The Imperial Palace Innsbruck: Its History

Along with Schönbrunn Palace and the Imperial Palace Vienna, the Imperial Palace Innsbruck is one of the most important historic buildings of Austria.

It is the centrepiece of the huge still interconnected imperial residence complex, which comprises the Noblewomen’s Collegiate Foundation (Adeliges Damenstift) (part of it is used by the "Stiftskeller" restaurant nowadays), the Silver Chapel, the Court Church (which accommodates the cenotaph of Emperor Maximilian I and the Black Men statues "Schwarzen Mandern"), New Abbey ("Neues Stift", which now houses the Theological Faculty and Museum of Popular Art), the Cathedral, the Ball Games House (now Congress Innsbruck) and the Imperial Gardens (Hofgarten Park).

1350: Originating from the town’s fortification and its towers, the Palace’s architectural history is deeply rooted in Innsbruck’s medieval history. Under the reign of the counts of Gorizia-Tyrol, the city wall went through where the eastern wing of the Imperial Palace (main façade at Am Rennweg) is situated now. Three significant monuments were part of the initial Palace design: 1) the Rumer Gate in the east (also called Saggen Gate and later converted into a coat-of-arms or armorial tower (Wappenturm); today: southern roundel with direct access to the streets  HofgasseRennweg), 2) a round tower in the northeast (today: northern roundel), and 3) a fortified corner tower in the northwest (today: part of the Imperial Palace/museum ["corner cabinet" (Eckkabinett)]). The city wall and its moat bent slightly from the Rumer/Saggen Gate towards the round tower and went on until it reached the fortified tower. An irregular protruding corner block, i.e. a cuboid building element, has survived in the north-western part of the Imperial Palace. This area was to become the Palace area.

1396: Duke Leopold IV of Habsburg (*1371/1395-1406/1411†) whose family had reigned over Tyrol since 1363, purchased residential buildings and properties which became part of the Palace’s premises. He also bought two plots of garden on the outskirts of the town wall (today: Hofgarten Park).

1406: His brother, Duke Frederick IV (*1382/1406-1439†), who was known among his enemies as Frederick of the Empty Pockets, became the ruler of Tyrol. As a subsequence, he moved his court from Merano to Innsbruck. Architecturally, he showed only little interest in the development of the main Palace area. Rather he pushed the construction of the New Court (Neuer Hof) situated farther west, which has come to accommodate the Golden Roof building.

1453-1463: Duke Sigismund, who ruled over a rich country during the heydays of Tyrolean mining, had the Palace area extended by purchasing several buildings in Hofgasse Street as well as some garden plots to their north (up to where the cathedral is situated today).

He laid the founding stone for the Palace, commissioning the erection of the main building (the southern half of what constitutes the eastern wing at Am Rennweg today) as well as part of the southern wing (at Hofgasse Street).

The state rooms and the chapel may have been situated in the eastern wing. At least, we know of a festive banquet for the nobility taking place in a heated hall located there in the year 1463. The southern wing (at Hofgasse Street) housed the chancellery. The assigned functions to each of the rooms were to remain unaltered in the years of Habsburg rule to come.

1465: A room with large windows and a spiral staircase was integrated into the Rumer/Saggen Gate. Duke Sigismund had it converted into his living room, furnished with wall tapestries and a large pre-stressing bed.

The Harnaschhaus armoury was used for the production and storage of weapons and armours. In fact, Innsbruck’s armours were much sought after everywhere. The armoury later became part of the Outer Palace (Äußere Burg) and was then converted into the Noblewomen’s Collegiate Foundation (Adeliges Damenstift); today it accommodates the Stiftskeller restaurant.

1495: The rearward part of the Palace (Hintere Burg) was erected to the north of the existing building complex. The so constructed "women’s apartments" were used by Maximilian’s second wife, Bianca Maria Sforza, and her court. Performing such a large-scale extension of the Palace must have been possible thanks to her extensive dowry. As a result, the imperial apartments were moved from the first to the second floor (where the Giant Hall and its adjacent rooms are situated today).

