A journey trough Maximilan I’s Innsbruck

Last updated on 24.01.2019

The Golden Roof, the Old Town and the Black Men (28 larger-than-life bronze statues surrounding his cenotaph) – these popular attractions are inextricably linked with Innsbruck’s history and attract countless visitors every year, and with good reason. For they all have one thing in common: the Habsburg emperor Maximilian I, also known as the “last Knight” and “first European”. It was Innsbruck he chose as the centre of his empire, and he not only created cultural and historical highlights in the city but also had a great love of the surrounding natural landscape. 2019 is the Year of Maximilian, marking the 500th anniversary of his death.

In the 1490s Emperor Maximilian I used to love staying in Innsbruck, the capital of the “Land in the Mountains” and, in the period between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, he made the city, with its population of 5,000 inhabitants at that time, a central point of his empire. As an important link between southern and northern Europe, Innsbruck soon became a centre of art and hub for international events, and the city experienced a golden age under Emperor Maximilian that still resonates to this day.

Golden Innsbruck – Golden Roof

Maximilian’s marriages to Mary of Burgundy and Bianca Maria Sforza of Milan – the first a love marriage, the second a marriage of convenience – are the subject of a relief adorning the Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl) in Innsbruck’s Old Town. After Mary of Burgundy died in a riding accident after just five years of marriage, Maximilian married Bianca Maria Sforza, mainly because of her large dowry. The splendid oriel, built by Maximilian to celebrate the turn of the century in 1500, is decorated with 2,657 gold-plated copper tiles. The Golden Roof is today part of a museum and, for the Year of Maximilian, the Golden Roof Museum will be barrier-free so that, from 11 January 2019, wheelchair users will also be able to enjoy the “imperial view of Innsbruck” from the magnificent oriel window. A special exhibition on the life and work of the emperor will also provide all sorts of fascinating insights.www.innsbruck.info/infrastruktur/detail/infrastruktur/museum-goldenes-dachl-innsbruck.html

Pomp and weaponry in the historic European capital of Innsbruck

There are roughly 130 buildings in the Old Town, most of which were built in the time of Maximilian, and this is why the Habsburg emperor can be described as Innsbruck’s city architect. One of the few remaining functional buildings of the emperor is the Arsenal (Zeughaus) on the banks of the River Sill. Under Maximilian, Innsbruck became the largest weapons and armaments depot in the country. Until 1955 the Arsenal served a military purpose, but the building has now been converted into a museum covering a wide range of topics – from Tyrolean freedom fighter Andreas Hofer, who lived in the 18th century, to the cultural history of Tyrol to silver mining and salt extraction.www.tiroler-landesmuseen.at/page.cfm?vpath=haeuser/zeughaus/haus

A tomb without a body

Innsbruck became a centre of art under Maximilian, so special attention was given to the design of his own tomb in the Court Church (Hofkirche). The Habsburg emperor had commissioned major international artists of his time, and the result was the creation of 28 larger-than-life bronze statues, the “Black Men” (Schwarze Mander) which represent Maximilian’s heroes and ancestors and flank his tomb. Eight of the “Men” are actually women, including Maximilian’s two wives, but the curious thing about the monument is that the tomb is empty, Maximilian having been buried in Wiener Neustadt, a city south of Vienna.www.tiroler-landesmuseen.at/page.cfm?vpath=haeuser/hofkirche/haus

Abbey and school under one historic roof

Maximilian’s second wife Bianca Maria Sforza is buried in the royal vault in near-by Stams Abbey, about thirty kilometres from Innsbruck. Bianca died at the age of 38, and in the 1680s a gilded statue was dedicated to her in the magnificent tomb. Stams Abbey was also the scene of a meeting between Emperor Maximilian I and the Turkish Sultan Bajezid II. This meeting in the Upper Inntal valley succeeded in laying the foundations for peace between western Christianity and the Ottoman Empire. From 12 April 2019 there will be a special exhibition on Maximilian’s relationship with Stams Abbey. Today the magnificent building is still used as a Cistercian abbey and museum, and it also houses several schools including the Stams Skigymnasium, a private school considered to be the epitome of Austrian winter sports success with more than 300 Olympic and World Championship medals.www.stiftstams.at

Emperor Max saves a species of trout

Emperor Maximilian’s favourite pastimes included fishing, hunting and climbing, the first two of which he especially enjoyed practising in Kühtai and the Sellraintal valley. So that he could still go fishing even in the mountains, he had brown trout introduced to high mountain lakes such as the Gossenköllesee lake in Kühtai, at over 2,400 m above sea level. While brown trout are now everywhere genetically mixed forms, the fish in the Gossenköllesee lake come exclusively from the Danube catchment area and have become a kind of gene bank. Thanks to the emperor’s enthusiasm for fishing!

Hunting lodge from Maximilian’s times

The Jagschloss Kühtai (hunting lodge) is a building that’s still redolent of imperial times. Emperor Maximilian was very fond of spending time there because of the enjoyable chamois hunting. The shape of the lodge and its sumptuous furnishings are reminiscent of an Upper Inntal valley farm. Today the lodge is a comfortable hotel and, until 2015, was owned by the great-great-grandson of Emperor Franz Josef and Elisabeth (Sisi) of Austria. Tip: the sun terrace is the perfect place to enjoy a quiet drink.www.jagdschloss-resort.at

Sport-loving emperor

The emperor liked climbing the Martinswand rock face which forms the southwestern end of Innsbruck‘s Nordkette mountain range. And Maximilian has left his mark here too, having given his name to the Emperor Max Grotto which is where he‘s said to have sought refuge after getting lost hunting chamois. Today Innsbruck is considered the European mecca for climbing, and its impressive credentials include hosting the 2018 World Climbing Championship and the construction of the most modern and largest climbing centre in Europe.www.kletterzentrum-innsbruck.at

A bitter end

Emperor Maximilian I fought many costly wars during his lifetime. He also referred to Tyrol as “a bottomless purse“ as the land was rich in silver, copper and salt. Maximilian visited Innsbruck for the last time in November 1518, just a few months before his death. Due to the large amounts of money that Maximilian owed the city’s innkeepers, they refused to accommodate his 400-man entourage who had to stay outside the city wall. Bitterly disappointed, the Emperor quickly moved on, never to return to Innsbruck again. But his name is still to be found, and in the Old Town there’s both an Emperor Max Café with apartments and the Hotel Maximilian.


Maximilian and Innsbruck – as modern as ever

Although Maximilian’s last visit to Innsbruck was arguably a disappointment for him, there‘s hardly any other Habsburg emperor who’s been so fondly remembered by the people right up to the present day. 500 years ago he embodied what modern life in Innsbruck is like today. On the one hand, people live here in a young, modern and open cultural city; on the other hand, the ability to enjoy nature and all it offers, in terms of sport in the surrounding mountains, is closer than in any other city. What both locals and visitors nowadays appreciate in Innsbruck also inspired Emperor Maximilian I, the “last Knight” and “first European”.

As part of the Year of Maximilian in 2019, the “Lightshow Max 500” is taking place until 20 January 2019, and again from November 2019 to January 2020, taking visitors on a journey back in time through Maximilian‘s Innsbruck. The venue is the inner courtyard of Innsbruck‘s Imperial Court (Hofburg) which was expanded under Maximilian.www.innsbruck.info/max500

 All events relating to the Year of Maximilian 2019 at www.maximilian2019.tirol.