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Cities in the Spotlight: Innsbruck, Austria

Updated: Mar 11

Today we will be taking another trip to Europe. This time we will be heading to Innsbruck, Austria.

 

Innsbruck City Information


Innsbruck is the capital of Tyrol and the fifth-largest city in Austria. On the River Inn, at its junction with the Wipp Valley, which provides access to the Brenner Pass 30 km (18.6 mi) to the south, it had a population of 132,493 in 2018.

In the broad valley between high mountains, the so-called North Chain in the Karwendel Alps (Hafelekarspitze, 2,334 metres or 7,657 feet) to the north and Patscherkofel (2,246 m or 7,369 ft) and Serles (2,718 m or 8,917 ft) to the south, Innsbruck is an internationally renowned winter sports centre; it hosted the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics as well as the 1984 and 1988 Winter Paralympics. It also hosted the first Winter Youth Olympics in 2012. The name means "bridge over the Inn".

 

Innsbruck Historical Significance

The earliest traces suggest initial inhabitation in the early Stone Age. Surviving pre-Roman place names show that the area has been populated continuously. In the 4th century the Romans established the army station Veldidena (the name survives in today's urban district Wilten) at Oenipons (Innsbruck), to protect the economically important commercial road from Verona-Brenner-Augsburg in their province of Raetia. The first mention of Innsbruck dates back to the name Oeni Pontum or Oeni Pons which is Latin for bridge (pons) over the Inn (Oenus), which was an important crossing point over the Inn river. The Counts of Andechs acquired the town in 1180. In 1248 the town passed into the hands of the Counts of Tyrol.[4] The city's arms show a bird's-eye view of the Inn bridge, a design used since 1267. The route over the Brenner Pass was then a major transport and communications link between the north and the south of Europe, and the easiest route across the Alps. It was part of the Via Imperii, a medieval imperial road under special protection of the king. The revenues generated by serving as a transit station on this route enabled the city to flourish.

Innsbruck became the capital of all Tyrol in 1429 and in the 15th century the city became a centre of European politics and culture as Emperor Maximilian I also resided in Innsbruck in the 1490s. The city benefited from the emperor's presence as can be seen for example in the Hofkirche. Here a funeral monument for Maximilian was planned and erected partly by his successors. The ensemble with a cenotaph and the bronze statues of real and mythical ancestors of the Habsburg emperor are one of the main artistic monuments of Innsbruck. A regular postal service between Innsbruck and Mechelen was established in 1490 by the Thurn-und-Taxis-Post. In 1564 Ferdinand II, Archduke of Austria received the rulership over Tirol and other Further Austrian possessions administered from Innsbruck up to the 18th century. He had Schloss Ambras built and arranged there his unique Renaissance collections nowadays mainly part of Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum. Up to 1665 a stirps of the Habsburg dynasty ruled in Innsbruck with an independent court. In the 1620s the first opera house north of the Alps was erected in Innsbruck (Dogana).

In 1669 the university was founded. Also as a compensation for the court as Emperor Leopold I again reigned from Vienna and the Tyrolean stirps of the Habsburg dynasty had ended in 1665. During the Napoleonic Wars Tyrol was ceded to Bavaria, ally of France. Andreas Hofer led a Tyrolean peasant army to victory in the Battles of Bergisel against the combined Bavarian and French forces, and then made Innsbruck the centre of his administration. The combined army later overran the Tyrolean militia army and until 1814 Innsbruck was part of Bavaria. After the Vienna Congress Austrian rule was restored. Until 1918, the town (one of the 4 autonomous towns in Tyrol) was part of the Austrian monarchy (Austria side after the compromise of 1867), head of the district of the same name, one of the 21 Bezirkshauptmannschaften in the Tyrol province.


The Tyrolean hero Andreas Hofer was executed in Mantua; his remains were returned to Innsbruck in 1823 and interred in the Franciscan church. During World War I, the only recorded action taking place in Innsbruck was near the end of the war. On February 20, 1918, Allied planes flying out of Italy raided Innsbruck, causing casualties among the Austrian troops there. No damage to the town is recorded. In November 1918 Innsbruck and all Tyrol were occupied by the 20 to 22 thousand soldiers of the III Corps of the First Italian Army. In 1929, the first official Austrian Chess Championship was held in Innsbruck. In 1938 Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany in the Anschluss. Between 1943 and April 1945, Innsbruck experienced twenty-two air raids and suffered heavy damage. In 1996, the European Union approved further cultural and economic integration between the Austrian province of Tyrol and the Italian autonomous provinces of South Tyrol and Trentino by recognizing the creation of the Euroregion Tyrol-South Tyrol-Trentino.

