In the heart of the majestic Alpine mountain range lies one of Austria’s most remarkable cultural treasures. Ambras Castle, built in Innsbruck predominantly in the 16th century, is the legacy of one of Austria's foremost collectors of art and (valuable) curiosities.
Ambras Castle is situated at an elevation of 587 meters. Considered one of the most popular tourist attractions of the Tyrol, Ambras Castle was built in the sixteenth century on the spot of an earlier tenth-century castle, which became the seat of power for the Counts of Andechs.
The cultural and historical importance of the castle is closely connected with Archduke Ferdinand II (1529−1595) and served as his residence from 1563 to 1595. Ferdinand was one of history’s most prominent collectors of art.
The princely sovereign of Tyrol, son of Emperor Ferdinand I, ordered that the mediaeval fortress at Ambras be turned into a Renaissance castle as a gift for his wife Philippine Welser.
The cultured humanist from the House of Habsburg accommodated his world-famous collections in a museum built specifically for that purpose, making Castle Ambras Innsbruck the oldest museum in the world.
The Lower Castle contains armouries feature masterpieces of the European armourer’s art from the time of Emperor Maximilian I to Emperor Leopold I.
As the only Renaissance Kunstkammer of its kind to have been preserved at its original location, the «Kunst- und Wunderkammer» (Chamber of Art and Curiosities) represents an unrivalled cultural monument.
Above the Lower Castle is the famous Spanish Hall (Spanische Saal), a notable example of German Renaissance architecture, which contains an intricate wood-inlay ceiling and walls adorned with 27 full-length portraits of the rulers of Tyrol.
The Upper Castle contains an extensive portrait gallery featuring paintings of numerous members of the House of Habsburg.
«Schloss Ambras Innsbruck» a Renaissance castle and palace, perches dramatically above the 800-year-old city of Innsbruck. Sited atop a former 10th century fortification, this architectural gem was built by Archduke Ferdinand II for his secret wife, Philippine Welser.
On your discovery tour, you’ll find that the castle boasts several highlights that set it apart from similar structures in Europe. Dive right into Innsbruck’s imperial history at the breathtaking Spanish Hall, a lavish and perfectly preserved banquet hall that was used for representative purposes.
Its walls are adorned with 27 beautiful, full-figure portraits of Tirolean rulers that preceded Archduke Ferdinand. But the true marvel of the Spanish Hall is the elaborate, inlaid wooden ceiling.
Today, the Spanish Hall is the venue for classical music concerts during the Innsbruck Festival of Early Music.
In the Upper Castle you’ll find another true rarity: the Bath of Philippine Welser, a built-in tub complete with changing room paneled with wood and decorated with a frescoed frieze. It gives great insight into personal hygiene in the 16th century.
Make sure you also catch a glimpse of the courtyard of the Upper Castle, which has special 16th-century wet-plaster frescoes that rank among the best preserved in Europe.
Ambras Castle also features several interesting collections which are part of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna. Time travel through history at the «Habsburg Portrait Gallery» featuring Habsburg rulers and other luminaries from the 14th-18th centuries.
With more than 200 works by painters such as Lucas Cranach d. J., Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Peter Paul Rubens, Anthonis van Dyck, and Diego Velázquez, the Habsburg Portrait Gallery equals the volume and quality of collections at the National Portrait Gallery in London.
Ambras Castle is one of the oldest museums in the world: The Chamber of Art and Curiosities of Archduke Ferdinand II is unique in that it is the only such collection worldwide still in its original location, to be seen and admired in the way it was intended to by the original owner.
You’ll find objects that were valued for their rarity, value, or scientific worth in the 16th century, which paint a wonderful picture of the Renaissance mindset.
The collection includes turnery made of ivory, porcelain and silk paintings which belong to the oldest European collections of Asian art, as well as important works of European artists; even a portrait of Vlad Dracula can be found.
The Strasser Collection of Glass is amongst the most important of its kind in the world. It consists of over three hundred precious glasses from the Renaissance and the Baroque era from all the important European glass-making areas.
And since it wouldn’t be a proper castle without a sizeable collection of armor, Ambras also features rare examples of armor from the collections of Emperor Maximilian I and Archduke Sigismund.
The «Heldenrüstkammer» displays armor of famous commanders in original 16th century showcases. The «Leibrüstkammer» includes the private armor of Archduke Ferdinand II himself, and that of the court of Innsbruck.
The History of Ambras Castle
Ambras Castle is situated upon a rock ca. 100 meters above the valley floor created by the River Inn. News of Ambras, spelled «Amras» or «Omras,» has come down to us from as early as the 10th century.
Long before Innsbruck became a city, it achieved more than just local importance as the established seat of the Counts from the House of Andechs, whose original lands lay in Upper Bavaria.
