Coaching the Congress Along
Rent-a-carriages, pleasure cruises and luxury outfits at the Congress of Vienna 1814/1815
For eight months two centuries ago Vienna was the centre of the world: monarchs, policy makers, and lobbyists from all over Europe gathered at the Congress of Vienna (September 18, 1814 – June 9, 1815) to redraw the map of Europe after the defeat of Napoleon. They were accompanied by huge retinues, as well as thousands of adventurers and onlookers, who all needed to be housed, fed, entertained and moved about in Vienna – making this conference of princes the precursor of contemporary conference tourism.
Backstage this required enormous logistics in a city occupied twice and ravaged by decades of war. The exhibition at the Imperial Carriage Museum in Schönbrunn documents how brilliantly Vienna rose to the challenge:
Everyone knows that the Congress danced – but much more important for contemporaries was that it also “drove”: hundreds of sumptuous carriages had to be built almost over night to provide suitable transport for these elegant visitors, and to entertain them with much admired sleigh rides and outings in fashionable barouches. Noble guests and members of their retinues could rent these coaches at any time of the day or night simply by ordering them using specially printed forms. For the first time all carriages were given a uniform appearance as part of efforts to improve the administration of this carriage rental service. Thus the imperial court invented the “corporate identity” of a princely fleet of carriages, an idea soon copied all over Europe.
Some of these elaborate carriages have survived in the collection of the Imperial Carriage Museum, where - for the first time in two centuries - they now shine in new splendour. In addition, magnificent court uniforms specially designed for the Congress of Vienna, and the opulent robes of the different knightly orders, which the monarchs presented to each other as symbols of their friendship, will be on show.
The Imperial Carriage Museum is Vienna’s only museum with rich holdings of magnificent three-dimensional objects from this period, and the exhibition offers both an unusual view of the Congress of Vienna and an opulent tableau that brings to life the splendour of this historical event held in Vienna two centuries ago.
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