Kaisergruft, Feature, by Sabrina Dersel

Kaisergruft, (Imperial Crypt), Tegetthoffstraße 2, 1010 Vienna, Austria, Feature.

January 2013, and it’s snowing badly here in England, so I thought why not head for an even colder country :Austria! Sunny destinations have never been for me.
With knee high snow in the streets, it was such a relief to find one of the darkest and coldest, but somehow warmest place to visit in beautiful wintery Vienna: The Kaisergruft.

“This place is Pere Lachaise on steroids”

I can only highly recommend the visit of the Imperial Crypt,you are in for a beautiful dark experience. The Kaisergruft (or Kapuzinergruft) is the Imperial Crypt of the Habsburg Royal Family.

It is an underground mausoleum beneath the Kapuzinerkirche (Capuchin Church) in central Vienna. Members of the Habsburg dynasty have been entombed here since 1633–right up to 2011.
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The visible 107 metal sarcophagi and five heart urns range in style from puritan plain to exuberant rococo. Most outstanding of the imperial tombs is the double sarcophagus of Maria Theresa and her consort, Francis Stephen (François, duke of Lorraine, or, in German, Franz von Lothringen, 1708-65), the parents of Marie Antoinette.

The bodies of 145 Habsburg royalty, plus urns containing the hearts or cremated remains of four others, are deposited here, including 12 emperors and 18 empresses
Anna of Tyrol1, wife of Emperor Matthias2 conceived the idea of a Capuchin cloister and burial crypt for her and her husband, to be built in the neighbourhood of the Hofburg castle in Vienna.
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The free-standing tombs are usually variations of either a flat-topped storage chest, or a tub with sloping sides and a convex lid of tapered decks. Ornamentation ranges from simple to elaborate. Until far in the 18th century, the most common material for a sarcophagus here was a bronze-like alloy of tin, coated withshellac.
The splendid tombs of the baroque and rococo eras are made of true bronze, a nobler and therefore more expensive material.

Various techniques of metalworking were used: full casting for the sarcophagus; hollow casting for decorative sculpture; carving, engraving, and hammered relief for surface decoration. The parts for chests and covers are riveted together, ornaments and decorative figures are screwed on.

Within the outer case lies a wooden coffin that is wrapped in silk the coffin usually has two locks, the key to one is kept by the Capuchin Guardian of the crypt, the other is kept in the Schatzkammer of the Hofburg palace in Vienna.

Within the coffin, the body usually has had the organs removed as a necessary part of the embalming process for its display before the funeral. For about one-third of the bodies, the heart has been placed into a silver urn and sent elsewhere (usually the Herzgruft in the Augustinerkirche), and for some the intestines and other organs have been put into a copper urn and deposited in the Dukes Crypt in the catacombs of Vienna’s cathedral, the Stephansdom.
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Walking through here feels like walking through your history book.
Many of the names you read on the coffins you know from there, and the coffins are beautiful…well at least, strangely beautiful.

Skulls and bones as well as angels and crowns await you here.
They became a bit boring in “recent” years and the most photographed coffin of Frank Josef and his wife “Sissi” look pretty normal to me, but I enjoyed the darker ones.
I couldn’t stop looking at them and taking pictures!

Although a visit to the Imperial burial vaults beneath the Kapuzinerkirche might not appear on you list of ‘Jolly Things to do in Vienna’, may I be amongst the first to beg you to reconsider!

Photography: Sabrina Dersel