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Austria bids farewell to the last Habsburg heir

Lavish Vienna ceremony closes a chapter on history.

The funeral ceremony for Otto von Habsburg at Saint Stephans Cathedral on July 16, 2011 in Vienna, Austria. (Martin Schalk/Getty Images)

Otto von Habsburg, the last heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was on Saturday buried in the Austrian capital, Vienna.

The former head of the House of Habsburg, who was a conservative member of the European Parliament, died on July 4 at the age of 98.

Political leaders and members of various European royal families attended the lavish ceremony at Saint Stephen's Cathedral, which was also in honor of Habsburg's wife Regina, who died last year.

The funeral closes the chapter on the famous central European Habsburg dynasty that spanned six centuries.

Habsburg, born in 1912, was the last Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary from 1916 until the dissolution of the empire in 1918.

While his body will be laid to rest beside his forebears in the imperial crypt, the BBC reports that his heart will actually be burial at a Hungarian abbey west of Budapest, as part of a Habsburg tradition.

According to the BBC, Otto's son Karl Habsburg spoke of the massive change his father, an advocate of European unity, witnessed across the continent:

It would always be wrong to only remember him in the context of the old monarchy or only remember him in the context of the European Union.

I think he should be remembered in the whole arch that his life has been creating ... over the whole changes that happened to Europe in his lifetime.

Various media reports said there was disquiet in Vienna over the lavishness of the Habsburg funeral, which some considered to be out of place in a republic.

The Irish Times said that Habsburg’s death had revived old divisions in Austria, with some associating the name as “a trigger for World War I”.

But one of Habsburg’s daughters, Swedish politician Walburga von Habsburg-Douglas, told the paper that most Austrians wanted a proper farewell for such a huge historical figure:

It’s about people coming to terms with their history and the many open questions – what might and might not have happened.

Leading up to the funeral, thousands of Austrians were given the chance to visit the coffins of the two Habsburgs, for a final salute.