 

Travel to Innsbruck

*taken from Lonely Planet*


Tyrol’s capital is a sight to behold. The jagged rock spires of the Nordkette range are so close that within minutes it’s possible to travel from the city's heart to more than 2000m above sea level and alpine pastures where cowbells chime. Summer and winter activities abound, and it’s understandable why some visitors only take a peek at Innsbruck proper before heading for the hills. But to do so is a shame, for Innsbruck is in many ways Austria in microcosm: its late-medieval Altstadt is picture-book stuff, presided over by a grand Habsburg palace and baroque cathedral, while its Olympic ski jump with big mountain views makes a spectacular leap between the urban and the outdoors.

 

Must See Sites

Schloss Ambras; Picturesquely perched on a hill and set among beautiful gardens, this Renaissance pile was acquired in 1564 by Archduke Ferdinand II, then ruler of Tyrol, who transformed it from a fortress into a palace. Don't miss the centrepiece Spanische Saal (Spanish Hall), the dazzling Armour Collection and the gallery's Velázquez and Van Dyck originals. The Spanische Saal is a 43m-long banquet hall with a wooden inlaid ceiling and Tyrolean nobles gazing from the walls. Also note the grisaille (grey relief) around the courtyard and the sunken bathtub where Ferdinand's beloved Philippine used to bathe. Ferdinand instigated the magnificent Ambras Collection, encompassing three elements. Highlights of the Rüstkammer (Armour Collection) include the archduke’s wedding armour – specially shaped to fit his bulging midriff! – and the 2.6m suit created for giant Bartlmä Bon. The Kunst und Wunderkammer (Art and Curiosity Cabinet) is crammed with fantastical objects, including a petrified shark, gravity-defying stilt shoes and the Fangstuhl – a chair designed to trap drunken guests at Ferdinand’s raucous parties. The Portraitgalerie features room upon room of Habsburg portraits, with paintings by Titian, Velázquez and Van Dyck. Maria Anna of Spain (No 126, Room 22) wins the prize for the most ludicrous hairstyle. When Habsburg portraits begin to pall, you can stroll or picnic in the extensive gardens, home to strutting peacocks.

Hofburg; Grabbing attention with its pearly white facade and cupolas, the Hofburg was built as a castle for Archduke Sigmund the Rich in the 15th century, expanded by Emperor Maximilian I in the 16th century and given a baroque makeover by Empress Maria Theresia in the 18th century. The centrepiece of the lavish rococo state apartments is the 31m-long Riesensaal (Giant’s Hall). This is adorned with frescoes and paintings of Maria Theresia and her 16 children (including Marie Antoinette), who look strangely identical – maybe the artist was intent on avoiding royal wrath arising from sibling rivalry in the beauty stakes.

Hofkirche; Innsbruck’s pride and joy is the Gothic Hofkirche, one of Europe’s finest royal court churches. It was commissioned in 1553 by Ferdinand I, who enlisted top artists of the age such as Albrecht Dürer, Alexander Colin and Peter Vischer the Elder. Top billing goes to the empty sarcophagus of Emperor Maximilian I (1459–1519), a masterpiece of German Renaissance sculpture, elaborately carved from black marble. The tomb is embellished with Alexander Colins’ white marble reliefs based on Dürer’s Ehrenpforte (Triumphal Arch) woodcuts, depicting victorious scenes from Maximilian’s life such as the Siege of Kufstein (1504). The twin rows of 28 giant bronze figures that guard the sarcophagus include Dürer’s legendary King Arthur, who was apparently Emperor Maximilian’s biggest idol. You’re now forbidden to touch the statues, but numerous inquisitive hands have already polished parts of the dull bronze, including Kaiser Rudolf’s codpiece! Andreas Hofer (1767–1810), the Tyrolean patriot who led the rebellion against Napoleon’s forces, is entombed in the church. In the Silberkapelle, a dazzling silver Madonna keeps watch over the marble tomb of Archduke Ferdinand II and his first wife, Philippine Welser.

