Things to Do in Innsbruck
On the outskirts of Innsbruck, the slopes at Bergisel have been the home of Tyrolean ski jumping competitions since 1927. To celebrate this, British Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid designed a towering ski jump stadium, which was completed in 2002 and can seat 28,000 people. In 2008 Pope John Paul II gave Mass here and it has quickly became a year-round Innsbruck attraction as it soars 820 feet (250 meters) above the city and offers superb views over the Inn Valley and surrounding Alps.
The Tyrol Panorama, featuring a massive, century-old painting of the heroic Tyrolean revolt against Napoleon, is found at the foot of the sculptural stadium. From here, the top of the tower rises to 165 feet (50 meters) and is reached by funicular – or 455 steep steps – plus elevator. Here you’ll be rewarded with 360° views over the city and coffee and cakes in the Panorama Restaurant.
Innsbruck’s iconic Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof) is found on Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse, the main square in Innsbruck’s charming Gothic and Baroque Altstadt (Old Town). The three-story, gold-topped balcony is tacked on the Neuhof (New Court), which was built by Archduke Friedrich IV in the early 15th century as a residence fit for kings. The Golden Roof was constructed in 1500 at the behest of Habsburg Emperor Maximilian I in celebration of his second dynastic marriage, this time to Bianca Maria Sforza of Milan. The roof glitters with 2,657 sparkling gilded copper tiles, apparently placed there to confound rumors that the Imperial Family was running out of money.
Intricate carved wooden reliefs and frescoes painted on to the balcony show the emperor’s many coats of arms, and his likeness alongside that of both his wives. The structure also provided Maximilian I with an appropriately regal spot from which to observe tournaments and festivals in the square beneath.
Although still standing on the site of the original medieval castle, which was in place by 1463, today’s majestic Imperial Habsburg Palace has undergone several transformations over the centuries, reflecting Innsbruck’s own political fortunes. The first Gothic castle was extended by Emperor Maximilian I between 1495 and 1519, and was subsequently given a Renaissance makeover in the 1560s. With the transition of political power to Vienna after the Thirty Years War, Innsbruck and the Hofburg lost importance; it was not until the 1750s that Empress Maria Theresa revived the fortunes of this great palace and gave it a glorious Baroque and Rococo facelift.
The palace offers a series of 25 ornate Imperial Apartments open to the public, from the Guard Room and the Giant’s Hall, both smothered with great paintings depicting the history of the Habsburgs, to the Furniture Gallery with its elegant examples of Biedermeier styling.
Innsbruck’s regal Gothic Hofkirche (Court Church) forms part of a complex with the Hofburg Imperial Palace in the Altstadt (Old Town). It was constructed by the Habsburg Emperor Ferdinand I in 1563 in memory of his grandfather, the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, whose elaborate marble tomb dominates the church’s central aisle and is a masterpiece of intricate German Renaissance sculpture. His (empty) sarcophagus depicts Maximilian kneeling in prayer and is flanked by 28 life-size bronze figures of his forefathers, family, and literary figures, including a statue of King Arthur by Albrecht Dürer.
Also buried in the Hofkirche, just left of the entrance, is Tyrolean Resistance hero Andreas Hofer, who fought against Napoleon and was eventually executed in 1810 in Mantua, Italy. Other highlights of the church include the ornately carved wooden pews and pulpit; Jörg Ebert’s gilded organ, and the Silver Chapel, so-named for the silver statue of the Virgin Mary.
The state-of-the-art funicular railway connecting Innsbruck with its hilly suburb of Hungerburg was opened in 2007. This futuristic cable railway is the work of British Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, who was also responsible for the Ski Jump Stadium at Bergisel, and it provides the first link in the journey from the Congress Centre right up to the slopes of Hafelekar, which are as high as 7,545 feet (2,300 meters), in under half an hour. The glittering Hungerburgbahn terminus at Congress strongly resembles the spaceship in Star Trek. On exiting the station, the funicular train crosses the River Inn before ascending 1.15 miles (1,838 meters) into the alpine foothills on the Hungerburg plateau. There are two stations on the line, including a stop at the Alpenzoo Innsbruck, Europe’s highest zoo. From Hungerburg skiers, boarders and hikers can catch the Nordkettenbahnen cable car up to Seegrube, with panoramic views of the peaks in the Inn valley and Zillertal Alps from the gondolas.
Innsbruck’s innovative zoo lies along the sunny slopes of the Hungerburg plateau to the north of the city and is the only zoo in the world to feature animals indigenous to the Tyrol region – so if you’re after lions and tigers, this is not the place for you –along with amazing Alpine views. It opened in 1962, the brainchild of Professor Hans Psenner, who toiled for much of his adult life to establish a zoo dedicated purely to Alpine animal life. The Tyrolean region has incredible diversity and the zoo’s animal head count reaches 2,000 from 150 different Alpine species, from ibex to brown bears and birds of prey such as Golden eagles and owls.
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