Museums, Museums, Everywhere

Trip Start Jun 08, 2010
Trip End Aug 26, 2010

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Flag of Austria  , Vienna,
Saturday, August 21, 2010

I started another busy morning with a visit to the Spanish Riding School to watch the world-famous Lipizzaner stallions doing their morning workouts. I had passed up several previous chances to see the horses, including at their home in Lipica, Slovenia, and I still wasn't terribly interested in seeing them, but my mom kept recommending them, so I went to check them out. There wasn't a show scheduled for this weekend, so my only chance to see them would be during their morning exercise.

I wasn't a big fan of animal shows. I liked watching dogs doing obstacle courses on TV. The dogs always looked so happy, jumping up and down and wagging their tails. Horses usually look either bored or resentful. Cats look miserable. I saw a commercial on TV one time for a Russian cat circus. The cats doing the tricks had roughly the same look on their faces as if they had just been dunked in a tub of water, especially the one hanging from the cat equivalent of armpits off of a parallel bars.

So anyway, I wasn't in a good mindset in the first place. I assumed (I'm not sure why) the morning exercises would be free, but it turned out the tickets were 12 euros. I went ahead and paid it (also not sure why, I think because I love my mom). It was definitely not worth it. There were very few seats, so I had to stand for most of an hour. The horses weren't really practicing their tricks, mainly just stretching their legs. It was basically two hours of watching horses walk around in circles, with occasional outbreaks of prancing.

The session was two hours long, and I only saw an hour in the middle, so maybe it got more active, but I doubt it. They brought out a new group of horses every half hour or so and started back at the beginning. I'm sure the actual show was great, but there's zero reason to watch the exercises unless your life's dream was to see the horses and there's no way in the world you could actually see a show. Certainly don't do it to try to save money, you can just watch them sit in their stalls for free.

Placing bitterness aside, my next stop on the tourist map was the Secular and Ecclesiastical Treasures. That museum displayed artifacts accumulated over the years by the Imperial family. As they were one of the most powerful monarchies in Europe, spanning several centuries, their treasury was quite impressive.

I took a break from museums and headed over to St Stephen's Cathedral. It was a large Gothic cathedral, and relatively plain on the inside compared to the churches of Hungary and Slovakia. It still had the typical Gothic architectural features, but the walls were unpainted gray stone, like I had seen in Germany the prior year and most of Dalmatia on this trip.

There were several parts of the cathedral you could pay to visit. I chose to visit the catacombs. It had two distinct sections. The oldest part was constructed in the 15th century, and a newer portion from the 1700s. The old part had been extensively "renovated" around 50 years ago, so ironically, it looked much newer. It contained the internal organs of the Hapsburg monarchs.

When members of the Imperial family died, they were mummified. Mummification involved the removal of internal organs, which were then sealed in metal containers filled with alcohol to preserve them. This actually helped prevent a competition among the three most important churches in Vienna. The Capuchin Monastery, which I saw yesterday, got the bodies. St Stephen's got most of the internal organs, and Augustinian Church got silver vessels containing the hearts.

The "new" portion of the catacombs retained it's exposed brickwork, and I didn't feel like I'd actually gotten to visit a catacombs until we came to that section. While the old section contained the tombs of nobles and clergy, the new section was mainly populated by mixtures of bone from the skeletons of commoners. Most of the inhabitants had been originally buried in separate wooden coffins, but the wood degraded over the years until the bodies became mixed together. At one point, prisoners were ordered to stack the bones of old corpses together in a room in order make space for new burials. The bones in that room were tightly packed, rather than just dumped in a pile creating something that looked like a giant wall of bone.

There were over 10,000 people buried in the crypt when it was ordered to be sealed and new internments banned. This was in 1783 at the time of an outbreak of plague. In addition to concerns about disease, apparently the large number of corpses beneath it's floors gave the entire church the odor of rotting flesh and dampened enthusiasm for services held in the building.

After that lovely intermission, I headed back over to the museums to see the Ephesus Museum Collection of Arms and Armor. It was the largest collection of antique arms and armor I had ever seen. Most of it was high-quality, ornate costume or parade armor, which gave the collection a feel more akin to an art museum than a history exhibit. Admission included a free audio guide, with discussions of just about every item.

Much of the information concerned rules and customs of various tournament games. For example, in some jousts the object was to unseat your opponent while in others points were scored for breaking lances. Accordingly, distinct styles of weapons and armor were developed for both. Games that could be played using standard armor were favored by commoners and lesser nobility over those that required the purchase of a separate set of specialized armor. At least one Emperor looking to play to the masses became a big proponent of such games.

There were two other permanent exhibitions in the museum, one of "old" musical instruments and another of what appeared to be Greek or Roman stonework. I'd seen plenty of old stone fragments from Roman times in Croatia, so I skipped the latter entirely, but I still had a few minutes left until closing, so I quickly ran through the Collection of Ancient Musical Instruments.

The collection seemed almost endless, and filled the majority of the upper floor. It had to be at least twice the size of the military exhibit. As I literally just walked through each room without stopping, I can't comment too much, but I did notice quite a few unusual pieces, and I expect it would be worth visiting sometime if I had half a day free. The collection made clever use of the audio guide that was included in the price of entry. In addition to having the usual recorded descriptions of the pieces themselves, there were recordings of music played on some of the instruments.

That wrapped-up my busy two days in Vienna, and tomorrow I'll be moving on to my final city of the trip (not counting an over-night stay near the Zurich airport) in Salzburg. There was really a lot to do in Vienna, and spending a week there would have been no problem. I think the big difference between Vienna and the other cities I've been to on this trip was the large number of quality museums. I personally preferred Budapest for the architecture, but Vienna for the museums. However, that really isn't fair to either city as I didn't get a chance to go to any museums in Budapest, and I spent so much time in Vienna museums that I didn't get a chance to see much of the city architecture. I'd say they were both top-notch cities and I could spend another week sometime in either. (Bratislava was disappointing. Ljubljana was great but small. Zagreb I liked and it had potential, but needed a little time to grow as Croatia had only been both fully-independent and conflict-free for fifteen years.)

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