On The Road Travel Essays

back to index


Capital of the Tirol, one of the 5 major cities of Austria, 120,000 inhabitants.

The City in the Mountains The key to this town, the reason for its development and the reason for its present-day fame is its setting. Innsbruck's situation is magnificent. It lies in a green valley 2,000 feet above sea level on a bend of the fast-flowing river Inn. Immediately to the north are the Nordkette Alps, a range of the limestone Alps that separate the Tirol from Bavaria. To the south is the powerful wall of the Tuxer Alps within the glacial, crystalline rock range of the Central Alps where Austria's highest mountains lie. The Nordkette are headed by the peak of the Hafelekar at 7,440 feet; to the south the imposing ridge of the Patscherkofel at 7,360 feet dominates the view.

As a result of this stupendous site Innsbruck has become the centre of tourism in Austria. There are endless opportunities for hiking and mountaineering, and unbeatable facilities for winter sports. There are five Olympic standard ski areas and slopes aimed at all levels. On the Stubal glacier 25 miles to the southwest, skiing is all year round. Innsbruck was Olympic city in 1964 and 1976. The province of the Tirol extends this touristic paradise with world-famous skiing centres like Kitzbuhel and St. Anton. The population of the Tirol is 600,000. Annually tourists make about 45 million overnight stays.

The Wider Geography: Innsbruck in History The word Innsbruck means "bridge over the river Inn." From a small settlement it fast developed into a strategic crossing point of huge importance. In the C12, the province of the Tirol was born, with Innsbruck as its capital. Within 200 years the Hapsburgs had annexed the Tirol. In the C16 Maximilian I made Innsbruck a major administrative centre of his empire. For Maria Theresia it was her summer capital. Under all the Hapsburgs it was a crucial element in the imperial power base. With the help of the Napoleonic forces the Bavarians tried to take the Tirol in 1809 but were repulsed at Innsbruck by the local hero Andreas Hofer, and the Tirol returned to the Austrian fold. Now, after Grenoble in France, it is the biggest city in the whole of the Alpine region. The reason for this growth is explained by Innsbruck's privileged position as the crossroads of the Eastern Alps.

Crossing the Alps from Innsbruck to Vienna has always been easy because the Inn valley, continued to the east by the valley of the Salzach and then the Enns, makes a natural open highway. But in other directions, the Alpine barriers are almost insurmountable: the limestone massif to the north, the High Alps to the south, the Arlberg to the west. In each direction, there is only one way through: the Fernpass to Augsburg and Munich*, the Brenner south to Venice, the Arlbergpass west to Switzerland. Innsbruck is the natural gateway to all these routes.

* The common tourist route nowadays just east of Garmisch via the Scharnitzpass and Seefelder Sattel has only recently become possible with the shallowing of the 1:4 slope.

A Day in Innsbruck Most of the sightseeing in Innsbruck is done on foot (see Walking Tour below). The centre is very compact, and no more than 30 minutes is really necessary unless the group wishes to visit the Hofkirche. Just outside the centre to the south, the Bergisel and perhaps also the Wilten Basilica are worth a visit (with the bus). The old town centre, however, is supremely picturesque and perfectly oriented towards the tourist shopper. If you are short of time, the briefest of explanations will do before allowing free time for shopping.

Bergisel is the hill to the south where Andreas Hofer defeated the French and the Bavarians. There is a statue of Hofer cast from captured French cannons. The ski jump, still used, from the 1964 and 1976 Olympics is slightly further up the hill. The view from the top over Innsbruck and the Nordkette is worth the climb. There is a cemetery below the ski jump at the foot of the hill! Nearby the Wilten Basilica is also interesting, on the site of the original Roman garrison called Veldidena. If open, the basilica, a popular pilgrimage centre dedicated to Our Lady of the Four Columns, is worth a glance inside for its rococo decoration, exuberant stucco, ceiling paintings, etc. Built 1751-56.

A Walking Tour around Innsbruck The bus parking is round the back of the Hofgarten. To reach the historic centre, walk through the garden to the Rennweg and turn left. The neo-classical building on the left-hand side is the Tiroler Landestheater. The yellow palace on the right is the Hofburg.

