Innsbruck Sightseeing

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Innsbruck Sightseeing

COURIER: Sightseeing in the Old town is handled with a walking tour. You should take the group on this walk, but don't go inside the Hofburg. (The inside visit is time consuming, and students have shown little interest in the interior in previous years. Interest tends to focus on the narrow streets and the historic sights visible from them.) The following notes pertain to the sights visited outside the city: Berg Isel and Wilten Basilica. The "supplementary notes" contain anecdotes useful for the bus trip outside the city.

BERG ISEL

This wooded hillside is popular among townspeople for walking and picnicking: little footpaths meander in all directions. It's also sacred to the Tyrolese for the battle that was fought here in 1809. The people of the Tyrol put up a losing but gallant struggle against Napoleon's army. The hero of the battle was Andreas Hofer, a commoner who rallied the Tyrolese to resistance. The statue of Hofer, in the park, is the city's patriotic shrine.

Olympic ski-jump  This stands on the Berg Isel, not far from the Hofer statue. It was built for the 1976 Winter Olympics. It offers about the best view of Innsbruck and the Nordkette you can get, and is nice to walk up to and on — but be careful!

WILTEN BASILICA

This is a splendid example of Baroque church architecture, a style visible everywhere in southern Germany and Austria. About the Baroque style: it is an example of architecture used as a religious weapon. The style was consciously adopted in Rome as a means for "winning back" the rest of Europe to the Catholic faith. It became the architectural "wing" of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, and was especially pioneered by the Jesuits in Germany and Austria, as well as Italy itself. (The Jesuits' mother church, the Gesu in Rome, was built in Baroque style, and was widely imitated in German-speaking Europe.) It was felt that the richness, drama, and sheer spectacle of this style would awe the common folk with the majesty of "Mother Church" and win them over from Protestantism. It didn't work in northern Europe, but it managed to keep southern Europe within the fold — or at least it helped. Remember too the psychology at work. The Catholic Counter-Reformation imposed strict morals, censorship, and all kinds of restrictions on popular emotion. Baroque architecture was one area in which emotion and drama could run wild, and therefore it flourished as an outlet — much as gargoyles became a surrogate for fantasy and superstition on medieval cathedrals. The 17th century was the heyday of the Baroque style, and by the next century the style had become even more elaborate—and artificial—and was known as the Rococo. The basilica we are going to see shows the transition from the Baroque to the Rococo. The building was constructed in the late-17th century, and later refurbished between 1751-56.

Wilten Basilica  This basilica was built by an order of monks known as the "Premonstratensians," who owned all the land in this area in the Middle Ages. The basilica was designed to perpetuate devotion to the Virgin of the Four Columns, who had been the object of popular pilgrimages in the area since the Middle Ages.

Outside  Observe the rich yellow on the exterior. You'll see that it resembles the "Maria Theresa yellow" of the Hofburg palace — a favorite color of the people of Innsbruck, and popular among Baroque artists for its lightness and opulence.

Inside  What wonders can be performed with stucco! In this case the stucco artist was Franz-Xavier Feichtmayr, and he covered the interior with stucco flowers, scrolls, and angels. The statue of the Virgin at the high altar was the object that pilgrims came from miles around to venerate. The paintings in the nave depict the Old Testament figures Esther and Judith. Toward the front, in the chancel, the paintings are of the Virgin as Advocate.

The Wilten area  This part of Innsbruck is called Wilten because it was the earliest settlement in the Inn River Valley, known in Latin as Veldidena. Roman legionnaires made an encampment against the barbarians, and gradually the camp grew to a settlement, and this to a medieval trading town.

Not far away is the sister-church of the Wilten Basilica, the Wilten Abbey Church, also built by the Premonstratensians. Its color is a brilliant coral.

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