Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sisi- still the queen of Austria

The royal legacy left in Austria is impressive- over 600 years of rule within one grand family, the Habsburgs. I've often thought I'd like to study European royalty but every time I get a glimpse of the complex and frighteningly intertwining family trees, I give up. But in Vienna there is no avoiding the presence of this royal family, even nearly a century after their empire fell at the end of WWI.

There are several "larger than life" figures among the rulers but none who image is as pervasive as Empress Elizabeth, known as "Sisi." The young emperor Franz Josef bailed out on his arranged marriage to Sisi's sister when he fell in love with her at first sight. She was married at age 16 and was known for her great beauty. She had a 20-inch waist, even after bearing several children, and obsessed about dieting and exercise. She was way ahead of her time in her daily regimen of exercise, keeping fitness equipment in her private suite. Her other great feature was her hair, which she kept at ankle-length. Washing it was an ordeal, requiring multiple servants and nearly a whole day. Her vanity was such that she refused to be painted or photographed after she turned 30.

But she was reclusive and moody from the beginning, avoiding royal court life and spending as little time in Vienna as possible. She was a poet and a romantic. Her husband was utterly devoted to her and indulged her wishes, though they were not popular with his family. Her first daughter died at the age of 2 and the Crown Prince died in a scandalous apparent suicide at the age of 30. She became even more reclusive. Sisi also met a tragic end, assassinated by an anarchist while traveling. After her death, she became more popular than she had been in life and now the legends and myths surrounding the beautiful empress are hard to separate from the truth.

You can read more about her and see her beauty for yourself here:

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