There remains nothing of the original Andechs castle, which was destroyed in 1133. The castle later passed by inheritance from the Andechs family into the possession of the Prince of Tirol. The only evidence of this early, medieval period can be seen in some of the materials that were used to build the Upper Castle.
The Archduke Ferdinand II castle
Archduke Ferdinand II (1529−1595) was the first Imperial Governor of Prague, before he was in 1564, Prince of the Tyrol and of the Austrian free-landing. After a three-year transition period, during which he led the government of Prague, he turned 1567 his court in Innsbruck.
He left the medieval castle of Ambras to the residential castle in the Renaissance style, expand. Below the high castle is one of the most artistically significant hall was built built in the late Renaissance (1570−72), since the 19th century.
Century is called «Spanish hall». To the southwest from the high castle, he ordered the construction of a ball game house, and of the so-called lower castle (1570−83).
Before the start of the construction work, Ferdinand had overridden the lock and the associated domination of his then-secret wedded wife Philippine Welser (1527−1580).
To be brought during the lifetime of Philippine Welsers Ferdinand to his already widely famous collection of armour, weapons, Portraits, and natural curiosities, rarities, wonders of nature and treasures to Schloss Ambras. In 1589, he made an additional building to the West of the castle, the so-called heroes Armory grow.
Archduke Ferdinand II, the second son of Emperor Ferdinand I. and was as a groom for a French and a Portuguese Princess, in conversation, and even the two Queens, Mary Tudor and Mary Stuart were considered as potential Marriage candidates.
In 1557 he married secretly Philippine Welser, the daughter of a wealthy Augsburg patrician and businessman.
Such his morganatic marriage was under ecclesiastical law to be valid according to the laws of most German cities, however, is liable to prosecution. The marriage had to be kept secret, and Philippine was officially unmarried. Only two years later, Archduke Ferdinand II. informed his father, the Emperor Ferdinand I., about the secret wedding.
Philippines all time and for all, and expressed willingness to help you made especially in the Tyrol, popular and not even the nobility, did not scruple, in his Ask the state of the formerly intended to carry forward. The salutation in the numerous Bittbriefen went from the «gracious lady» to «leek important Princess Mrs. Philippine of Austria».
After the death of Ferdinand II
Market count Karl of Burgau, the second son of Philippine Welser and Ferdinand II inherited in 1595 the castle and its collections.
This, however, was very little interested in the costly maintenance of Ambras and the collection and sold both in 1606 to Emperor Rudolf II (1552−1612).
In the following period, the castle was a residence and rarely inhabited.
Due to a lack of conservation measures, there were losses, which are recorded in the handwritten inventories.
Mainly books, manuscripts, and probably also hand drawings were moisture and insect damage to the victim.
Collection Holdings move to Vienna
Even in the 17th century, Emperor Leopold I (1640−1705) had the most valuable—and most vulnerable—items including books, manuscripts and early printed works brought to Vienna. Today these are kept at the National Library.
The collection was in extreme danger in the year 1805, following the defeat of Austria by the French Empire. Only after Napoleon I (1769−1821) had recognized the private-law character of the Ambras Collection in 1806 was it brought to safety in Vienna.
Ambras during the 19th Century
In the period following 1855, the palace was remodelled for use as the summer residence of Tirol’s then-Statthalter (governor) Archduke Karl Ludwig (1833−96). In the process, deep-reaching changes were made to the palace and the surrounding park.
The most noticeable changes were undergone by the Vorschloss (outer bailey) via the construction of an ivy-clad entrance ramp for carriages, while the park was redesigned as an English garden.
Following Karl Ludwig renouncement of Tirolean rule, the palace remained in a more or less ruinous condition. Only in 1880 was it converted into a museum and subsequently renovated.
Ambras during the 20th Century
In 1919, Ambras Castle passed into the ownership of the Republic of Austria. In 1950, the Kunsthistorisches Museum took over the administration of the castle and its collections.
During the 1970s, the comprehensive restoration of the Spanish Hall, the residential quarters in the Upper Castle and the painting work in the inner courtyard of the Upper Castle was begun.
The year 1974 saw the Chamber of Art and Curiosities, and 1980−81 the Armoury, set up once again in the Lower Castle, and in 1976 the Habsburg Portrait Gallery covering the 15th to 19th centuries was completed.
Ferdinand II was one of the most important patrons of the Habsburg family. He founded the notable collections of Ambras and had a museum built for them in the rooms of the «Lower Castle», which was constructed according to the most advanced ideas of his time.
The three armouries and the chamber of art and curiosities were designed and used as a museum from the beginning.
The Spanish Hall is amongst the most beautiful halls built during the Renaissance. It was constructed according to the requirements of Archduke Ferdinand II between 1529 and 1572, and it was meant to be a hall for balls and other festive occasions.
