Our final weekend destination...Innsbruck, Austria.
I've got to admit, there isn't much to see in Innsbruck. Some nice buildings, a lot of touristy shops and a bunch of hotels. The main purpose for Innsbruck seems to be a place to sleep while skiing during the winter or a central location for bus tours during the summer.
And, of course, they also have a castle or two. After all, what respectable city in Europe would exist without one? To quote a Southern United States expression, "you can't swing a dead cat by the tail" without hitting a castle here in Europe.
We decided to go to Schloss Ambras for three important reasons: 1) you can go through the castle, taking photographs, at your own pace and without a guided tour; 2) it's original owner, Ferdinand II, was an avid art collector and the castle has an interesting collection of Hapsburgian portraits, art from the Renaissance and "curiosities"; and 3) it's very close to Innsbruck and wouldn't require us driving out of our way.
Alright, so by the end of four days of "schloss-ing," ya get a little tired of castles.
However, our trip to Ambras was a pleasant surprise for a variety of reasons.
First off, the Spanish Hall was worth the cost of admission alone.
Built between 1569 - 1572, it is 43 meters long and has 27 full length, larger than life, portraits of the rulers of Tirol. This freestanding Renaissance Hall was intended as a concert hall and continues to host a famous series of classical concerts.
In the main section of the castle, encircling the frescoed courtyard, are room after room of portraits dating from the 15th through the 19th century. In all there are over 300 portraits of the Hapsburgs through the ages.
What struck us most about the portraits is how very much alike everyone looked. Brothers looked like sisters. Grandparents looked like grandchildren. Uncles looked like nephews. Husbands looked like wives. Time after time I saw portraits of individuals who could have been identical twins, but were separated by a few generations and just happened to have their portraits done at the same age.
There was definitely a distinctive Hapsburg look. Namely buggy eyes, enormous lips and huge jaws. Truly, it's a good thing these people were wealthy and powerful, 'cause they weren't going anywhere on their looks!
And what made their dynasty so powerful was to be their downfall -- intermarriages in order to preserve the lands and political alliances can lead to, well, physical and mental deficiencies. And intermarry they did. Repeatedly. Just one example, after Ferdinand II's first wife died, he married his niece. Yep, his sister's daughter. Eww!
A third pleasant surprise was the collection of armor from the Medieval and Renaissance Ages.
And all of it was collected and displayed virtually as it is now while Ferdinand II was still alive.
I especially liked the armor of the court's giant, Bartlmä Bon, who stood at more than 2.5 meters (8 feet) in height. Bon was an area peasant in the service to the Hapsburg family. After his death, Ferdinand II commissioned an artist to carve a life-sized wooden statue of him in order to display the suit of armor.
And the final reason for enjoyment of this castle?
On the day we went it was virtually empty. While the gardens and café were full of locals enjoying the beautiful weather, we encountered very few visitors in the castle itself. There were far more employees than visitors.
Although did they need to follow us so closely and so obviously? Did we really look like we were going to grab a portrait off the wall and make a run for it?