Sisi, Empress Elisabeth of Austria

Sisi, Empress Elisabeth of Austria (41B)

The Sissi Museum in the interior of the Hofburg Palace is entirely dedicated to the Empress Elizabeth of Bavaria, one of the city of Vienna's greatest representatives. 

Visitors to this museum will discover many aspects of her versatile personality. The numerous objects on display, some of which are very personal, offer a glimpse into both the public and private lives of the Empress. Here the myth of Sissi becomes a reality.

Visitors may be surprised to discover that Sissi was nothing like the syrupy-sweet, somewhat insipid princess represented by Romy Schneider in the films of the early 50's. That image of Sissi does not correspond to reality.

Elizabeth of Bavaria, Elisabeth Eugenie Amalie Herzogin in Bayern, colloquially nicknamed Sissi was born in Munich on the 24th of December, 1837. She was never intended for any higher calling and lived a simple life in the heart of nature. According to the plans hatched by the two mothers, who were also sisters, Sissi was not the one chosen to be the wife of the Emperor, but rather her sister Helen, the beautiful Nene. But at a meeting to celebrate the 23rd birthday of the young emperor the summer of 1853, Franz Joseph fell in love with the younger sister accompanying Nene, who was dressed in peasant clothing with her hair in braids, and appeared more naive and charming. Franz Joseph was seven years older and revered his wife throughout their entire life as a couple.

Married at the tender age of 16, life in the palace and its corresponding obligations were overwhelming for her. Unable to bear the severe protocol of the Austrian court, she rebelled by introducing changes in the rigid imperial customs, a fact that led to numerous clashes with both her husband and her mother.

Her independent temperament, oblivious to social norms, came as something of a shock to the timid Viennese. Old Europe was not prepared for a woman like Sissi. Nobody could understand her struggle against the establishment. No one could see the sadness and vulnerability hidden behind her beauty. She was a tenacious individual, often accused of being crazy, obsessed with her beauty and slender figure, but with a side to her that was unknown to the general public; an intellectual, rebellious side.

Attacked by some, praised by others and pitied by yet others, perhaps not even she knew what she wanted from her life, what was missing.

Visitors to the museum will find her jewels, her sporting apparel, her fantastic costumes, portraits, furniture, musical instruments, medicine chest... And visitors to the Imperial Apartments will get an idea of the surroundings in which the most famous Austrian royal couple lived. The 19 personal chambers are still decorated with authentic and historic furniture. 

Sissi soon became a mother. Their first child, Sophia, died at the age of 2, which dealt a heavy blow to the Empress. Gisela followed ... then Rudolf... However, Sissi only really felt fulfilled as a mother in 1868 when her beloved daughter Maria Valeria was born.

Sissi began to show symptoms of a strange disease - depression, boredom, lack of appetite - that escaped diagnosis but which curiously disappeared when she was away from the palace or immersed in a conversation about Homer or Shakespeare.

She travelled continually even had her own yacht, the "Miramar"... Corfu, Venice, Biarritz, Majorca, Seville, London, Summerhill... Not for nothing was she known as The Travelling Empress.

She loved riding, installed a gymnasium in the palace, liked fox hunting, was able to walk for hours without showing signs of fatigue (much to the dismay of her ladies in waiting), had a very long hair that went almost to her ankles, which caused her severe headaches and back pain and required the attentions of a personal hairdresser who combed it for 2 or 3 hours every day (it took an entire day to wash). In addition, Sissi had dark blond hair but insisted in dyeing it a darker shade and, above all, was obsessed with maintaining the same figure throughout her entire adult life. She was 1.72 cm tall, never exceeded 50 kg weight, and maintained a 50 cm waistline, which led her to suffer from anorexia and bulimia.

She smoked, spoke several languages, wrote poetry, studied Greek and had a passion for Homer's Odyssey... She was certainly a rebellious and cultured person, far too advanced for her time. 

From the age of 35 she never again let anyone paint a portrait or take a photograph of her, and acquired the habit of wearing a veil or carrying a parasol or a large black fan to cover her face.

On the death of her only son, Rudolf, who died under mysterious circumstances and is believed to have committed suicide, Sissi adopted black as the only colour in her wardrobe and wore it until the day she died.

Sissi died on the 10th of September, 1898, while walking near Lake Leman in Geneva. She was attacked by an Italian anarchist, Luigi Lichenin, who was actually planning an attack against the pretender to the French throne, a prince of the House of Orleans but, on learning that the prince's visit had been cancelled and that the Empress was in the city, decided that she would make the perfect target for his passage to posterity. Sissi was heading towards her yacht when Lichenin pounced on her and plunged a dagger into her chest.

On her death, Sissi, the most beautiful woman and unhappiest woman of the era, became a cult figure.

Our tale finishes with the only words spoken by the Emperor when he was told of her death: "You do not know how much I loved this woman".

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