Friday 6 April 2018

100 years ago today: Kaiser Karl I's visit to Gračišće

A few months ago I was looking for old photos of Gračišće online when I stumbled on the photo archives of the Austrian National Library and found a treasure trove!

I found 10 photos taken here exactly 100 years ago when Kaiser Karl I, the last Austrian emperor, was on an official visit of Istria. He had a whole entourage with him including his own photographer, Heinrich Schuhmann, who documented his travels.

Kaiser Karl I (or Charles) was the grandnephew of Emperor Franz Josef, who he succeeded at his death in November 1916. He was only 29 when he became the head of the Austrian monarchy and he would be their last reigning monarch. His uncle Franz Ferdinand had been next in line to the throne but was assassinated in 1914 in Sarajevo, an event that sparked the First World War.

The photos I'm sharing here were taken on April 6, 1918. It was only a few months before the end of World War I – which would also be the end of the Austrian Empire which had ruled Istria for over 100 years by then. By the end of the year Istria would become part of Italy.

As for the young Kaiser's fate, he would die just a few years later in 1922 of pneumonia while in exile on the Portuguese island of Madeira. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2004 and is called Blessed Karl of Austria by the Roman Catholic Church.

These photos are truly fascinating. We see crowds of villagers welcoming the monarch: mostly women and children and only a few older men because most men were serving in the war. We also see many familiar landmarks like St. Mary's Church, Salamon Palace, the main gate, and St. Vitus Church.

My father's late uncle was a young boy at the time and used to talk about this important event. He said that some of the women were asking the Kaiser about the whereabouts of their sons who were away at war.

Take a step back in time exactly 100 years ago...