The little town of Bad Ischl in Upper Austria, the former summer capital of the great Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, has been associated with the Habsburg imperial dynasty for at least 700 years. The Imperial Villa in Ischl, the Emperor's summer residence, was described by Franz Josef I as "heaven on earth" for himself and his family.
The Villa was originally a wedding present from his mother, Archduchess Sophie, on the occasion of his marriage in 1854 to his teenage Bavarian cousin Elisabeth. Their engagement had taken place in Ischl the previous year. "Sisi", as she was known to the family, became renowned as Elisabeth, Empress of Austria, the most famous beauty of the 19th century, and still fascinates a world-wide public. Franz Josef built a personal Cottage for her in the Imperial Park in English 16th-century "Elizabethan" style. The Villa and its estate are still redolent with memories of Elisabeth.
The Imperial Villa was also a stage on which the great powers of the 19th century carried out their diplomatic manoeuvrings. It was here, on 28 July 1914, that Franz Josef signed the declaration of war on Serbia that was to escalate into two global conflicts and change the world.
Still a haven of peace and tranquillity, and still occupied by the Habsburg descendants of Franz Josef and Elisabeth, the Imperial Villa retains the ambience of a bygone age in the 19th century, and its association with great people and events. It does not take much imagination to visualise the crowned heads and major statesmen of the world who were received here, or the world-famous composers, writers and artists who flocked to Ischl in the wake of the Emperor's court during the decades of that glorious Indian summer of imperial Austria around the year 1900.