Close to the then drawbridge to the north, a representative entrance hall was built (today: Gothic Cellar).

Nikolaus Thüring the Elder, who was also the main architect of the Golden Roof, served as the court’s architect back then and was charged with the planning and execution of the works.

1496 and 1499: An armorial tower (Wappenturm) was built on the remnants of the Rumer/Saggen Gate, which burnt down in 1494. Maximilian’s court painter, Jörg Kölderer, carried out the painting works. The idea will have most likely come from Maximilian himself, who propagated his leadership role in Europe by illustrating the dimensions of his power even before he was elected emperor (1508). Maximilian’s successors and their court artists carried out restoration works and overpainted some of the illustrations (new coats of arms featuring their very own armorial bearings) in 1526, 1604 and 1733.

1503: The imperial armoury (Harnischhaus) was expanded. Maximilian’s many wars, not to forget the one against Venice, had made it necessary to build another armoury outside of the town (Zeughaus, which now accommodates the Tyrolean Provincial Museum).

1519: The Imperial Palace, which was built in Late Gothic Style and extensively extended under Maximilian I, was believed to be the most beautiful and significant profane building of the time. Indeed, the Palace conveyed a very lively and colourful impression, with its wide array of multi-part building components, its colourful masonry, and its timber-framed construction as well as its green and red roofs. As a result, it became considered to be a monument of historic significance immediately after Maximilian’s death (1519).

1520-1530: Modifications and extensions in the years 1520 to 1530 resulted in an enclosed building structure with walled courtyards. The outer walls of the buildings to the north, south-west and west (government building, council building and chancellery) were given a homogeneous façade. The dimensions of the large and the small courtyards as well as those of the Kitchen Courtyard (Küchenhof) have not been altered since. It was Georg Thüring, Nikolaus Thüring’s son (see 1495), who oversaw these modifications.

1533: Ferdinand I was the founder of the Austrian Habsburg line. He created a Middle European Empire, between the Ottoman Empire in the East and France in the West. Ferdinand was a committed promoter of humanistic science and a great builder. He spent much of his time in Innsbruck. His wife Anna and their children turned the Palace into their permanent residence as of 1533.

1536-1538: After the fire in 1534, Ferdinand I commissioned Italian architect Lucius de Spaciis with the remodelling of the eastern wing (at Am Rennweg).In the course of these reconstruction works a festive state hall was created which was to be converted into the Giant Hall later on. For as far as the Gothic roofs had survived the fire, they were gradually (until 1561) replaced by flatter roofs, which were hidden by the façade’s gables featuring Early Renaissance style.

1563-1570: When Archduke Ferdinand II came to power the Imperial Palace Innsbruck became, once again, completely overhauled; it was transformed into a Renaissance castle featuring Italian style with wall paintings on the inner façades facing the courtyards. Court architect Giovanni Lucchese, who also played a role in the construction of Ambras Castle and worked for Ferdinand II in Prague, oversaw the planning and construction process.

Upon his arrival in Tyrol, Ferdinand II ordered the eviction of the chancellery and the council building, for he wanted to keep the southern and western wings for his own personal use. Heinrich Teufel spent the years 1567 and 1568 to complete the exhaustive wall paintings in the former rooms of the chancellery, which have given them their princely and stately character. It was also due to the opulent and lavish refurbishing and decoration of the rooms that the corner tower (today: northern roundel) became popularly referred to as "Golden Tower". These works incurred tremendous costs, though, a fact which the court chamber would repeatedly complain about. In 1566, the construction process even came to a temporary halt due to the lack of funding. Eventually, construction was continued and completed, however.

1577: In a second building phase the Harnischhaus armoury was expanded to accommodate one more floor. The Silver Chapel was erected within the connection wing that leads to the Court Church. The armorial tower (Wappenturm) received a higher, more visible roof.

1581: Ten years after this costly adaptation, Archduke Ferdinand complained about the roofs above the Giant Hall and the sleeping chamber being damaged.

