Steeped in centuries of colorful history, Innsbruck features a range of fine examples of Imperial splendor bestowed on the town by numerous Habsburg rulers with a penchant for architecture and creative arts. Some of the town's most significant monuments date back to the late 15th century, marking the early heydays of Austrian monarchy. Visitors are taken on a journey back in time with an enchanting array of splendid architectural gems from the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Neo-Classical period. Historical landmarks such as the Golden Roof, the Imperial Palace and Ambras Castle evoke the grandeur of the Habsburg empire's bygone greatness. But Innsbruck scores also with visionary urban design to make any modern architecture enthusiast's heart beat faster- for example the spectacular Bergisel Ski Jump Stadium created by Zaha Hadid. Here are a few more landmarks that are definately worth seeing while studying in Innsbruck, Austria.
University of Innsbruck: Leopold-Franzens-Universität
Leopold-Franzens-Universität Innsbruck was founded in 1669. It is currently the largest education facility in the Austrian province of Tirol and third largest in Austria, just after Vienna University and Graz University. In 1562, a Jesuit secondary school was established in Innsbruck. It was financed by the salt mines in Hall in Tirol and became a university with four faculties in 1669 according to the wishes of Leopold I. In time, this was reduced to a lyceum, but was re-established as the University of Innsbruck "Leopold-Franzens-Universität Innsbruck" (Universitas Leopoldino-Franciscea).
Currently, the University of Innsbruck is compromised of about 27,000 students and more than 4,000 academic and administrative employees. 15 "faculties" (colleges) provide a broad spectrum of programs in all fields of study. The University collaborates with numerous international research and education institutions, among which is the University of New Orleans. A long-standing formal Friendship Agreement between the two institutions facilitates a number of international programs and enables approximately 50-60 Innsbruck students to enroll in the International Summer School.
Old Town and the Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl)
Amidst the charming Old Town, a classic Austrian hybrid of Gothic and Baroque, you will find Innsbruck's greatest tourist attraction and certainly its most characteristic landmark: The Golden Roof. Innsbruck's Old Town is a small area of sturdy medieval houses, many attractively painted in pastel colors and supported by sloping earthquake buttresses. The main thoroughfare of the Old Town is the broad strip of Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse, which eventually opens out into a central plaza lined with arcades. Beyond, a labyrinth of alleyways invites strolling. The building with the Golden Roof was built by Archduke Friedrich IV in the early 15th century as the residence of the Tirolean sovereigns. The Golden Roof actually is the three-story balcony on the central plaza at the heart of the Old Town. The late Gothic oriel is capped with 2,738 gold-plated copper tiles. It was constructed for Emperor Maximilian I to serve as a royal box where he could sit in luxury and enjoy tournaments in the square below. Completed at the dawn of the 16th century, the Golden Roof was built in honor of Maximilian's second marriage to Bianca Maria Sforza of Milan (Maximilian was a ruler who expanded his territory through marriage, not conquest). Not wishing to alienate the allies gained by his first marriage to Maria of Burgundy, he had an image of himself between the two women painted on his balcony. The balustrade on the first floor is adorned with carved coats of arms, representing Austria, Hungary, the double-headed eagle of the Empire, Burgundy and Milan, as well as Tirol and Styria. The mural paintings show two standard-bearers with the flags of the Empire and the Province of Tirol.
Imperial Palace (Hofburg)
The Imperial Palace in Innsbruck once was the seat of the Tirolean sovereigns. The Imperial Palace was erected by Archduke Siegmund the Rich in late Gothic style around 1460. It was rebuilt in the Baroque style (but with rococo detailing) between 1754 and 1773 on orders of Empress Maria Theresa. The palace, flanked by a set of domed towers, is a fine example of Baroque secular architecture. The structure has four wings and a splendid two-story hall, the Riesensaal (Giants Hall), painted in white and gold and filled with portraits of the Habsburgs. The Imperial Apartments consist of 25 state apartments dating from the 18th and 19th century and Giants' Hall, the Alps' most lavish banquet hall. Don't miss a visit to the adjoining "Sacher" Café of Innsbruck.
Imperial Church (Hofkirche)
The Hofkirche (Imperial Church) in Innsbruck with its memorial for Emperor Maximilian I is the most prominent tomb memorial for an emperor in Europe. Furthermore, it provides evidence of European court art for which the best artists such as Albrecht Dürer, Peter Vischer the older and Alexander Colin, were employed. Emperor Maximilian's basic idea was to construct a political memorial for the Roman-German imperial rule, which was based on the tradition of the House of Habsburg, and was supposed to develop into a European imperial rule through Maximilian's political targets. The completion of the memorial in its present form took more than 80 years. It was during the time of Ferdinand II that the 1584 casting of the kneeling emperor, the four virtues and the iron grille were finished and installed in the tomb. The extensive memorial consists of a cenotaph with the figure of the kneeling emperor and 24 reliefs depicting his deeds on the sarcophagus in the middle of the nave and 28 of the planned 40 larger than life statues of his ancestors between the pillars of the nave and the beginning of the chancel. The Renaissance organ on the right hand side of the choir wall by Jörg Ebert from Ravensburg counts as one of the five most famous organs in the world and is the largest nearly undamaged organ in Austria from the Renaissance.
