Madonna di Campiglio has been at the heart of a magical world: the romantic and sparkling world of Vienna in the time of the Emperor Franz Joseph and his beautiful wife, Elisabeth of Wittelsbach, nicknamed "Sissi" in history and in legend. Towards the end of the 19th century, Campiglio was already one of the most magnificent holiday resorts of the Habsburg Empire. Sissi and Franz considered it as a special place for spending carefree times together, far from the clamour of Vienna. Today, in the same halls that saw the imperial couple and their court spend unforgettable moments together; the Emperor's Great Ball is still celebrated every year in honour of "Princess Sissi". During the carnival period, the hall revives the glories of those days and of that fairy-tale world. On the notes of the "Blue Danube" those wonderful moments come to life once again...
Sissi is one of the most fascinating figures of the 19th century. Born amidst the woods and forests of Bavaria, she was married very young to Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria, and in Vienna she met with all the pomp and glory of a unique city, with its balls and receptions, and the spirited life of the capital of an immense empire. The festivities for the imperial couple's wedding in 1854 were memorable, indeed. Sissi was at the Emperor's side almost throughout his reign, which was one of the longest in history: it began in 1848, the day after the revolutions that inflamed the whole of Europe, and ended 68 years later; in a Europe that had changed profoundly, devastated by the First World War. This was a period that saw the Habsburg empire under the historical spotlight, with Vienna the capital of a cosmopolitan society. But Sissi, a restless and independent spirited woman living in a romantic and intense time, found the rigid ceremonial of the Habsburg court suffocating and she always tried to escape it when she could. Thus, this rebellious and sensitive spirit, an aesthetic and poetess, travelled far and wide, always in search of beauty.
She loved nature, lengthy horse-rides in the open air and physical exercise, always taking the utmost care of her figure and, above all, of her magnificent long hair.
Sissi came to the Trentino region towards the end of the summer of 1889. She chose Madonna di Campiglio for a brief stay to rest after a particularly dramatic period of her life. At the time, Campiglio was already a well-established holiday resort, popular with the nobles and wealthy bourgeois of Europe, who enjoyed the hunting and appreciated the incredible spectacle offered by the Dolomites. She was so taken with the place that she was determined to return. The mountains were not just a matter of clear air and splendid landscapes for this sensitive, poetic lady; they were a source of inspiration and literary charm. So, six years later the imperial couple returned to Trentino. Sissi and Franz Joseph were received by festive villages and fireworks among the mountain peaks, and they stayed at the Grand Hotel Des Alpes. The dainty steps of the Empress' ladies-in-waiting could be heard echoing through the luxurious hotel's vast halls with their vaulted wooden ceilings, while the boots of the Emperor's aides-de-camp strode by in their colourful uniforms, with all the court ritual that accompanied the couple. A piece of the charming and carefree Vienna had stretched up into the mountains, between clear skies and deep green forests. Campiglio was to remain in the heart of the two monarchs, and the echo of those moments, of their world, reaches down to us today, taking shape in the celebrations of the Habsburg carnival.
The Habsburg carnival is a week of splendid events that begins with the arrival of the imperial guests in their carriage, escorted by guards on horseback. The fireworks of the Emperor's lime and the toasting of the couple's arrival are repeated once again. During the week, there are numerous parties at the Hofer Hall in the Grand Hotel Des Alpes; the very hall where the couple once stayed. But the most important moment of the carnival is the Emperor's Great Ball, where Sissi, elegant and luminous as always opened the dance amidst two rows of Hussars and Dragoons. These are the moments that revive the great Viennese traditions of waltzing, of the café chantant and the Redoute, and of the fancy dress ball. With their unforgettable waltzes, Strauss father and son provided the official music for this whirling, glamorous world. Even today, carnival week marks the time for the most important Viennese reception, the famous Great Ball at the Opera, an appointment that people look forward to today with the same anticipation as ever. In the spring of 1860, it was Sissi herself who decided to organize as many as six balls, one after the other, within just two months. The Music Society Ball was particularly famous, held on the night of Shrove Tuesday in 1874, where the Empress arrived incognito, in fancy dress and mask, and nobody recognized her. For a week Madonna di Campiglio breathes this magic atmosphere, celebrating the "dream heroine" as she was defined by the Italian poet D'Annunzio, this unrivalled protagonist of a fairytale world.