Has My Opinion on Innsbruck Changed? April 27, 2018 · 11 min. readDisclaimer: While the thoughts and opinions are my own, this article was brought to you by a third party. Also, this article may contain affiliate links.
Long before I started my blog, many, many years ago, I visited Innsbruck, Austria. I was on a Contiki trip through Europe and visited a plethora of locations such as Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, Venice, Lucerne and Innsbruck, just to name a few. It was an incredible experience and one that I think was a transformative moment in my life.
Off the record (or, on the record now, I guess), of all the places I visited, the only one I didn't like was Innsbruck. I couldn't get into it. We visited it in late March, so the weather wasn't the best. The trees didn't have any leaves on them, the grass was brown, and everything had a post-winter grey look to it. After visiting Munich and spending the night in St. Goar, my mind wasn't thinking about Innsbruck at all. Instead, I was more excited to go to Venice the next day, and the Vatican the day after that. My time in Innsbruck was uneventful, and all I wanted was to get back on the road.
That was in 2011, and now it's 2018. Has my opinion on Innsbruck changed? I would say yes. I'm more mature now and if I went back, I would better appreciate what I was seeing. As I've gotten older, I've been less impressed by the massive buildings and more enthralled by the history that created them.
Innsbruck's history is long and bloody, and dates back over two millenniums. Although Innsbruck existed prior to the arrival of Roman Empire, it didn't really shape its role in southern Europe until the fourth century. It was originally named Oenipons, which translates from Latin to "Inn Bridge", regarding the nearby Inn River. Innsbruck – or Oenipons – also sat on the edge of the Brenner Pass. This passage became one of the most ancient and important trading passes in southern Europe, and one that the Roman Empire fought to hold until its demise.
After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Oenipons and the Brenner Pass fell under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire. It was around this time that "Oenipons" was renamed to "Innsbruck" as the Holy Roman Empire switched languages from Latin to German. It was around this time Brenner Pass became a primary trading route between what is now Italy and Germany, and Innsbruck flourished.
In 1248 the ownership of Innsbruck passed into the Counts of Tyrol, and in 1429 it became the capital of Tyrol – which is now a state of Austria.
In the fifteen century the city underwent a massive transformation with the arrival and residency of Emperor Maximilian I. This emperor put Innsbruck in centre stage of all European politics for a dramatic half a century.
Emperor Maximilian I was brought into power during a turbulent time in European history. To the east, Hungary had invaded most of Austria, and to the west France had invaded Italy. Maximilian I reconqued Vienna, but feared invasion from France. Although a peace treaty was signed between the two countries, it was broken when France invaded Milan, whose ruling family Maximilian I had recently married into. This forced the two countries into a war neither wanted.
Maximilian I would join forces with Henry VIII of England to push back the invading French, and while they would have success in France, their battles in Italy were not so fortunate. Eventually, the Holy Roman Empire would drop out of the war, the fighting would continue, and France would come out victorious.
While dealing with Hungary and France, the Old Swiss Confederacy also demanded independence from the Holy Roman Empire. Following a decisive win at the Battle of Dornach in 1499, Maximilian I granted them independence, losing part of the empire forever.
To make matters worse, the counties of Tyrol and Bavaria began a civil war during the end of the fifteenth century. Tyrol had a large debt to Bavaria and was unable to repay it due to corruption within their government. Frustrated with this, Bavaria declared war on Tyrol. When Maximilian I came to power, he began a massive financial reform of Tyrol. To symbolise his new wealth, power and control of the corruption that once plagued the government, he constructed Innsbruck's famous Golden Roof. This roof overlooks the town centre of Innsbruck, in which he would be in view of his subjects at all times.
While Maximilian I did much for Innsbruck, he also had his controversial side. In 1496 he decreed an expulsion of all Jews from the county of Styria and the city of Wiener Neustadt. Ten years later, in 1509, he passed a mandate to destroy all Jewish literature throughout the Holy Roman Empire, with the exception of the Bible.
While in power, Maximilian I faced the battlefields of war more than once, and had an extreme fear of death. After falling off his horse in 1501 and breaking his leg, he began carrying a coffin with him whenever he travelled. He also constructed The Hofkirche (Court Church), one of Innsbruck's most iconic churches, and a cenotaph to memorialise his life. Maximilian I also had strict rules on how he wanted to be buried. He wanted his hair to be cut off and his teeth knocked out, and the body to be whipped and covered with lime and ash, wrapped in linen, and "publicly displayed to show the perishableness of all earthly glory".
Much changed following the death of Maximilian I in 1519. The iconic Ambras Castle was built in Innsbruck in 1563, the first opera house north of the Alps was built in 1620, and in 1669 the university was founded. In 1809, during the Napoleonic Wars, Tyrol and Innsbruck were ceded to Bavaria, only to return to Austria in 1815.
Innsbruck experienced little action during World War I. While it was raided by planes in February 1918, there was minimal damage, and during its Italian occupation in November 1918, very few lives were lost. The same cannot be said for World War II, as Innsbruck was bombed 22 times by the Allies, killing over 450 people and destroying over 3,000 buildings.
As I look back at my notes from my time in Innsbruck, I wondered how I missed all this history. I was fascinated by the bombings of Munich and learned all about the invasion of Italy, yet I didn't know the roles Innsbruck had during either of these. I also drove the Brenner Pass and walked under the Golden Roof that afternoon, but I was unaware of the past two millenniums of history I was witnessing.
How did I miss all this? How did I miss the castles, the university, the history, the legacy? I took pictures of buildings that have emblems of the Holy Roman Empire engraved on them. I visited countless churches, all dating back to the days of Maximilian I. I saw everything I needed to see, but I appreciated none of it.
In 2011, I saw Innsbruck as a small skiing city, sitting in the Alps, home to some funky architecture. Today I see it as a former capital of one of the most influential countries in European history. I see a mix of Germanic and Italian architecture. I see it's culture, history and legacy. I see a completely different place than what I visited in 2011.
To answer my question, has my opinion of Innsbruck changed? I have a better understanding of the city, but I still consider if the "boring part" of my tour. This was no fault to Innsbruck, but of my own. I took Innsbruck as a city I had no interest in visiting, and I remember it only as place between Munich and Venice. I considered Innsbruck as a stop-over in Europe, but it should be much more than that. I expected nothing from Innsbruck, and in turn got nothing back. That's no fault of the city, but of my own.
So, has my opinion of Innsbruck changed? Yes. If I was to visit it again, I would not only do my research better, but take more time to appreciate what I was seeing. Innsbruck has much more to offer than a pit stop and a bathroom break. It's a city entrenched in two thousand years of history, legacy, war and love.
Have you ever visited a city, only to find it underwhelming? Why? I'd love to hear all about it!
All images, minus two that I took, belong to Innsbruck.info and are used with permission.
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And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
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