1628: Archduke Ferdinand seriously considered demolition and re-construction of the Palace. Yet, as the court’s fortune had been used up in the 30 Years Protestant War, his intentions could not be realised.

Henceforward, the Palace fell into increasing disrepair as only the most important repair works were to be carried out. In fact, the Ruhelust Castle, which is situated in the Hofgarten Park, became the royal residence while the Imperial Palace was used for official functions, only. 

1711: The Tyrol people, who were without a ruler at that time, commissioned Baroque artists Kaspar and Johann Joseph Waldmann with the painting of the Giant Hall. The Imperial family’s visit during their travels was probably the reason for this. Innsbruck had lost its reputation as seat of the Habsburg family by 1665, when the Habsburgs started to centrally reign over their Empire from Vienna and would use it only as noble accommodation during their travels westwards.

1754-1756: The Palace was to be transformed into a Baroque castle. The first stage was carried out according to plans by former structural fortress engineer Johann Martin Gumpp the Younger, son of the leading dynasty of Innsbruck architects. The aim was to create new offices in the southern wing (Hofgasse Street). J.M. Gumpp was responsible for the large staircase, and he harmonised the floor and room clearances in diverse parts of the building. He suggested to remove all tight stairs and unnecessary walls in the eastern wing so as to make space for comfortable rooms with a uniform floor level and standard window axes. This expensive reconstruction project met with little approval on the part of the court of the Habsburgs in Vienna.

The building project was interrupted by the Seven Years War (1756–63).

1765: Maria Theresa chose Innsbruck as venue for the wedding between her son Leopold and Maria Ludovica, daughter of the Spanish Habsburg line. The Imperial Palace was not fit to accommodate the Imperial family and their entourage, however. Therefore, imperial apartments, which were meant to house the Imperial couple, were integrated into the Office Wing (Ämtertrakt) facing the former main street (Hofgasse street). However, the southern exposure of converted wing greatly displeased Maria Theresa. The 48-year-old obese monarch was to be spared the summer heat and noise. Eventually, her son Joseph II moved into the southern wing, whilst the Imperial couple inhabited the rooms in the eastern and northern wings. They were rebuilt to reflect their former function as imperial apartments retrospectively. Back then, the eastern wing still consisted of different rooms and elements, and was characterised by different room and floor clearances.

1765-1773: When Emperor Francis I died from a stroke at a theatre visit during the wedding celebrations, the Imperial Palace gained in significance as a place of commemoration and representation for Maria Theresa. During the planning work for the Noblewomen’s Collegiate Foundation (Adeliges Damenstift) it became an aesthetic necessity to revamp the eastern wing. It was hollowed out on the inside and new ceilings were constructed to harmonise floor levels. Court building director Constantin Johann Walter was joined by a creative planner for this purpose. To aid them Maria Theresa also sent her court architect, Nicolas Pacassi, in 1767. He had prominently rebuilt Schönbrunn Castle (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and turned it into a sumptuous residential palace featuring late Baroque Rococo style some years earlier. His drafts and design mark the main façade at Am Rennweg

1774-1776: The Palace was given a revamp in terms of interior design and furnishings under Maria Theresa, which was crowned by the large wall painting in the Giant Hall by Franz Anton von Maulbertsch (1724–1796), main master of Austrian Rococo style. However, Maulbertsch could not get started (1775) before the truss had been adapted (1774).

1781–1805: Maria Theresa’s son, Emperor Francis Joseph II, chose the Imperial Palace as residence for his sister Maria Elisabeth, the abbess of the adjacent Noblewomen’s Collegiate Foundation (Adeliges Damenstift). As a subsequence, the imperial apartments were adapted to become the permanent residence for her use alone and meet the taste of the archduchess, who was deeply renowned in Tyrol.

In 1790, she even accepted the hereditary homage (acknowledgement of a new sovereign) in representation of her brother Leopold II, the successor to the Emperor’s throne after Joseph II, at the Imperial Palace. After the Habsburgs were forced to relinquish Tyrol to Bavaria, she moved first to Vienna and then to Linz, where she passed away in 1808.

