Constructed in the 13th century, Hofburg was the winter palace of the Hofburgs. A massive complex, it’s today divided into three main sections: the Silberkammer or Silver Collection; the Sisi Museum; and the Imperial Apartments. All three can be seen for the price of one ticket, €8.90 per adult, inclusive of an audio guide. I’ll describe the three sections in separate entries, since all three are very distinctive.
The tour begins with the Silberkammer- a misnomer, since there’s also porcelain, glassware, crystal, and table linen. Spread out in glass cases across a series of rooms, the collection once formed an important part of the Imperial household’s possessions- vast quantities of silver even went with the emperor on campaigns, holidays, and hunting expeditions.
As you progress, you’ll see dishes, kitchen utensils, even handwritten recipes, menu cards and shopping lists from the Imperial kitchens. You’ll see Maria Theresa’s personal cutlery (of solid gold); a set of `duck squeezers’ used to extract meat juices, which were boiled for Sisi’s consumption (she was obsessed with dieting); and an Oriental-pattern dinner service made for Emperor Maximilian of Mexico (Franz Josef’s brother; he never used the service, since he was executed by Benito Juarez before it could be shipped overseas).
Among the highlights of the Silberkammer are:
1. The 4,500 piece, 1,100 kg Grand Vermeil dinner service, of gilded silver. This dates back to when all courses (except soup and dessert) were served on silver; porcelain was considered too lowly. It wasn’t till the Napoleonic Wars- when Austria was so impoverished that even the Imperial silver was melted down into coin- that porcelain became fashionable.
2. The table centrepieces that were used, with flowers, fruit and sweets, at banquet tables. One in particular- a gilded French ensemble- is 30 metres long and is a miniature tabletop Versailles, with its bowls, candelabras, and mirrors!
3. The Minton set, lace-like and perfect in bright blue and white, which was gifted by Queen Victoria. Decorated in floral patterns and made by the Minton Porcelain Manufactories in Stoke, the porcelain was never used because it was so fragile.
4. The Sèvres dinner service, complete with soup tureens, which were the first pieces to be decorated with the broad green ribbons that later became a hallmark of Sèvres.
5. The sample table cover used when the Emperor would dine at a table- instantly identifiable by the `Imperial fold’ napkin. This intricacies of this fold were known to only a few select people, and was passed on by word of mouth- even today only two people know it; and even today, it’s only used if a visiting head of state is at the table.
6. The `flower plates’ made especially for Franz Josef I, who was very fond of flora and fauna. On to each of these plates is painted, in painstaking (almost botanically perfect) detail, a species of flower.
It’s all very fascinating, and the commentary’s highly informative. The Silberkammer- and Hofburg as such- is open daily from 9 to 5, going up to 5.30 in July and August.