This was the museum we were most excited for, and we specifically chose to come here early in the day to avoid all the crowds.
This museum is best described as a “things” museum. Each room contained “things” from different cultures around the world. The biggest and baddest of these rooms was the Mesoamerican room. It had statues and other relics belonging to the Mayans and the Aztecs, which we haven’t seen much of in any of the museums we have ever visited. The centerpiece of this collection was a feather crown given (probably) to Cortez by Montezuma himself. This crown is the ONLY surviving artifact of it’s kind ANYWHERE.
No picture can do this thing justice. The colors, the richness, the metals, all of it were so much more spectacular than you could ever know. Also, the size is super misleading in that photograph as it’s about the size of a kitchen table.
In another room there were things from various Native American groups. It was neat to see some of the things that we are so accustomed to seeing things we think of as common (like baskets, pottery, bows and arrows, etc) in a world famous museum, but more surprising was the collection of modern native flags and hats.
There were so many rooms and so many different cultures presented in this museum that to cover all of them would require a book’s worth of post. Japan and China had rooms of their own, mostly dealing with their collision with Western culture in the 1800’s. The Southern Seas got a room for their weapons and art, Nepal got a room replicating a traditional Nepalese home. It goes on.
But possibly my favorite room was the “I suffer from museum-mania” room. This room showcased the round-the-world trip that Franz Ferdinand (yes, that Franz) took in 1892-1893. He basically took the equivalent of a gap year, and traveled just about everywhere, Africa, India, China, Japan, Yellowstone, you name it, he visited it. He basically balanced his time between hunting (he killed an ESTIMATED 300,000 animals) and collecting. He brought back Japanese swords, American work gloves, Canadian timber axes, South Islander baskets, Chinese ceramics, boomerangs, and anything else that caught his eye. And don’t forget the stuffed animals (not the cute kind) that he hauled back and filled his castle with.
The upstairs section of this museum was split between armor and musical instruments. The armor was all real, and had all belonged to royals throughout the ages. There were sets of jousting armor, as well as armor that had been worn into battle. Many of these pieces were dented with musket balls. Back in the day an armorer would “proof” a new piece of armor by shooting at it. If the armor dented. but didn’t break, it was deemed bullet-proofed, and ready for selling. The dent left on the armor was a kind of “advertisement” for the buyer that it was indeed bullet proof. But there was no reason for the armorer to test his product multiple times, and many of these pieces had been shot 3-4 times each.
The musical instruments had been collected throughout the ages, so we got to see a hurdy-gurdy, Mozart’s dad’s violin, and tons of pianos, harpsichords and many other instruments, most of which belonged to the imperial family.
Natural History Museum
What could be so special about a natural history museum? “Even Denver has one” you are probably thinking to yourself.
Well, first off, this was in a palace, and the display cases were all very old fashioned, and super beautiful. The museum also boasts one of the largest collections of space rocks on the planet. They have every conceivable mineral, followed by an exhibit showing how those minerals are used in jewelry. They have dinosaur bones, early human artifacts, and stuffed animals galore. But Chris was suffering from a cold, so we almost called it off after the dinosaur part. Luckily we pressed on see “one last room” and we are so happy we did. It ended up being our favorite thing that we have ever seen in any museum.
The Forensic Archaeology exhibit.
So basically, Europe is just one gigantic battlefield, pockmarked by the occasional mass grave. Forensic Archaeology is a field of study that figures out how people died based on the damage evident on their skeletons. We saw skeletons from Europe’s first identified battlefield with arrow heads imbedded in their bones, then later the remains of a knight who had severe defence related injuries (suggesting he was unarmed whilst being hacked at with a sword, and then later having his leg and then head cut off).
Then we entered the next room and were shocked to find an actual mass grave.
These skeletons are from the Battle of Lutzen. This was a major battle that happened during the Thirty Years’ War, and can be compared to Gettysburg (in levels of intensity). Something like 20,000 men died in a single day, including the Swedish king. After the battle, the bodies were literally thrown into mass graves (hence the splayed out arms), and life went on.
Fast forward to 2011 when one of these mass graves was dug up by archaeologists. They did a thorough study on the remains, and learned a whole lot. For starters, there were 48 bodies in this particular grave. The displays talked about what and how the scientists learned from the skeletons, for example…
- The archaeologists could tell where the men were from by analysing their bones to decide what their diet mainly contained of.
- One man had a shortened leg due to a childhood accident, and only could have fought on horseback. They could also tell this because he had serious bone wear on his ass (from riding)
- The infantry had a lack of damage to their chest areas (thanks to steel breastplates) but an over abundance of small holes in their skulls. These were due to the war hammers (video of a sweaty man giving a demonstration) that the calvary would swing down from horseback.
- The majority of the skeletons showed previous and recently healed trauma to legs, arms, skulls, and ribs. They had almost all been injured in previous battles.
- There were no personal items found (they were probably all looted), except for a single iron ring that left a greenish stain on one man’s skull.
- Most of their mouths had musket balls in them. Infantry would keep them there to help reload faster.
It was a grisly thing to see, but really tastefully done. It was a very interesting way to humanize the past.
The National Library of Austria
The following things were all part of the National Library. The library is still used for research and study, but there are a few wings that are super interesting to tourists.
The Prunksaal (State Hall)
The Prunksaal was the original heart of the Imperial Library built in a baroque fashion. It has something like 200,000 old books, a few rare globes, statues, and a card catalogue going way back. This wing is only really used for sightseeing, which makes it more of a book zoo than a library. But it was extremely pretty
This was a smaller museum in the basement of the national library. It was basically a collection of papyrus that had been lovingly restored as best as possible, and then translated for educational purposes. There were some pages from a super early version of Homer’s “The Odyssey”, as well as a whole bunch of an Egyptian Book of the Dead. Most of the samples were personal letters or contracts, which were super interesting to read. One lady was cursing her ex-husband for his refusal to provide money for their daughters burial. Another man was cursing his neighbor for stealing his pot. One contract had four different people’s handwriting on it, and you could tell who had hired professional scribes and who could barely write.
This also managed to humanize the past, probably in a more peaceful way than the mass grave.
This was another small museum containing old, rare, and unique globes.
It was interesting to see how people’s perception of the world changed from century to century. There were even globes of the moon and of Mars.
We had no intentions of seeing this, except it was right next to the globe museum and the ticket covered both museums.
Esperanto, for those who don’t know, is a language that was invented in the late 1800s. It is a completely invented language, but it was designed to be easy for anyone to pick up, with a simple grammar and a vocabulary mish mashed from a variety of European languages. (Video Example!)
It was meant to be a common language to bridge the gap between people of different nationalities. (That same sentence in Esperanto would look likes this : Ĝi estis intencita esti komuna lingvo por pligrandigi la interspacon inter homoj de malsamaj nacioj.)
It might have caught on, but both the Nazis and the Soviets persecuted anyone who spoke it, for whatever reason.
Today you can still learn the language, and there is even a World Esperanto Congress that meets every year where Esperanto speakers from all over the world come together to speak Esperanto.
You can learn it yourself over at Duolingo!
This just about marked the end to our trip in Vienna, but we were far from finished!