Schloss Schönbrunn

LINKS to pages in the Vienna site and to the Colin Day Travelling Days series:

1 : Schloss Schönbrunn
2 : Vienna City
3 : Churches and Cathedral
4 : Hoffburg and Environs
5 : Statepark and Opera House
6 : Journey to and from Vienna

In the year 1569, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II purchased a large floodplain of the Wien river overlooked by a hill where a former owner, in 1548, had erected a mansion called Katterburg. The emperor ordered the area to be fenced and put in game such as pheasant, duck, deer and boar in order to serve as the court's recreational hunting ground. In a small separate part of the area, "exotic" birds like turkeys and peafowl were kept. Fishponds were built, also. The name Schönbrunn (meaning "beautiful well")has its roots in an artesian well from which water was drawn and consumed by the court.

During the next century, the area was used for hunting and recreation. Eleonore Gonzaga, who loved hunting, spent much time there and was bequeathed the area as her widow's residence after the death of her husband, Ferdinand II. From 1638 to 1643, she added a palace to the Katterburg mansion, while in 1642 came the first mention of the name "Schönbrunn" on an invoice. In the Turkish siege of 1683, the buildings were destroyed, and never restored.


Emperor Leopold I gave architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach an order to design a new palace. The first draft was a very utopian one, using different old and contemporary styles and trying to top its rôle model, Versailles. His second draft showed a smaller and more realistic building. Construction began in 1696 and after three years the first festivities were held in the newly built middle part of the palace.


Few parts of the first palace survived that century, because Maria Theresa of Austria after she was crowned, and to whom the estate had been made a present by her father (who, himself, had shown but little interest in it) had decided to make it the imperial summer residence. She ordered her architect-of-the-court, Nicolò Pacassi, to reshape the palace and garden in the style of the Rococo era.

At the end of the so-called Theresianian epoch, Schönbrunn Palace became a centre of Austria's empire and the imperial family, and remained as their summer residence until the "abdication" of Charles I of Austria in 1918.


In the 19th century one name is closely connected with Schönbrunn's, Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria. He was born there, spent the majority of his life there and died there on November 21, 1916 in his sleeping room. "Through the course of his 68-years reign, Schönbrunn Palace was seen as a Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art) and remodelled in accordance with its history."


Following the downfall of the monarchy in 1918 the newly founded Austrian Republic became the owner of Schönbrunn Palace and preserved the rooms and chambers as a museum.

After WWII and during the Allied Occupation of Austria (1945-1955) Schönbrunn Palace, which was empty at the time, was requisitioned to provide offices for both the British Delegation to the Allied Commission for Austria and for the Headquarters for the small British Military Garrison present in Vienna.

Later it was used for important events such as the meeting between John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev in 1961. UNESCO catalogued Schönbrunn Palace on the World Heritage List in 1996, together with its gardens, as a remarkable Baroque ensemble and example of synthesis of the arts (Gesamtkunstwerk).


The sculpted garden space between the palace and the Neptune Well (see below) is called the Great Parterre ("Great Ground Floor"). The French garden, a big part of the area, was planned by Jean Trehet in 1695. It contains, among others, a maze.

The complex, however, includes far more attractions: Besides the Tiergarten, and the world's oldest existing zoo (founded in 1752), there is an orangerie erected around 1755 and a Palm house. Western parts were turned into English garden style in 1828-1852.

At the outmost western edge, a botanical garden going back to an earlier arboretum was re-formed in 1828. This one is currently being restored and part will house a modern enclosure for orang-utans as well as a restaurant and office rooms. It was scheduled for re-opening in 2009.


Preparations for an outdoor concert by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra were beeng made at the time of our visit (below).


The garden axis points towards a sixty metre high hill which, since 1775, has been crowned by the 'Gloriette' (Fischer von Erlach had initially planned to erect the main palace on top of that hill).

Maria Theresa decided to place there a structure designed to glorify Habsburg's power and the 'Just War' [a war that would be carried out of 'necessity' and lead to peace], and so ordered the "otherwise useless stone" which was left there after the demolition of Schloss Neugebäude to be recycled to form the Gloriette. Same of the same material was used for the Roman 'ruin'.

The Gloriette today houses a café and gives the visitor a view over the city.


Situated at the foot of the hill behind the palace and designed as the crowning element of the Great Parterre is the Neptune Fountain. It was conceived as part of the overall design of the gardens and park commissioned by Maria Theresa in the 1770s. Excavations for the pool began in 1776 and the fountain was completed four years later, just before the death of the empress. It was very probably designed by Johann Ferdinand Hetzendorf von Hohenberg, while the sculptural group of Sterzing marble was executed by Wilhelm Beyer.

Standing at the centre of the group standing above a rocky grotto is Neptune in a shell-shaped chariot, his trident in his hand. To his left is a nymph, while on his right kneels the sea-goddess Thetis, entreating Neptune to favour the voyage of her son, Achilles, who has set off to conquer Troy.

Frolicking at the foot of the grotto are the Tritons, creatures who are half-man and half-fish, and belong to Neptune's entourage. They hold conch shell trumpets with which they can inspire fear in both man and beast, and are restraining the hippocampi or sea-horses who draw Neptune's chariot across the seas. Neptune driving across the seas in dominion over the watery element is a common motif in 16th to 18th-century art, being used as a symbol for monarchs controlling the destiny of their nations. (With acknowledgement to the official Schönbunn website)


The rear facade of the palace overlooking the gardens (left).


We proceed to the front of the palace (right) and join the coach on our way to the centre of Vienna.

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