June 6, 2010
Innsbruck was the Habsburgs’ capital of the Tirol, and its medieval center – now a glitzy tourist filled pedestrian zone – still gives you the feel of a medieval capital. We start our walking tour of historic downtown Innsbruck on Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse, a three-block pedestrian street. All around us are historically famous buildings from Innsbruck’s past. The frilly Baroque-style Helblinghaus façade is one such structure. Across the street is the Golden Roof. Emperor Maximilian the 1st loved Innsbruck, and built a palace here in 1494 – including the balcony topped with 2657 gilded copper title. The Golden Roof offered Maximilian an impressive spot from which to view his medieval spectacles. Above us is the bulbous city tower, or Stadtturm. This was the old town watchtower. A prison was on the second floor. Like many of the Austrian buildings, the tower originally had a pointy Gothic spire. It was later replaced with this onion-shaped one when Baroque was in style.
St. James Cathedral is Innsbruck’s own Baroque cathedral, complete with frilly decoration and lots of gold. The unique part of this particular Baroque cathedral is the high alter. It houses on of Lucas Cranach’s best-known Madonna-and-Child sculptures called the Mariahilf.
Just like Vienna, Innsbruck also has a Hofburg Palace, although Innsbruck’s is considerably smaller and less grand. The Innsbruck version is an 18th century Baroque mini-palace built by Maria Theresa. Along with the palace is a somewhat peculiar display of mountains and mountaineering put on by the Austrian Alpine Club. The display explores humanity’s fascination with mountain climbing and adventuring.
Emperor Maximilian the 1st liked Innsbruck so much, he wanted to be buried here. So, he had the Hofkirche built just for his journey into the afterlife. Maximilian is surrounded by 28 larger-than-life cast-bronze statues of his ancestors, relatives, in-laws, and his favorite heroes of the Middle Ages, such as King Arthur. They stand like giant chess pieces on the black-and-white marble floor. Some of the sculptures were designed by German Renaissance painter Albrecht Durer. Maximilian is kneeling on top of the huge sarcophagus. Sadly, the real Max isn’t inside. By the time he died, Maximilian had racked up such a high debt with the builders that they refused to bring his body inside.
The recently renovated Tirolean Folklife Museum next door to the Hofkirche, offers the best look anywhere at traditional Tirolean life. Fascinating exhibits range from traditional wedding dresses and painted baby cribs to Tirolean maternity clothes and babie’s trousers. The most interesting exhibit is the carefully reconstructed interiors of several original Tirolean homes through the ages.
Finally, we visit the Triumphal Arch, which is a grand gate that Maria Theresa built to commemorate a happy and a sad occasion. The happy occasion was her son Leopold the Second’s marriage to a Spanish princess right here in Innsbruck. The sad occasion was that Maria Theresa’s husband, beloved Franz died the day after the wedding. Maria Theresa wore black for the rest of her life. The south side of the arch, as you enter Innsbruck, shows the interlocked rings of the happy couple of Leopold and his princess. The north side of the arch, as you leave Innsbruck, features very mournful statuary.
Video from our visit: