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Colorful tiles on the roof of St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna

Vienna Media News 11/2011 VIDEO: Morbid Vienna

Death’s head with crown in the Imperial Burial Vault

Imperial Burial Vault
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© WienTourismus / Willfried Gredler-Oxenbauer

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Vienna's Central Cemetery was opened in 1874 in response to the capital's 19th century population explosion which brought with it an increased demand for burial plots. In terms of area, Vienna's Central Cemetery is the second largest in Europe at 2.5 square kilometers (after the cemetery in Hamburg Ohlsdorf). In terms of the number buried, it is the largest at around three million. It consists of an interdenominational section and separate areas for individual denominations, including Jewish, Orthodox, Islamic and Buddhist. The artist André Heller once called the Central Cemetery an "aphrodisiac for necrophiles". However it is, above all, thoroughly Viennese. It is a popular destination for family outings where visitors can stroll along the beautiful boulevards - more than 100 kilometers of roads criss-cross the cemetery - and visit the many famous graves. The stunning art nouveau church Zum Heiligen Karl Borromäus, close to the main entrance of the cemetery was designed by Otto Wagner protégée, Max Hegele. The interior of this Austrian Jugendstil masterpiece features tiled floors, beautiful wall paintings and a breathtaking mosaic with 999 stars set against a blue background in the domed ceiling.

The Imperial Burial Vault, part of the Church of the Capuchin Friars on Neuer Markt in the old town, is the main burial site of the Habsburgs and deeply symbolic of the history of the dynasty. It has served as the final resting place of almost all of the Habsburg emperors since the start of the seventeenth century (except for Rudolf II, Ferdinand II and Karl I). The ornamental sarcophaguses and tombs are decorated with religious motifs and symbols of the transience of worldly power. Known locally as the Kaisergruft, the vault contains the remains of 138 members of the ruling family, including Franz Joseph I, who in 1916 became the last Emperor to be buried there. On July 16, 2011 Otto Habsburg, the son of the last rulers of Austria Emperor Karl and Empress Zita, was laid to rest in the Imperial Burial Vault. The sarcophaguses containing the remains of Empress Elisabeth and Crown Prince Rudolf are likewise in the chamber, which to this day is run by the Catholic Order of the Capuchin Friars.

A 1,000-piece collection of exhibits at the Funeral Museum gives an intriguing insight into funerary tradition, burial rituals and the Viennese population's fascinating relationship with death. Among the highlights are the sober mourning garb, sashes and accessories worn by the gravediggers, as well as various contemporary examples of urns, coffins and hearses. There is even an emergency bell of the type commonly installed in the coffin which the deceased could ring should they inexplicably come back to life.

  • Central Cemetery, Simmeringer Hauptstrasse 234, 1110 Vienna. A map of the Central Cemetery with famous graves (Ehrengräber) marked is available at the main entrance (Gate 2)
  • Imperial Burial Vault, Neuer Markt/Tegetthoffstrasse, 1010 Vienna,
  • Funeral Museum, Goldeggasse 19, 1040 Vienna,


Vienna Tourist Board
Helena Hartlauer
Media Relations UK, USA, Canada, Australia
Tel. (+ 43 1) 211 14-364

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