Hofburg This was the Innsbruck residence of the Hapsburgs who first built a palace here in 1397. What you can see, though, dates from the mid C18 and was built for the Empress Maria Theresia who loved the town. (Yellow was Maria Theresia's favorite colour, cf. Also Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna and the Wilten Basilica here.) The most impressive of the 400 rooms is the Riesensaal, the Giants' Hall, 100 feet long, with its portraits of the Empress' children including Marie Antoinette. (The visit is a little underwhelming and not really recommended.)

Hofkirche This, on the contrary, is well worth a visit if you have the time (buy tickets at the entrance to the Tirolean Folk Art Museum). The church looks unimpressive from the outside. Inside is an extraordinary sight. Emperor Maximilian I had this built as his own private burial place. Up on the gallery the little statues are of the 23 patron saints of the Hapsburgs. In the crowded centre of the nave is a massive mausoleum. The kneeling figure on the top is Maximilian. The marble reliefs around the tomb show scenes from his life. Guarding the tomb are 28 "Schwarzen Mänder," the Black Fellows, all bigger than life size, all but two made of bronze. Their right hands are outstretched so that torches could be fitted during the funeral service. This guard of honour represents the legendary ancestors of Maximilian: King Arthur of the Britons; Clovis, first king of the Franks; Theodoric, leader of the Ostrogoths, and just about anybody else of surpassing brilliance or fame. (The three mentioned here are sculpted by Albrecht Dürer.)

The magnificent tomb that these heroes are guarding is empty. In the end Maximilian was buried near Vienna. He and his entourage had run up so many debts for the city of Innsbruck that eventually they were excluded from the city. When he died in 1519, the town council refused to perpetuate his memory in this, the epitome of imperial extravagance.

From the Rennweg, go through the arch on the right to the Hofgasse. Here, suddenly, is the charming, picturesque shop-laden Altstadt. 100 yards on is the very centre of town with the Goldenes Dachl on your right and the wonderful perspective down Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse to the left. The view down this street looks south to the Patscherköfel, the beginning of the High Alps. The column in the middle is dedicated to St. Anne, one of the protectors of the Tirol. Behind it at the very end of the street is the Triumphal Arch set up by Maria Theresia to celebrate the wedding of the Archduke (and to commemorate the death of her husband on the same day). To your left as you look down the street is the Stadtturm which you can climb for an attractive view of the mountains and the rooftops. The most striking building is to the right, the Helblinghaus, with its rather sugary pink and white rococo facade. (Incidentally, the bay windows here are typical of both Bavaria and the Tirol, taking advantage of every inch of available light.) But the most important building is behind you, perhaps not as visually dramatic as its fame suggests, but nevertheless the symbol of the city.

Goldenes Dachl The Golden Roof is not really gold but composed of 2,657 gilded copper shingles. From the balcony below, Emperor Maximilian used to watch over proceedings in the town. You can see him in the two central sculpted panels on the balcony. In the one on the left, he is with his first and second wives, Maria of Burgundy and Bianca Maria Sforza of Milan; on the right he is pictured with an adviser and a court jester. Underneath are all the various coats-of- arms that identified Maximilian. The story that the Golden Roof was built by Friedrich the Penniless to prove that he did have some money after all is a good one but unfortunately untrue.

Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse and its continuation Maria-Theresien-Strasse and the streets off them are full of shops and cafes (endless souvenir shops, Svarovski Haus for crystal, the department store Kaufhaus Tirol, the Innsbruck Heimatwerk for high quality local crafts, etc.). NB. Deutschmarks are readily accepted, though you may get your change in Schillings. If you are just passing through, e.g. from Munich to Venice, there is no need to change money.


passports educational travel logo

passports Educational Group Travel partners with teachers across the United States to provide high-quality educational travel experiences to their students. Educational tours visit destinations around the world - primarily France, Italy, England, Spain and Costa Rica - at low, guaranteed prices.

Passports, Inc., ToursOperators & Promoters, Spencer, MA


Facebook icon   Twitter icon   Pinterest icon   Blog icon

For updates on educational travel tips, ideas and news, subscribe to our newsletter:


51 Union Street Suite 106
Worcester, MA 01608

Email Us

© Copyright 1992-2022 Passports Educational Travel | All Rights Reserved | Privacy Policy