Arts & Tradition

Hofburg Palace: A City Within a City

Larger than life: Art that inspires us through the ages
BY Ariane Triebswetter TIMEJanuary 30, 2023 PRINT

With more than 700 years of history, the Hofburg Palace in the center of Vienna turns many pages of history. Once the home and seat of the Habsburg dynasty, the origins of the Imperial Palace date back to the 13th century.

One of the largest palace complexes in the world, the Hofburg Palace almost feels like a city within a city, with its 18 buildings, 19 courtyards, and 2,600 rooms. Originally a medieval castle built by King Ottokar II of Bohemia in 1275, it grew into a massive complex that would become the residence and seat of power of Austrian rulers up to 1918.

Today, the complex features official staterooms, museums, art galleries, gardens, a Spanish riding school, and a church.

The palace’s architecture ranges from gothic to neoclassical to baroque. The baroque elements are undoubtedly the most impressive architectural features of the complex. The opulence of the baroque combines with the playfulness of the late-baroque rococo decorative style, as can be admired in the majestic Imperial apartments.

Emperor Franz Joseph, Empress Elizabeth (“Sisi”), their children, and court lived there during the winter months. Rich furnishings decorate the ornate baroque rooms where the famous Austrian couple lived, blending some light touches of rococo such as the Bohemian crystal used in the crystal chandeliers. Other decorative highlights include the dining room decorated with Flemish artwork, the circle room with intricate tapestries, and the large salon decorated with Louis XIV-style furniture.

Hofburg palace
The central section of St. Michael’s wings is a majestic white structure decorated with round-arched windows and bull’s eye windows (small ornamental round windows with a circular frame), typical of the neoclassical style. Four pairs of frontal twinned columns support the cornice (decorative molding supporting a building), a reference to the classical style. A copper dome crowns the two-story facade. (Mistervlad/Shutterstock)
Hofburg palace
Built in 1552, the Swiss gate serves as an entrance to the Swiss wing, the oldest part of the complex, which now houses the Imperial Treasury. Most of the facade was reworked in the 16th century, following the renaissance style (white color, symmetric windows). However, some medieval aspects remained, such as the rollers for a drawbridge within the red gate.  (Jean-Marc Pierard/Shutterstock)
hofburg interior
The large salon in the Imperial Apartments is in the theatrical baroque style, as shown by the extensive use of gilding on the ceiling, the detailed stucco work on the door frames, the massive crystal chandelier, and elaborate decorations that grab the viewer’s attention such as the red-and-gold furniture. (
Hoffburg interior
This room offers a deeper insight into the life of  Emperor Franz Joseph. He used this room as a study and drawing room. Behind the desk is the famous portrait of Empress Elizabeth by Franz Xaver Winterhalter. (
Hoffburg interior
Here we have an unusual room in the Imperial apartments. While it may at first look like a typical baroque room with its ornate mirrors, crystal chandelier, and gilded walls and ceiling, some elements are surprising. These are the simple wooden bed and the neo-Gothic family altar by Vinzenz Pilz near the fireplace. (
Epoch Times Photo
The conference room, also located in the Imperial apartments, is a more discreet approach to the baroque style. A gold crystal chandelier hangs down the ceiling and stucco work and gilding ornate the walls and door frames. Blue is the central color here, present throughout the elegant blue-and-silver carpet, wall tapestry, and chairs. (
Epoch Times Photo
An example of a neoclassical building within the palace complex is the Theseus temple in the Volksgarten. Built between 1819 and 1823 by architect Peter von Nobile, it’s a smaller version of the ancient Theseus temple in Athens: the Theseion.  (Mistervlad/Shutterstock)
Epoch Times Photo
The state hall of the Austrian National Library is a magnificent display of baroque architecture and the largest baroque library in Europe with double marble columns and the extensive use of gilding. Crowned by a dome, this impressive two-story wooden hall is decorated with frescoes by court painter Daniel Gran and bull’s eye windows that allow light to enter the library. (Diego Grande/Shutterstock)
Ariane Triebswetter is an international freelance journalist, with a background in modern literature and classical music.
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