In 1854 the 23-year-old Austrian Emperor Franz Josef I of the Habsburg dynasty married the 16-year-old Duchess Elisabeth of the Bavarian Wittelsbach dynasty, an event which has left its mark even on modern republican Austria, and in particular on Bad Ischl and the Salzkammergut region. The engagement of the young Emperor to his Bavarian cousin had taken place in Ischl the previous year. This marriage was the occasion for building the Imperial Villa, which to this day remains the private residence of their descendants.
The Habsburg dynasty has been personally associated with Ischl (which since 1906 has been officially called Bad Ischl) for at least 500 years, an association that in time developed into a deep emotional attachment. In 1845 the 15-year-old Franz Josef wrote to his mother: Oh, wie sehne ich mich nach dem lieben, lieben Ischl! - "Oh, how I long for beloved, beloved Ischl." Franz Josef remained true to his "beloved Ischl" till the end of his long life. And to this day Ischl remains true to Franz Josef. Imperial Vienna may be a museum, but in imperial Ischl the Emperor's birthday is still celebrated with enormous ceremony in August every year, and there are still Habsburgs in the Imperial Villa.
The Kaiservilla is, of course, a miniature by comparison with the stupendous baroque magnificence of the other Habsburg residences like the Hofburg and SchÃ¶nbrunn palaces in Vienna. This was intentional, since it was designed to be a retreat where the family could live its own private life in an intimate atmosphere away from the stifling protocol of the imperial capital. The attraction of the Imperial Villa does not lie in spectacular interiors or tourist amusements, but in its historical association with great people and events and the unchanged ambience of the vanished age before 1900.
The house and its park are indelibly associated with Empress Elisabeth, known to the family as "Sisi", the most famous beauty of the 19th century and a historical figure who exerts a world-wide fascination right to the present day. It is the place, with all its memories of her, where her inconsolable husband sought peace after her assassination in 1898. It is the place where he conducted high diplomacy with most of the leading statesmen of his day. It is the place where he signed the declaration of war in 1914 which led to two global conflicts and changed the world.
Emperor Franz Josef allowed the citizens of his empire to view the interior of the Imperial Villa, including his private apartments, when he was not in residence. That tradition has been continued to the present day by his descendants, with the exception that the house and park are now accessible during the summer months and can therefore be seen as the Emperor and his family would have experienced them. We extend an invitation to all visitors to the Kaiservilla site to come to Bad Ischl, and hope that this description of the Imperial Villa and its history will provide them with an impression of this beautiful place, steeped in history, where much of the destiny of the modern world was shaped.
Archduke Markus Salvator von Habsburg-Lothringen
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