Goldenes Dachl; Innsbruck's golden wonder and most distinctive landmark is this Gothic oriel, built for Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (1459–1519), lavishly festooned with murals and glittering with 2657 fire-gilt copper tiles. It is most impressive from the exterior, but the museum is worth a look – especially if you have the Innsbruck Card – with an audio guide whisking you through the history. Keep an eye out for the grotesque tournament helmets designed to resemble the Turks of the rival Ottoman Empire.

Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum; This treasure trove of Tyrolean history and art moves from Bronze Age artefacts to the original reliefs used to design the Goldenes Dachl. Alongside brooding Dutch masterpieces of the Rembrandt ilk, the gallery displays an astounding collection of Austrian art including Gothic altarpieces, a handful of Klimt and Kokoschka paintings, and some shocking Viennese Actionist works. More specific to Tyrol are the late-baroque works by fresco master Paul Troger, Alfons Walde's Kitzbühel winterscapes and Albin Egger-Lienz' sombre depictions of rural life in postwar Tyrol.

Alpenzoo; Billing itself as a conservation-oriented zoo, this is where you can get close to alpine wildlife such as golden eagles, chamois and ibex. It's a 10-minute uphill walk from Innstrasse, or you can take Bus W from the Marktplatz or the Hungerburgbahn to the Alpenzoo stop.

Bergisel; Rising above Innsbruck like a celestial staircase, this glass-and-steel ski jump was designed by much-lauded Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid. It's 455 steps or a two-minute funicular ride to the 50m-high viewing platform, with a breathtaking panorama of the Nordkette range, Inntal and Innsbruck. Tram 1 trundles here from central Innsbruck. From May to July, fans pile in to see athletes train, while preparations step up a gear in early January for the World Cup Four Hills Tournament.

Dom St Jakob; Innsbruck's 18th-century cathedral is a feast of over-the-top baroque. The Asam brothers from Munich completed much of the sumptuous art and stuccowork, though the Madonna above the high altar is by German painter Lukas Cranach the Elder. You'll have to fork out €1 for photography permission.

 

Must Try Food & Drink

Topfenstrudel; Austrian cuisine prides in their old traditional pastry desserts, and the delicate strudels are surely the most popular variety. Even though it is not as famous as the apple filled version, topfenstrudel is regarded as one of Austria’s favorites. Made with soft, mildly sweetened quark cheese which is folded with the elastic and almost see-through dough or puff pastry, the strudel is baked until a crispy golden crust is formed on top. Raisins, apricots, and peaches are occasionally added to the quark cheese mixture, which is gently spiced with vanilla or lemon. Even though they are most commonly associated with Austria, topfenstrudel, and all other strudel varieties, are eaten throughout the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Their origins are believed to be in the Ottoman Empire, whose culinary influence spread across the Balkans, and Hungary, before finally reaching Vienna. The topfenstrudel can be found everywhere in Austria, served in both traditional and modern restaurants, as well as in classic Austrian patisseries. Commonly, a slice of warm topfenstrudel is paired with a sweet vanilla sauce or fresh fruit on the side.

Tiroler Gröstl; Tiroler gröstl is a traditional dish from Tirol, an Austrian region famous for its skiing and hiking courses. Like most Alpine dishes, gröstl is simple, yet rich, consisting of fried potatoes, onions, and bacon. Traditionally, the dish is served with a fried egg on top. Gröstl provides an ideal way of using yesterday's leftovers and transforming them into a great, hearty, and warming mountain lunch that can be shared communally, straight from the pan. It is recommended to pair the dish with the famous kaiserschmarrn in a separate pan. Gröstl is also commonly prepared in the neighboring South Tyrol.

