I should have first written a post about the city of Vienna. But as I went along, the focus inevitably changed to Empress Elisabeth. Therefore, I will leave the city view for next time.
People are curious why we didn’t go to London, Paris, Rome and other big cities first since we like traveling in Europe. The truth is, my wife has been having this fantasy to see the city where Sissi’s story took place, the palace she was living in, the life style in that period of history and so on. Many folks (not including the Austrians and Hungarians) have never heard of Sissi. We knew about her stories from the 1955-57 trilogy movies Sissi starring German actress Romy Schneider. The movies were translated into Mandarin and imported in ’70s. Although not as famous as Audrey Hepburn, Romy was also a big star in the ’50s to ’70s, winning many awards. I didn’t really have much memories of the Sissi movies, except the scene that Sissi arriving Vienna on a cruise ship and receiving warm welcome from a big crowd. For an unknown reason, that scene stuck in my head for years. My wife, on the other hand, fell in love with her and the story, though (I know now) the trilogy didn’t tell the full story of her life, but just the most glorious time and happy-ending events.
Sissi (or Sisi) was the name her family and friends, and later her husband, liked to call her. Elisabeth was born (1837) in a noble but declining family in Munich, Bavaria (southern Germany). It was her elder sister Helene that their mother and aunt who wanted to marry Franz Joseph I, the Emperor of Austria. Franz, however, fell head over heels for Elisabeth instead. They were later married in Vienna in 1854. She was known to be Empress Elisabeth of Austria since then. Not long after the marriage though, coming from a freedom-loving, worry-free childhood, Elisabeth found she couldn’t adapt to the strict rules of the court life, and had been in depression for many years. It got worse when their first born daughter died at two years old because of sickness. She also couldn’t get along with her aunt who was also her husband’s mother. Thirty years later, their only son committed murder-suicide with his lover. It was said Elisabeth only wore in black since then till her own death to mourned for her son’s unexpected tragedy. In October 1898, Elisabeth was wrongfully assassinated and stabbed in the heart by an anarchist in Geneva, Switzerland. The bitter story of her life since her marriage finally came to an end.
In her life, Elisabeth was known for her beauty, grace and charisma, and was widely regarded as one of the most beautiful women in Europe at that time. She paid extreme attention to her appearance and spent much time preserving her beauty, especially her long thick hair and slim waist line. Her diamond stars were exquisite and became an symbol of her name. She liked poetry, horseback ridding and travel, spoke fluently in German, Hungarian, Greek and some French and English.
In the Schönbrunn Palace, a few of her images were displayed. She was living in a time photography was just invented. So I have no reason not to believe these images depicted exactly how she looked like, and yes, how beautiful she was, instead of being exaggerated (or twisted) in the minds of painters like others would have been in earlier history.
The Palace was a former imperial summer residence for the Habsburg royal family in Vienna, firstly used by Maria Theresia (1717-1780), who received it as a gift from her father Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI. Today the palace is used for state receptions given by the President of Austria. The Baroque layout of the gardens (called the Great Parterre) occupies 1.2 square kilometers of land. Beyond the Great Parterre was a 60 meter tall slope. The Neptune Fountain sits at the foot of the slope and at the top the Gloriette, decided by Maria Theresia to glorify the Habsburg power.
Copyright © 2011 Jenson Yu. All rights reserved.