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On Sissi's Trail in Vienna

Statuary in the garden of Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna, AustriaWhat the Sound of Music is to the English-speaking world, the Sissi trilogy is to Germanophones and Hungarians.  Sissi (1955), starred the exquisite Romy Schneider in the title role of the tragic and beautiful Empress Elisabeth of Austria (1837-1898).  This post-war blockbuster with its exquisite costumes, lavish sets, and somewhat airbrushed version of historic events went a long way to restoring a sense of national pride and consciousness for both Austria and Germany.  It’s now a national tradition to watch the films on Christmas Day.

The appeal of the plot is Empress Elisabeth’s real-life fairytale beginnings, which the Sissi franchise cashes in on.  Elisabeth’s sister Princess Helene was destined to marry their cousin, the young Emperor Franz Josef, but when he saw the fifteen-year old tomboy Elisabeth (known to her family as “Sisi” with only one “s” as opposed to the title of the film) playing in the woods around her home he fell instantly in love with her and, for the first time in his life, stood up to his mother, the formidable Archduchess Sophia to insist on marrying Sisi.  This is the happy ending of the first film.  The second and third films (Sissi: The Young Empress and Sissi: The Fateful Years of an Empress) chart Sisi’s interest in Hungarian politics and her growing confidence as an Austrian empress.

Sissi/Sisi is omnipresent at many of Vienna’s major tourist destinations such as the Imperial Furniture Collection, which has a dedicated “Sissi path” through some of the furniture used in making the film.  A “Sissi-ticket” offers one-time entry to the Imperial Furniture Collection, the summer residence of Shonbrunn and the Hofburg palace, where visitors can enjoy the exquisite and iconic Winterhalter portrait of Elisabeth with signature diamond stars in her hair.  Diehard fans make a mandatory pilgrimage to the Hofburg’s Sisi Museum, where set designer Rolf Langenfass has mounted an exhibition which charts the real life empress’s sad journey from free-spirited tomboy to a tragic, isolated, and disturbed woman, trapped in a challenging position and complicated relationship with her husband.  Some of Sisi’s iconic dresses are on display, as are many of her personal items used in the elaborate upkeep of her legendary beauty. 

Sisi and Franz Josef had three daughters and one son, the doomed Crown Prince Rudolf, who took his own life and that of his mistress, Marie Vetsera at Mayerling in 1889.  After Rudolf’s death, Sisi went into deep and permanent mourning, restlessly roaming the world on her yacht the Miramar.  She was assassinated in 1898 in Geneva by anarchist Luigi Lucheni.

Alexander+Roberts are leaders in innovative travel to Europe.  Ask our experienced tour counselors how you can best incorporate a stop in Vienna during your next European trip.

Posted: 10/20/2015 11:14:48 AM by Alexander + Roberts