select - Imperial Capitals

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If you’re the kind of traveller who looks for splendid architecture,museums crammed with thousands of years of cultural artefacts, and streets atmospheric with long tradition and layered stories, look no farther than some of the world’s former imperial capitals, where history comes alive at every turn.

 


VIENNA

Large Salon of Empress Elisabeth

The grandeur and gaiety of the Austro-Hungarian Empire are preserved in the frills and flounces of Vienna’s distinctive baroque architecture. The Hofburg Palace, seat of imperial power, is a repository of excess, from the glittering jewels of the treasury to the ornate clavichords and silverware of the museums. The palace features the white horses of the Spanish Riding School, while the Hofburg Chapel offers the Mozart music that seems to embody the zest and wit of the era. The imperial family’s country retreat of Schönbrunn Palace also has endless gold and rococo, though its gardens of flowerbeds and sculpted fountains, which gradually dissolve into more informal stands of trees and parkland, are more to modern tastes. Sit and sip a coffee in the grounds, while statues of royal ancestors keep you company: Vienna to perfection.


WHERE
Vienna lies in the east of Austria near the Hungarian and Slovakian borders.


WHY
The capital has an impressive historical legacy seen not only in its museums and architecture but living café life, parks, and music scene.


HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways has daily flights from Doha to Vienna.

 


BUDAPEST

Chain Bridge

From the Danube River, Budapest emerges like some magical set from a dramatic opera, an outline of cupolas and Gothic spires, castles and battlemented hillsides, knitted together by elegant iron bridges. The Hungarian capital seems frozen in time, marking its grand heyday at the height of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. With such a wonderful fin de siècle atmosphere, you’d almost expect ladies in crinolines to come sweeping along the riverside promenades. Everywhere you get glimpses of the city’s extraordinary former grandeur: sumptuous apartment blocks, Hapsburg eagles glowering on rooftops, and winged cherubs grinning from church ceilings. You also get a whiff of roast coffee from stylish cafés, where you can nibble on cream cakes under ornate ceilings. This is a city of slow pleasures: riding a rattling tram, admiring the architecture, or browsing antique shops.


WHERE
Hungary’s capital and largest city lies on the banks of the River Danube in the country’s central north.


WHY
The Austro-Hungarian Empire’s other capital is a fine counterpoint to Vienna and a beautiful city in its own right.


HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways has daily flights from Doha to Budapest.

 


ROME

Baths of Caracalla

Ancient ruins and staggering museums are a reminder that the Italian capital was once the powerhouse of the long-gone Roman Empire. You could spend years studying its archaeological legacy, but you could do worse than wander the Forum, Trajan’s Market, and the majestic Colosseum, where gladiators once fought. Then visit Hadrian’s Villa and the Caracalla baths, where wealthy ancient Romans once enjoyed the dolce vita.


WHERE
All roads proverbially lead to Rome, located in the central west of Italy.


WHY
From I Claudius to Gladiator, ancient Rome is part of popular culture and central to an understanding of European art and history.


HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways has daily flights from Doha to Rome.

 


BEIJING

Summer Palace

Beijing’s imperial sites are gargantuan. The Forbidden City is so large that the last emperor of China took to pedalling around it on his bicycle, but its detail is equally amazing, from the turquoise dragons writhing on ceilings to intricate sandalwood screens. Don’t miss the chance to wander away from the crowds to tranquil pink-hued side courtyards. Two other chief imperial sights are the Temple of Heaven, where emperors came to worship and sacrifice for good harvests, and the Summer Palace, which is also colossal. Seven hundred acres and innumerable palaces, pavilions, and humpback bridges lie along the shores of artificial Lake Kunming. The country retreat also offers rambling gardens, waterways, hills, and stands of forest, where local families take to the lake on pedal boats and parade under the willow trees where emperors once wandered.


WHERE
Beijing is located on the plains of northern China, protected to its north by another imperial legacy: the Great Wall.


WHY
Big, bold, and beautiful, Beijing’s three imperial complexes are all hugely impressive World Heritage sites.


HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways flies from Doha to Beijing four times a week.

 


ISTANBUL

Blue Mosque

The lilting call of a muezzin rises above the noise of street vendors selling candied seeds. Cars swerve past mosques of medieval Islamic splendour. Ranks of concrete apartment blocks undulate across hillsides whose summits are topped by exquisite minarets. The marble of bold palaces turns pink in the evening sun, while below, teenagers slouch and neon lighting gleams. Past and present collide in Istanbul, and what a splendid imperial past it is. The vast Topkapı Palace, once the pleasure ground of the Ottoman sultans, is crammed with priceless treasures, courtyard fountains, and exquisite decoration. Opposite, the Blue Mosque is decorated with breathtaking Iznik tiles and stained glass windows, rivalled only by the ancient Aya Sofya. Even the vast Grand Bazaar is testament to Istanbul’s imperial Ottoman past: shopping with a mighty dose of history.


WHERE
Located on the Bosphorus Strait, Istanbul famously straddles Europe and Asia.


WHY
The venerable city of Istanbul has a multi-layered history and is the former capital of not one but three empires: Greek, Byzantine, and Ottoman.


HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways has daily flights from Doha to Istanbul.

 


HYDERABAD

Chowmahalla Palace

Former capital of one of India’s richest princely states, Hyderabad’s powerful past is embodied in stone at Golconda Fort, once legendary for its diamonds, and at the Qutb Shahi Tombs, where its rulers lie in impressive state. Visit Salarjung Museum for a staggering collection of fine art, textiles, and paintings from this era of greatness; then get lost in the amazing Chowmahalla Palace complex.


WHY
Named after a 16th-century ruler’s wife, Hyderabad has a magnificent history associated with the imperial pretensions of its dynastic rulers.


WHERE
Hyderabad is the capital of Andhra Pradesh state and lies at over 530m above sea level on the Deccan Plateau.


HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways has daily flights from Doha to Hyderabad.

 
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