Earlier this week I had the privilege to be part of a small group private tour of the Presidential Chancellery, Austria’s “White House,” if you will. The chancellery is not open for public tours, so this was an exceptional treat.
This wing of Hofburg Palace, Leopoldnischer Trakt has an extensive history, naturally, beginning with its elegant entrance. In the first room resides a portrait of Empress Maria Theresia, one of the original occupants, and is among the most impressive I have seen.
Little bits of history were revealed with every glance, from the reconstructed flooring (to match the original beneath the chimney) to pieces of furniture with Hapsburg history being discovered all the time, like the vitrine used by Maria Antoinette’s son.
Far and away the most impressive was the “Pietradura Room,” filled with “paintings” that are actually made of cut stone in the Florentine mosaic (Pietra dura translates to “hard stone.”)style. Our group could easily have spent the entire tour in this room alone, studying these magnificent works of art. Missing from this collection, unfortunately, is an inlaid mosaic table given by the then Gauleiter of Vienna to an Italian Foreign Minister during the Nazi period, never to be recovered.
From the Pietradura Room to the aptly named, “Mirror Salon,” used in contemporary times for larger affairs.
Each of us took a mirror selfie, of course!
The Empress’ former bedroom is now the grand Reception Room. Our wonderful and witty guide demonstrated the photography protocols for visiting dignitaries and emissaries…
…and shared with us the secret chapel hidden behind old wallpaper and not discovered until 1957.
Behind another panel in the room we entered the, “Oval Office,” the former study of Emperor Josef I.
If the office looks a bit unoccupied it is because the country has been without a president since 8 July, when the sitting president resigned as required. Though Austria held two popular vote elections in May and June, the first failed to produce a victor and the second was annulled, so a third (and hopefully, the charm) election for president is to occur in early December. In the meantime, the presidency has been a college consisting of the heads of the three main parties in parliament, one of whom is a candidate for the presidency.
The final surprise on the tour was an antechamber reached by climbing two short flights of stairs from the office. Thought to be a “wardrobe,” and known to only few Viennese, the room opens upon a small church tucked inside the palace. It was here that Empress Maria Theresia could celebrate Mass without leaving her home. From Heldenplatz only discerning observers will note the slight shift in the windows denoting Joseph’s Chapel.
Far too soon our visit concluded, but I am ever so grateful to have toured a part of Vienna that is certainly off the beaten “Trakt.”