The decoration of the 43 m long hall is dominated by 27 full-figure portraits of Tirolean rulers, from Count Albrecht I of Tirol to Archduke Ferdinand II. They stand before a landscape background, making the room—in concert with the opposite window—seem like it were open to both sides.
The frieze-zone of the northern and eastern walls contains stucco-framed bull’s eyes with painted rims, whose inside surfaces show blue sky and clouds painted in an illusionistic manner. Here, as well, the idea is to provide an architectural counterpoint to the bull’s-eye windows of the southern and western walls.
A key factor in the festive overall impression of the hall is the doors, which are combinations of various woods, and the partly gilded and likewise inlayed coffered wooden ceiling. Today, the hall plays host to events including concerts of the Innsbruck Early Music Festival.
Chamber of Art and Curiosities
The Chamber of Art and Curiosities of Archduke Ferdinand II is the only one which can still be seen in its original place. Others had been plundered like the ones in Munich, Prague or Stuttgart, or their character had been changed like in Dresden or Kassel.
In the chamber of art and curiosities at Ambras Castle wonders as well as precious objects, scientific items or toys are to be seen. In contents the natural and artistic objects represent the programme of the late Renaissance encyclopedic collections.
The special thing about the Ambras-collections is, that they are still where they were meant to be seen. Still you can find corals arranged in cabinet-boxes, turnery made of wood or ivory, glass figures, or porcelain and silk paintings which belong to the oldest European collections of Asian art.
Also important works of European artists, like the carved «little death» made of wood by Hans Leinberger can be found, as well as typical «chamber of art and curiosity — objects»
like handstones, goblets made of rhinoceros horn, coconut or rock crystal, animals made of bronze, music- and measuring instruments, automats and clocks.
A very important part of the collection were portraits of curious persons like the hairy people, Vlad Dracula and others.
Ferdinand was mostly interested in his armouries. The «Rüstkammer» contain very rare examples of armour from the 15th century which originally came from the collections of Emperor Maximilian I and Archduke Sigismund.
Armour for tournaments like the German joust or the German course, and the armour of the court’s giant Bartlmä Bon, who took part in the tournament in Vienna in 1560, can be seen.
The «Heldenrüstkammer» displays armour of famous commanders in original 16th century showcases. The «Leibrüstkammer» includes the archduke’s private armour and the armour of the court of Innsbruck.
The Upper Castle, the oldest part of Ambras Castle, contains the «Habsburg Portrait Gallery». About 300 portraits from the 15th to the 19th century, including King Albrecht II, Emperor Maximilian I, Charles V and Ferdinand I, to the last emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Franz II, a contemporary of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Because of the various dynastic relations, the collection also shows members of other European dynasties. The portraits were painted by well known artists such as Lucas Cranach the Elder, Antonis Mor, Titian, Anthony van Dyck and Diego Velázquez.
The inner courtyard is embellished with frescoes executed as grisaille mural paintings. In cultural historical terms the Bathing Chamber of Philippine Welser is something of a rarity.
The Chapel is dedicated to St. Nicholas. The Strasser Collection of Glass boasts precious glassware from the Renaissance and Baroque periods.
Quick facts about Ambras Castle
Where: Innsbruck, near the motorway exit «Innsbruck Mitte»
Peculiarity: castle grounds, Renaissance château, Spanish Hall, oldest museum of the world with armouries, portrait gallery of the House of Habsburg
Opening hours: daily from 10 am to 5 pm, the portrait gallery is open from April to October
Ticket (adults): from 7.00 Euros (winter) / 10.00 Euros (summer), free entry up to 19 years
phone: +43 1 525 244 802
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Ambras Castle — Visitors ' comments
- We only had about an hour’s time at this interesting castle. It has a very good armor collection. We walked through the whole place really quickly and wished we had more time to spent there. Full of history. We also enjoyed the park grounds. Nice way to spend an afternoon.
- There are many things to see here that nowhere else could provide e.g. Iconic painting of Vlad Dracul. Pristine Amory, shockingly horrific exhibits and gallery and a park view of the alps like no other.
- We stopped here as part of our «hop on hop off» bus stop. Worth it if you have the Innsbruck card, but otherwise I wouldn’t spend too much time there.
- The first thing we saw when we arrived was a peacock! We got a really neat picture with the bird. The artwork was amazing. They have a great collection of armor which kind of boring but for people who like armor — they would love it. There are beautiful gardens and views that are better on a warm day.
- One of my favorite castles I’ve seen. It doesn’t look like your typical European castle. It was once a fortress and contains the first indoor steam room. Be sure to look for Peacocks on the grounds, they’re beautiful!