Tafelspitz; Even though tafelspitz is today one of the most popular Austrian dishes, this succulent boiled veal dish was once reserved only for the ruling class, and it was the favorite dish of Emperor Franz Joseph I. According to the 1912 imperial cookery book, tafelspitz was standard fare at the court, and "his Majesty’s private table was never without a fine piece of boiled beef." The name tafelspitz (lit. a tip [of meat] for the table) refers to a cut from the top hind end of the cow just below the tail, though some cooks prefer to use top round or chuck for this dish, while the richest and juiciest meat comes from a leg cut called beinfleisch. Regardless of the cut, the meat is always simmered slowly with root vegetables. Some chicken pieces and a marrow bone may also be added to the mix, and the pot is constantly skimmed, resulting in a crystal clear broth. Traditionally, tafelspitz is eaten in separate courses: first comes the broth that's served hot in bouillon cups, followed by tender slices of beef which are usually accompanied by potatoes, carrots, and a creamy apple-horseradish and chive sauce.

Kasspatzln; Kasspatzln is a traditional cheese-based dish in several regions of Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland. Most notably a favorite in the western Austrian state of Tyrol, this variety of kasspatzln uses strong-flavored local cheese varieties such as Bergkäse or Graukäse. The recipe is simple - a soft and slightly runny dough is gently pressed onto a special grater (spätzlehobel), creating small pasta shapes that are boiled until firm. The pasta is then mixed with sautéed onions, followed by generous heaps of grated cheese. The mixture is left to cook until the cheese has completely melted, and it is then garnished with chopped parsley and fried onion rings. Depending on the location, the dish can be accompanied by fresh green salads, potato salad, or applesauce on the side.

Strauben; Strauben is a traditional funnel cake originating from Austria. It's made with a combination of flour, egg yolks, salt, and white wine. Once the smooth dough has been formed, it's chilled, rolled, and cut into strips that are then loosely intertwined and fried in hot oil until golden brown. The dough in its more liquid form can also be slowly poured into the hot oil and fried. Once done, the funnel cake is sprinkled with icing sugar and then served. It's recommended to serve strauben with applesauce or fruit compotes. This dessert is a staple at festivals and fairs in South Tyrol, and it's traditionally made in iron pans.

Spinatknödel; Spinatknödel is a spinach dumpling from Tyrol that is usually served as a side dish. It provides an inventive way of using up leftover stale bread, which is combined with a combination of spinach, eggs, butter, garlic or onions, and cheese, preferably parmesan. After they have been boiled, the dumplings are traditionally drizzled with melted butter and sprinkled with grated cheese.

Zillertaler Krapfen; Zillertaler krapfen is a traditional Austrian dish originating from Zillertal in Tyrol. These traditional fritters are made with a combination of rye flour, eggs, water, and salt. The filling is made with curd cheese (quark), Tiroler gray cheese, potatoes, salt, and chives. Once the dough has been formed, the fritters are filled with the cheesy filling, shaped into half-moons, and fried in oil or clarified butter. They are usually prepared for festivals and similar special occasions.

Tiroler Omelett; Tiroler omelett is a traditional Austrian omelet originating from Tyrol. It’s made with a combination of eggs, a few tablespoons of milk, salt, butter, chopped bacon, sliced bratwurst, chopped parsley, and thinly sliced tomatoes. The ingredients are cooked in a pan in order to get a tender omelet. When the eggs have set, the omelet is served on heated plates, then topped with tomato sliced and chopped parsley. Tiroler omelett is traditionally served for breakfast.

Vier Käse Knödel; Canederli ai quattro formaggi or vier käse knödel are traditional dumplings enriched with four types of cheese. The dumplings originate from Trentino-Alto Adige, but they're also popular in the neighboring Austrian Tyrol. Canederli ai quattro formaggi are typically served as a side dish that displays an inventive way of using leftover stale bread. The bread is usually mixed with eggs, butter, milk, onions, parsley, salt, and four cheeses – Trentingrana, Puzzone di Moena, Casolet, and Fontal. The dumplings are boiled in water and served with melted butter or as an accompaniment to stews. It's recommended to pair these dumplings with a glass of red wine.

Moosbeernocken; Moosbeernocken is a pancake-like dish that is primarily made by using fresh bilberries, a type of wild fruit that can be found in the Alps. Because the bilberries have a very short season, this dish can only be made around the month of July, when they are beginning to ripen. The dish is prepared by making a light and puffy batter using eggs, sugar, and flour. The batter is combined with fresh bilberries, then fried in a pan until both sides are golden brown. Moosbeernocken are served with icing sugar on top and (optionally) a scoop of ice cream on the side.

 
 

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