection of Sculpture and Decorative Arts , the Coin Cabinet and the Library.

Homecoming of Hagar (Pietro da Cortona)

Hercules, Dejanira and the centaur Nesius (Paolo Veronese)

Cimon and Iphigenaia (Peter Paul Rubens)

Bird hunting in Brussels (David Terniers, 1652)

Advent … Elizabeth’s Moment (Luca Giordano)

Kunsthistorisches Museum: Maria-Theresien-Platz, 1010 Vienna, Austria. Open 10 AM – 9 PM.  Tel: +43 1 525240.

How to Get There: take U1 going to Leopoldau at Keplerplatz, transfer to U2 going to Aspernstrabe at Karlsplatz, exit at Volkstheater.

 

Natural History Museum (Vienna, Austria)

Natural History Museum (NHM)

The Museum of Natural History (NHM, GermanNaturhistorisches Museum),  amongst the most splendid of the buildings that line the Vienna Ringstrasse, houses one of the largest natural history  collections in the world.

The author trying out a microscope

Cheska and Kyle viewing a brown bear

Jandy beside a coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae)

Founded 250 years ago by Franz Stephan von Lothringen, the Natural History Museum was built as a cathedral to the natural sciences between 1872 and 1891 according to plans drawn up by Gottfried Semper and Karl Freiherr von Hasenauer.

The main staircase

The building itself, a masterpiece of historical Neo-Renaissance architecture, was opened in 1889 as the Imperial Natural History Museum, at the same time as the Kunsthistorisches Museum. The two museums, on the Ringstraße, facing each other across Maria-Theresien-Platz, have identical exteriors.

The ornate interior

Built to house the huge collection of the Habsburgs, it has timeless elegance.  Its ornate decoration, furniture and precious exhibits make it a feast for the eyes for those interested in arts, scienceand architecture. The building itself is an artifact for historical preservation.

One of 39 exhibit halls – ornithological display

Copernican Planetary Machine

Archelon ischyros – world’s largest turtle

Its collection, in 39 exhibit halls against a backdrop of magnificent halls and spread out in 8,700 sq. m. (94,000 sq. ft.), has grown to approximately 30 million objects and artifacts (as of 2011), 25 million of which are the essential basis for the work of over 60 staff scientists.

Dinosaur skulls

Venus of Willendorf

Trilobites

The scientists’s main fields of research cover a wide range of topics, from the origins of the Solar System and the evolution of animals and plants to human evolution, as well as prehistoric traditions and customs. It forms the basis for natural sciences research at the NHM.

Lake Nyrshany – a Carboniferous Ecosystem

Early Sharks and Lobefins (Coelacanths)

Allosaurus fragilis

On display at the first floor are a variety of species from the animal world, from protozoa to insects to highly developed living mammals in modern terraria and aquaria.

A pirarucu (arapaima) from the Amazon River, Brazil

Whale Shark

Zebras

Herpetological display featuring taxidermied crocodiles

Turtles and Tortoises

Anaconda

Those over 200 years old, on their own account, are of particular interest as historical records for the history of science and the art of taxidermy.

Japanese Spider Crab

Komodo Dragon

Tiger-headed Python

Numerous stuffed animals, of species either long-extinct (such as Steller’s sea cow)  or extremely endangered, have made the collections truly famous and irreplaceable.

Skeleton of Steller’s Sea Cow

Skeleton of a Fin Whale

Pteranodon ingens

Skull of a Sperm Whale

The upper floor (Hochparterre) displays the following:

Austrian Meteorites

Amethyst

Diamonds and Quartz Crystals

Gold nuggets

The giant topaz crystal

Iron Meteorites

Some of the signs and explanations in the museum are in German but, following a recent renovation, much of the museum is now in German and English.

Bradysaurus baini

Dunkleosteus terrelli

Prodeinotherium bavaricum

Natural History Museum :  Burgring 7, 1010 ViennaAustria. Tel: +43 1 521770. Open 9 AM – 6:30 PM. The museum’s website provides an overview in the form of a virtual tour.