1805-1808: After Austria’s defeat to Napoleon Austria had to cede Tyrol to Napoleon’s ally, Bavaria, in the Treaty of Pressburg (1805). The Imperial Palace became the secondary residence for Bavarian king Maximilian I Joseph (1756-1825).

It was refurbished with numerous pieces of furniture from Munich in 1808 so as to be fit to accommodate the royal couple during their short stays.

1809: Restaurant owner, cattle, livestock and wine trader Andreas Hofer and his like-minded followers organised an uprising against the Bavarian administration whom they viewed as oppressors. After their victory at the third Battle of Bergisel (in the south of Innsbruck) on August 13th, 1809, he took over the government of Tyrol, staying at the Palace until he, eventually, lost at the fourth Battle of Bergisel.

1809-1815: The former imperial apartments were sumptuously remodelled to become the winter residence for Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig, who served as the city’s governor and troop commander of Tyrol (*1786-1868†) and lived there together with his wife, Therese Charlotte of Saxe-Hildburghausen (*1792-1854†).

As Napoleon was defeated and the Vienna Congress had come to a close, a new European order was to be established by 1815 in the course of which Tyrol was given back to Austria. Prior to this happening the Palace’s costly furniture was quickly transferred to a number of Bavarian residencies.

1838: The Emperor, who had to relinquish his function, went to Tyrol in the year 1838 on the traditional occasion of the hereditary homage.

In Tyrol, just like in any other hereditary country of the Habsburgs, new rulers were not enthroned by coronation (as in Bohemia or Hungary), but by hereditary homage, a ceremony where the four classes of the provincial government (so-called Landtag consisting of the nobility, the clergy, the middle class and the farmers) pledged obedience to their new ruler. In return, the new ruler granted a provincial constitution for the term of their government. Royal insignia (e.g. imperial orb, sceptre) as well as the archducal hat were used during this occasion.

The Palace had to be re-furbished and decorated for this purpose. Innsbruck cabinetmaker Johann Geyr was charged with the works. His customised high-quality furniture featuring Biedermeier style was relocated to the Imperial court in Vienna around 1900.

1848: As a result of the miserable living conditions of industrial workers throughout Europe, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels had called for a revolution, using the slogan "Proletarians of all countries, unite". At the same time, there were frictions in the bureaucratic camp: nationalistic and democratic ideas were on the rise. Emperor Ferdinand I the Kind-Hearted left Vienna to flee from the revolution. The call for social change (e.g. ten-hour working day, wage rises, proletarian association), abolition of manorial rights, introduction of a constitutional monarchy, elections, freedom of the press etc., coming from the proletarians, the bureaucratic and student classes, were to be taken account of in part only. Ferdinand, his family and his court spent the months between May and August in exile in the Imperial Palace Innsbruck. He abdicated in December. As he had no children on his own, his nephew, Emperor Francis Joseph I was to succeed him.

1858: Emperor Francis Joseph I’s (*1830/1848-1916†) brother spent six years in the Imperial Palace Innsbruck: He was the city governor of Tyrol and Vorarlberg. It was during his term that the imperial apartments (on the second floor) were comprehensively remodelled for the very last time – following the example of Schönbrunn Castle. Viennese sculpturer August La Vigne was commissioned with the adaptation to Baroque Rococo style (second period). Much of the furniture and interior decoration has stood the test of time and can still be found in the imperial apartments to this day.  

Charles Ludwig lived with his wife Margarethe of Saxony on the first floor in the Governor Suite, which had been expanded to accommodate them both. Subsequently, further adaptations were necessary to also accommodate the court of Charles Ludwig. In 1861, he abdicated and left Tyrol.

1864/65: The imperial apartments had been completely overhauled at this point. In the year following their completion, Emperor Francis Joseph I would only spend one single day in Innsbruck. Charles Ludwig could enjoy the new luxuries a little while longer: he lived from September 26th, to October, 2nd, 1864, in these rooms of which he had (meticulously) picked most of the furnishings and interior design himself.