Ambras Castle (Schloss Ambras)
Ambras Castle is located in the hills above Innsbruck and is one of the city's most noteworthy attractions. The Castle was built by Archduke Ferdinand II of Austria (1529-1595), Count of Tirol, in the 16th century. It is divided into a lower and an upper castle set in the remains of a medieval fortress. This was Ferdinand's favorite residence and the center of his court's cultural life. The lower castle was planned and constructed by the Archduke as a museum for his various collections, including arms and armor, art, and books, all of which can be seen today. The Wunderkammer (Gallery of Wonders) contains a display of exotic objects like coral, ivory, a rhinoceros' horn, and other artifacts brought back to Europe by the early explorers. The upper part of the palace houses the Habsburg's Portrait Gallery, an awe-inspiring collection of works by the likes of Lukas Cranach, Anton Mor, Tizian, Van Dyck and Diego Velásquez. The castle's most striking and precious feature is the George's Altar of Emperor Maximilian I.
Cathedral St. Jacob (Dom)
The huge two-towered front of the Parish Cathedral St. Jacob dominates the Cathedral Square at the Northwestern side of the Royal Court. Based on designs by the Baroque architect Johann Herkommer, this church was rebuilt between 1717 and 1724 on the site of an earlier Gothic church. It is roofed with domes and has a lavish baroque interior, part of which was executed by the Asam brothers. One of its chief treasures is a precious Madonna and Child on the main altar, painted by German master Lucas Cranach the Elder. The elaborate Innsbruck carillon sounds for peace. In the north aisle, look for a 1620 monument honoring Archduke Maximilian III, who died in 1618. The most recent renovation works date from the years 1992 and 1993.
Wilten's Parish and Pilgrimage Church, the Wilten Basilica, is one of the most splendid houses of worship in Tirol. As legend has it, even Roman legionnaires were attracted to it by the fame of a Madonna painting. This place of pilgrimage was taken over by the Premonstratensian Order in 1140. The first church on the site was erected around 1259 and was visited by large numbers of people. When the original church was in a dilapidated state, it was removed and rebuilt between 1751 and 1756 in a rich rococo style with twin towers. The design of the new church was entrusted to Josef Stapf, one of the most eminent church architects of his generation. The interior of the church is a kaleidoscope of soft colors, mixed with glorious gold and lavish rococo plasterwork by Franz Xaver Feichtmayr and Anton Gigl. The elaborate ceiling murals are by Matthäs Gunther and depict scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary. The sandstone figure depicting Our Lady Under the Four Columns on the high altar had been the subject of pilgrimage since the Middle Ages.
Bergisel Ski Jump and Museum
Towering high above Innsbruck on the wooded Bergisel Hill, the brand-new Bergisel Ski Jump is a sight to behold. The hill itself is a historic site, scene of the 1809 battles in which Andreas Hofer led Tyrolean peasants against French and Bavarian forces in the Tyrolean War of Independence. A modern museum houses the invaluable Riesenrundgemälde, a gigantic panoramic painting depicting the Bergisel battles; the museum further depicts the history of the infamous Kaiserjäger, the Tyrolean Imperial Infantry. The first ski jump was erected here in the year 1925. And in 1964 and 1976, the Innsbruck ski jump was venue of the Olympic Ski Jumping competitions. Reconstruction plans have been discussed widely. Finally, Iraqi-born and London-based star architect Zaha Hadid won the related architectural competition and designed the spectacular new ski jump. Construction works began in 2001 and were completed in September 2002. Zaha Hadid designed what is already considered a tourist attraction that should be on the itinerary of every visitor to Innsbruck. The Tower stands 47 meters tall and provides spectacular views. The new facilities now can hold 28,000 spectators. Each year, the refurbished Bergisel stadium plays host to the annual Four Hills Tournament in January and to a Summer Grand Prix Jumping Event. All Bergisel stadium facilities, including gondola, elevator, panoramic café, and vantage spot on the jumping platform are open to visitors. From the stylish restaurant there are uninterrupted panoramic views of the lofty surrounding peaks of Patscherkofel, Nordkette, Hohe Munde and Serles.
Triumphal Arch (Triumph Pforte)
The south end of Innsbruck's main artery, Maria-Theresien Street, is spanned by the Triumphal Arch, modeled after those in Rome. Empress Maria Theresa ordered it built in 1765 with a twofold purpose: to honor the marriage of her son, the Duke of Tuscany, later Emperor Leopold II, to Maria Ludovica from Spain, and to mourn the death of her beloved husband, Frances I Stephen of Lothringen, who died during the celebrations. The marble friezes were created by Balthasar Moll in 1744. One side of the arch symbolizes the joyful aspect of the event, the other side the sadness.
A Gothic residential tower was part of the city wall in the 15th century. Today, nothing remains of the moat that once surrounded the Old Town, but remnants of the wall can be found near the Ottoburg. Commissioned by Maximilian I, the castle was named after the last Duke of Andechs, Otto VIII. The gray façade is brightened up by red and white shutters. Although both the purpose and the owners of the building have changed frequently throughout the years, the Ottoburg has long housed an excellent restaurant. The parlors with their cross vaults and stellar vaults are worth visiting. It is the oldest preserved building of Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse. In front of it stands a memorial to the Tirolean freedom fighters of 1809, created by Christian Plattner.
Museum of Tyrolean folk art
Built between 1553 and 1563 as the "New Abbey." Converted into a school in 1785; since 1929, the building has served as a museum. It is the most important folk-art collection in the Alpine region including reconstructed rooms and parlors, original furniture, authentic costumes, old farming implements, and carnival masks. Its unique exhibition of historical and traditional Christmas crèches is open all year round. The rich exhibits provide visitors with perfect insights into the versatile folk culture of Tirol and its people.
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