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Hofburg Palace

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Hofburg Palace - The biggest palace in Vienna with over 2,600 rooms, the Hofburg is a huge polychromatic network of lavish buildings erected over many centuries, originally to serve as the Winter Palace for the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire, and, some time later, as a home for the Austrian Emperors. The austere and commanding presence of the Hofburg, towering over the nearby Ringtrasse, was built to symbolise the might and power of the Kings and Queens who lived there, though today the building acts as, amongst other things, the official residence for the President of Austria.

The oldest part of the Hofburg, the Swiss Wing, was erected some time in the 14th century in a memorable red-and-black early Renaissance style, quite at odds with the far more ambitious architecture seen elsewhere. Perhaps the two most impressive sections of the palace were erected in the 19th century, the Neue Burg and St Michael's Wing. Facing the Heldenplatz, the immense courtyard of the Neue Burg wing resembles a Roman forum on a gigantic scale, with doric pillars reaching to the stars and intricate rusticated stonework on the lower floors. St Michael's Wing is smaller, though is topped with an immense gilt copper dome that can be seen all the way down the Kohlmarkt as well as an impressive entrance arch beckoning visitors towards the inner sanctum of this fortified palace.

The Hofburg felt out into a brief period of disuse after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, yet, replete with vast dining rooms, banqueting halls, throne rooms and reception parlours, the palace soon found a wealth of new uses. In 1958, for instance, these ostentatious Baroque halls were turned into a single convention centre, with the largest room, the Festsaal, capable of holding up to 1500 people. In total, more than 300,000 people visit the Hofburg convention rooms each year, turning up for conferences, seminars, cocktail receptions and even operatic concerts.

Elsewhere in the sprawling grounds of this lavish estate visitors will find the Austrian National Library, the Museum of Ethnography, the Imperial Treasury, the Ephesos Museum of antiquities, the Imperial Silver Collection as well as the private apartments of various Austrian Emperors and Empresses, such as Franz Joseph and his wife Elisabeth, which can be toured for a modest fee.

Yet perhaps the main attraction in the Hofburg Palace is the Stallburg, or stables, home to the world famous Spanish Riding School. This is the world's only institution dedicated to the art of dressage and haute ecole, or classical equestrian skill, and has been in operation for over 460 years. Students undergo many years of learning how to ride the white Lipizzan thoroughbreds stabled here, and visitors to the Hofburg can watch them train in an opulent Rococo hall on the palace grounds. If you are lucky you will hear the strains of classic music as you take to your elevated seat, and watch as the riders and horses perform elaborate, synchronised moves such as pirouettes, piaffes and magnificent courbettes, to the sound of the music.
 

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