You can get some clue as to what awaits you in the Schatzkammer when you pass through the entrance to reach the ticket office and gift shop. It looks like the kind of door you see in bank vaults. And for good reason. The Imperial Treasury houses a number of items for which the word “priceless” really does apply.
The displays are split into a secular and ecclesiastical section, though they’re all part of one complex. What you get is a trip through over 1000 years of history in the form of imperial status symbols; crowns and ceremonial robes, swords and scepters, gems and jewelry, relics and rich altar tapestries.
The collection is a treasure trove for history aficionados, though others may get a little overwhelmed by the time you’ve seen your 15th ceremonial robe. To get value from the visit, you must hire an English audio guide or buy one of the English guidebooks: most of the items only have meaning when placed in historical context.
The audio guide in particular is good value, with extensive background information on many (but by no means all) of the items on display. Rather than listen to continuous commentary, items carry a code which you punch into the audio unit to get information specific to that display.
The collection is almost too rich for its own good. If you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss something important, as the displays are very egalitarian; don’t expect the best pieces to get the most obvious or prominent positions.
For those of a religious leaning, some of the relics are awe-inspiring. Since no records go back far enough, there can be no proof of authenticity. But among the alleged relics on display are:
- a piece of the cross on which Jesus was crucified, including a nail hole, thus suggesting the wood is impregnated with his blood
- a tooth from John the Baptist
- a piece of the tablecloth used at the Last Supper
- the nail used to pin Jesus’s right hand to the cross
- a tooth from St.Peter
Ignoring the true identity of the relics, their stories, acquisition history (dating back as far as the 12th century and beyond) and presentation (in displays of exquisite workmanship) have value in their own right.
The ecclesiastical collection also houses the famous Agate Bowl, the largest carved bowl of its kind in the world, produced in the 4th century. Apparently the word “Christ” is inscribed in Greek letters in the actual (natural) substance of the stone, though it takes more imagination than I’ve got to see it!
In the secular collection, a notable display is the throne cot presented to the second wife of Napoleon by the city of Paris. She was the daughter of Hapsburg Emperor Francis I; Napoleon Junior died in Vienna from tuberculosis at a young age. The “Cradle of the King of Rome” has over a quarter of a tonne of precious metals in it.
The Schatzkammer is in the Hofburg Palace, alongside numerous other attractions like the Spanish Riding School.
U1: Station Karlsplatz or Stephansplatz
U2: Station Karlsplatz or Volkstheater
U3: Station Herrengasse or Stephansplatz
U4: Station Karlsplatz
D, 1 or 2 to any stop between Karlsplatz and Dr. Karl Renner Ring
1A or 2A to Michaelerplatz or Habsburgergasse
Address: Schatzkammer or Imperial Treasury, Schweizerhof, Hofburg, 1010 Vienna