Austria is a republic since 1918, but Vienna is still flooded with memories of the last Emperors Franz Joseph and Elizabeth (popularly known as “Sissi”). Their portraits can be found everywhere: hanging in restaurants and cafes, printed on post-cards for tourists, and even painted on chocolate boxes. At the same time, Vienna is beautified by numberless monuments, museums and other public buildings which were built under the Habsburg and testify the splendour of their empire. No wonder, then, that a history-conscious tourist may find it interesting to visit the site where all the emperors and their families are buried, the Kapuzinerkirche. This is a church administered by the Franciscan friars, who are also called “Kapuziner” because their ancient robe included a hood (which in German translates as “Kapuze”).
The bodies are in the crypt of the church, where dozens of magnificent and richly decorated bronze coffins are lined up. A good lighting system gives prominence to the sculptures and the ornaments of these sepulchres, many of which are as beautiful as museum pieces. The names written on the tombs are those which fill the books of European history. The most touching are those of the last tragic generation of rulers, whose vicissitudes have inspired numberless books, novels and romance movies: the emperor Franz Joseph; his romantic, glamorous and restless wife Sissi, who was killed in Geneva by an anarchist; their son Rudolph who died, presumably suicide, in the course of the event known as “the Mayerling tragedy”; Maximilian, brother of Franz Joseph, who became Emperor of Mexico for a short period and was then executed by the troops of Benito Juárez. Flowers are always present on their tombs. The only member of the family who is missing in this crypt is Franz Ferdinand, the nephew of Franz Joseph who had been designated to become his successor to the throne, but was assassinated by an anarchist at Sarajevo; an event which set fire to the first World War.
History says that the burial of the emperors followed a suggestive path. The Master of Ceremonies knocked at the door of the church and formally asked the friars to make way for the mortal remains of the emperor. The friars denied the access, claiming that they didn’t know of any emperor. Access was reiteratively asked and inflexibly denied until all ceremonial pomp was dropped and the Master humbly implored the friars to receive a sinner seeking shelter and peace in the House of God.
The Kapuzinerkirche is in the New Market square, 100 metres off the Kärtnerstrasse. The crypt is open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is 5.50 €, with reduction to 4.50 € for people over 65. It is allowed to take photos, but without flash. There is a lift for going down into the crypt. It should be kept in mind that this is not a tourist attraction, but a sacred place and a national shrine. History-conscious visitors will be touched; the others may abstain from visiting.
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