The Indian Elephant that walked from Genoa to Vienna
One of the reasons that the Hotel Elephant is very well-known is his most famous guest, an Indian Elephant that was on an amazing journey from Lisbon to Vienna!
The hotel was built around 1500, in Brixen, a wonderful little town in the region of the Italian Alps, next to the Austrian border. The hotel has been family-owned since 1773. Today it is run by Elisabeth Heiss and Michael Falk who represent the seventh and eighth generations of the family. It started as a simple Inn and is today one of the of the best-known hotels in South-Tyrol, having already won several awards including “Historic Hotel of the Year”. The hotel’s historic main building houses 30 rooms, 2 restaurants and a banqueting room, all furnished with refined furniture and paintings. Next to this building is also the Villa Marzari, with another 14 rooms, surrounded by the beautiful garden with swimming pool.
The elephant and the hotel
In 1551, an elephant appeared in the charming Brixen. It came with a large entourage and stayed there for 2 weeks while on their way from India to Austria’s capital, Vienna. The Hotel Elephant was named after it and has on its wall a fresco of the elephant that was painted while the huge guest rested at this Inn! Now imagine the excitement of the townsfolk who had never seen such an exotic creature before! The Asian elephant Suleiman, or Soloman, as he’s called in the German-speaking countries, was received in triumph and people from all over the region came to have a glance at the animal.
The elephant’s adventure
The elephant came as a baby to Lisbon on a diplomatic mission, accompanied by the Kotte Ambassador and entourage. It was sent by the King of Kotte (now Ceylon) to the Portuguese King John III and his wife Catherine of Austria. It was intended as a gift to their grandson, the son of King Philip II of Spain. From Spain to Portugal the elephant travelled by foot, but once there, they realize that it would be very expensive and complicated to take care of this exotic animal, so he was then given to Archduke Maximilian of Austria. They shipped the elephant from Barcelona to Genoa, in Italy, and from there, Suleiman still had to reach Austria by foot, passing by Trent where the Council of Trent has just finished, so he was received by cardinals and bishops, then Bozen and stopping to rest in Brixen. After that, he crossed over the Brenner Pass and travelled the last part of his journey by boat along the Danube. He finally arrived in Vienna in March 1552 amidst huge enthusiasm, 10 years after his arrival in Lisbon! But sadly he didn’t live long, dying only 18 months later. Parts of the elephant were distributed around the Holy Roman Empire, his stuffed skin was exhibited in several museums and survived even the bombing on Munich during World War II but after the war was sold to be used to make shoes.
An inspiration for artists
Many artists portrayed the elephant in paintings, sculptures, poems, a commemorative medallion and several books have been written about the elephant’s adventure. The Nobel Prize winner José Saramago wrote in 2008 a novel about Suleiman “The Elephant’s Journey” after visiting Brixen's Hotel Elephant and being inspired by its story.
Photos via Hotel Elephant and Shutterstock