The state rooms were not revamped in the end.

Ferdinand the Kind-Hearted who had abdicated in 1848 in favour of Francis Joseph I, must have liked Innsbruck. He and his wife Maria Anna spent the summers of 1849, 1850 and 1866 there.

Also, Emperor Francis Joseph I made several trips to Innsbruck during his long reign. His wife Elisabeth only stayed there for four nights: three times at the beginning of the 1870s and whilst on her journey to Merano.

The imperial apartments were inhabited by relatives for some time in the late 18th and early 19th centuries: by archdukes, Francis Joseph’s uncle Ferdinand Charles (*1818-1874†), by Francis Joseph I’s cousin Eugene (*1863-1954†) and by his nephew Heinrich Ferdinand (*1878-1969†).

WW1 (1914-1918): One year before the Habsburg Monarchy came to an end, Emperor Charles I and his wife Zita were to commission the last structural adaptation: a bathroom and a toilet using running water. They were to be installed in the cabinet to the south of the imperial bedroom. To do so, the stairs that had been located there as well, were removed.

1995-1999: Innsbruck architect Hubert Prachensky was in charge of comprehensive construction works to refurbish and revitalise the entire Palace area and to add a new entrance area for the museum.

The Imperial Palace Innsbruck was awarded the "Golden Wheelchair" and nominated for the State Price for Revitalisation. It could not be awarded the Price, though, since its administering and managing body, Burghauptmannschaft Österreich, is a public entity and, as such, not eligible.

Vitalisation

The idea of vitalisation goes back to the 1980s. The end of the monarchy implied an end to the Palace’s function as an imperial residence and administrative building. The Baroque structure and its Late Gothic foundation walls increasingly fell into decay. Air-raid damage from WW2 added to this.

Tyrol’s leading architects Hubert und Michael Prachensky had eventually developed the full vitalisation concept by 1992, in collaboration with the Federal Monument’s Office and Conservatory of Tyrol (Bundesdenkmalamt/Landeskonservatorat für Tirol) and the competent department of the Federal Ministry of Economics (Federal Monument Administration II Innsbruck (Bundesgebäudeverwaltung II Innsbruck)).

According to this concept there should be a clear separation of the historic and the new (the Foyer) spheres. The Foyer, inclusive of the open entrance and cash desk/shop area, and the exhibition space constitute an open multi-purpose area with architectural accents.

Glass elements and look-outs connect modern architecture – which is functional and unobstrusive – to the historic building structures. The plastered walls contain so-called viewing windows which unveil the historic masonry from the Middle Ages.

By uncovering and exposing parts which had been filled up or buried, like for instance the area along the Roman city wall, connection corridors could be integrated in the basement, which connect the entrance areas at Hofgasse Street (to the south; containing the recently constructed Foyer) and at Herrengasse Street (to the north). This corridor also connects the Baroque Cellar with the Gothic Cellar. As a consequence, they can now both be used for special exhibitions and for additions to the museum.

Connecting historic building structure with modern infrastructure allows for responsible and gentle utilisation of the delicate structure. After all modifications, extensive refurbishments and adaptions of the Palace or rather Castle structure, modern technology has been introduced and installed to complete the update. Access to the central lift makes transportation (objects, catering) easier.

The fully equipped cultural monument, which is situated at the heart of Innsbruck, is fully accessible and meets modern standards. As such, it is perfectly suited to fulfil its function as a museum, exhibition area and event venue and meet even the highest expectations. It is to become an inner-city museum and culture centre in the near future.

Rewards

The Imperial Palace Innsbruck was awarded the "Golden Wheelchair" in the year 2000 by the Austrian People with Physical Disabilities Association (Verein zur Förderung körperbehinderter Menschen), which makes it a good practice organisation. It is dear to our hearts to inform the general public, and in particular associations and institutions dedicated to people with disabilities, about what the Palace have to offer.

The Imperial Palace Innsbruck was also nominated for the State Price "Revitalisation" in the year 2000 featuring adaptations of historic buildings.