The Royal Treasury
Treasure, Treasure Everywhere
The Hofburg Palace is one of the largest palaces in Europe, and what was once a fortified castle from the 13th century has become a sprawling building built over 600 years with 2,600 rooms. Many of the emperors that lived here added to the building to show their power and maintain their immortality. The former home of the emperors is still in use today and houses dozens of museums and attractions as well as the offices of the Federal President of Austria, the ministers of the chancellor’s office and the secretaries of state.
The Hofburg Palace can also be very crowded, especially with tourists during peak season. Instead of going to the Sisi Museum, where your kids will only be interested in the fact that Sisi pooped in a toilet shaped like a dolphin (true story), we recommend the Royal Treasury, which houses treasure from both the church and the empire. The kids will be more interested in the empire’s treasure.
To get to the Royal Treasury from the Schmetterling Haus, take the “secret passage.” Behind the glass building that looks like a shipping container (and which is actually the Austrian Parliament building) you’ll find a door that will take you down a corridor to a small courtyard and the back of the Alte Burg, the oldest part of the palace. To the left will be the way to the Schatzkammer.
The Schatzkammer houses both treasure from the Empire and from the Catholic Church. The kids will be way more interested in the crowns than the crucifixes, because well, the jewels. And they are pretty cool. There is the crown of the Holy Roman Empire, made in 962, and erroneously thought to be worn by Charlemagne, perhaps because Albrecht Durer painted Charlemagne with said crown. That crown was worn until 1602, when Rudolph II decided he needed an upgrade, that included a crown that had panels depicting his victory in battle and his coronation.
The Royal Treasury, or Schatzkammer, which means treasure room in German has a lot of cool shiny things to see. Almost everything in the Royal Treasury is a code, to let people know how important someone was. Each code comes with its own story, which is how the emperors were able to claim the throne as theirs.
Even the crowns are codes — that the men who wore them had power and wealth to rule. They liked to say they got their power from God, and so the crowns all have an arch with a cross as symbol of the church. They believed the jewels were magical, and that the diamonds, which were indestructible, represented Jesus, the blue sapphires represented God and the heavens, and the rubies were the fire of the holy spirit. One of the crowns is a naked crown and is missing its jewels, but the other two share something in common: they have pictures on the sides that tell a story of kings.
In the crown that is more ball shaped, the pictures show Rudolph II winning a war and being crowned as Empire. In the oldest crown, the Crown of the Holy Roman Empire, the stories are from the bible, showing relationships between God and kings.
Match the Crown to the Emperor
The crowns were handed down from emperor to emperor. In the various paintings throughout the Schatzkammer, you’ll see the emperors wearing their crowns, or getting their crowns in a coronation ceremony. In the really big paintings, which crowns can you find?
Animals were used as codes to show who someone was, or what they owned. All over Austria you’ll see the eagle or the double-headed eagle, which was a symbol of an empire. In the Schatzkammer you’ll find it on robes and capes. But there are also lots of other animals to be found among the treasure. There are two unicorn horns (which were actually narwhale tusks) that people thought had magic power and could cure someone who was poisoned. In the Herald room, you’ll find lot of Tabors or capes that let the country know which kingdoms someone came from.
Having Fun? Let's Keep Going
You’ve learned about kings and emperors, but now let’s learn about one of Austria’s most famous empresses, Empress Sisi. She didn’t like all the rules and extra fancy dresses she was forced to wear at court, and she’d often run away– to her palace in Schonbrunn, to Hungary, where she was queen, and to a Greek island called Corfu. She hated being cooped up and loved the outdoors. So while everyone else is looking for inside in her royal apartments, let’s see if we can find her where she loved to be.