If you wish to stand next to dozens of Habsburg personalities, including the likes of Empress Elisabeth and Napoleon’s wife, then there is only one place to go in Vienna: the Kaisergruft or Imperial Crypt.
Just don’t make any loud noises.
- Last resting place of numerous Habsburg monarchs and others associated with the dynasty
- Coffins vary from the ornate to the ordinary
- Plenty of bronze skulls and similar for those of a Gothic bent
- Chambers are well-lit and airy
- Adult ticket is €7.50 (or free with a Vienna Pass)
- See also: Stephansdom catacombs tour
Inside the crypt
Those who like to experience raw history should take the time to find the Capuchin Monastery (Kapuzinerkloster) in the very center of Vienna.
The building houses the Imperial Crypt, known locally as the Kaisergruft or Kapuzinergruft. This is the last resting place of dozens of Habsburg Emperors, Empresses, Archdukes, and their spouses and offspring; an accumulation of corpses from one of the most famous dynasties in world history.
Inside the crypt, you stand within touching distance of Maximilian I, Emperor of Mexico.
Or Empress Maria Theresa and her husband, Franz Stephan, the Holy Roman Emperor.
Or Emperor Francis II/I, founder of the Austrian Empire.
Or Empress Elisabeth — Sisi — the 19th century’s answer to Princess Diana, who still enjoys cult status today.
…and many (many) more.
The Imperial Crypt is a place of strange contrasts. Anyone expecting a musty, dank, dark chamber of horrors is likely to be disappointed. Instead, the crypt’s chambers are large, well-lit and airy.
The bright, clean surroundings do little, however, to counter the starkness of the place, with its bare walls and row upon row of large ornate sarcophagi.
A sense of sadness certainly hangs over the Kaisergruft. Death as the ultimate leveller. That despite the wealth, fame, power (and expensive coffin), all that is left is a body in a box to be stared at by visitors taking hurried snapshots before moving on to coffee and cake.
If you don’t linger, you’ll be finished in no more than 30 minutes. But take the time to look closely at the intricate decoration on some of the coffins. These are made mostly of lead, pewter, bronze or copper. Silver and gold were used sparingly, not least because bits would get stolen by visitors.
The most impressive sarcophagus is probably that of Emperor Karl VI (1685-1740), only because it has some quite wonderful crowned skulls and similar motifs as decoration.
The most impressive section is the Maria-Theresien-Gruft, a domed chamber dominated by a huge, complex sarcophagus for the Empress Maria Theresa (1717-1780) and Emperor Franz Stephan (1708-1765). The same chamber houses many of her 16 children.
One of those children is the Empress’s eldest son, who became Emperor Joseph II (1741-1790).
Joseph’s coffin stands at the entrance. With its nondescript copper design, the coffin contrasts remarkably with that of his parents. But then Joseph II was famous for his rationalist approach and distaste for ceremony.
Another must-see is the Franz-Josephs-Gruft, the chamber that’s home to Emperor Franz Joseph I (1830-1916), his wife Empress Elisabeth (1837-1898) and their son Crown Prince Rudolph (1858-1889).
Elisabeth was famously assassinated by an anarchist in Switzerland. Rudolph took his own life. His death saw the succession pass to Franz Joseph’s nephew, Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination in Sarajevo sparked the first World War.
There is no excessive ornamentation for Franz Joseph and his family. But you’ll probably find flowers left by well-wishers. Curiously, flowers were also left at another coffin on my visit: Marie Louise, second wife of Napoleon.
Tickets & visitor information
At the time of writing, the Kaisergruft opens daily from 10am (9am on Thursdays) to 6pm. It opens late on January 1st and closes early on November 1st/2nd and December 24th/31st.
An adult ticket costs €7.50, though you can , for example, enter free with a Vienna Pass (see a review).
As well as a ticket, you’ll want to buy an English guide and map, too. Inside the crypt, there are no information displays (though it’s been a while since I visited), just the names of the dead inscribed next to their coffin or on a stone board on a wall.
How to find the crypt
Wait for a moonless night. You’ll need wolfsbane and duck eggs to complete the opening spell. Wait, no, there’s an easier way…
The Kaisergruft sits among the many historical sights that make up the very centre of Vienna. It’s within shouting (singing?) distance of the State Opera House and close to numerous public transport lines…
Subway: take the U1 and U3 to Stephansplatz or U1, U2 and U4 to Karlsplatz (look for the Oper exit)
Tram/bus: use the the 2A city centre bus and get off at Albertinaplatz
Address: Tegetthoffstraße 2, 1010 Vienna | Website