Located just outside Vienna in Austria, Schönbrunn Palace is one of the many highlights of Vienna. It was built in the early 18th century in a beautiful park-like setting and remains one of Austria's leading attractions.
To my mind Vienna is one of the most civilised cities in the world - its a pleasure to live here on a diet of art and culture. On three occasions I have visited this wonderful city - in 1987, 1995 and 2006 - each time taking a short tour of Schönbrunn Palace.
The palace's history goes back to 1569, when Emperor Maximilian II acquired a small summer palace in a converted mill on this site. After the glorious defeat of the Turks in 1683, Emperor Leopold I commissioned an Imperial palace on the site of what was then known as the Palace of Klatterburg. He hoped it would rival the Palace of Versailles, which we explored in last week's post. You now have an opportunity to judge for yourself!
My last visit was a long time ago, so I have sourced the details below from planetware.com, creationearth.com and a travel blog written by Rhonda Krause on travelyesplease.com
The more modest Baroque Schönbrunn Palace with its 1,441 rooms and apartments was built between 1696 and 1730, and soon after converted into a residence for Maria Theresa, the only female Habsburg ruler. Further alterations took place between 1816 and 1819, and following severe damage in WWII, reconstruction was completed in 1952.
From the 18th century to 1918, Schönbrunn would be the official residence of the House of Habsburg. However, following the downfall of the Habsburg monarchy in November 1918, the House of Habsburg and Schönbrunn Palace became the property of the newly founded Austrian Republic. The government then conserved all of the estate's belongings and turned them into a museum.
Before taking a closer look at some of the rooms, please take a short tour video with Rick Steves which brings the interiors to life with fabulous frescos and decorations.
Some key facts about the palace include:
• Schönbrunn means beautiful spring, named after the artesian well from which the court got its water.
• Emperor Franz Joseph was born in the palace in 1830. In 1916 he also died there, in his bed, at the age of 86.
• Mozart’s first concert, at the age of 6, was given for Empress Maria Theresa at Schönbrunn Palace in the Mirror Room.
• In 1961, the legendary meeting between John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khruschev (Vienna Summit) took place in the palace’s Great Gallery.
• The palace and gardens were inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1996.
• Eight million people visit Schönbrunn Palace, park and its attractions each year.
Now for a closer look at some of the rooms.
The Great Gallery is over 40 metres long and almost 10 metres wide - it provided the ideal setting for court functions. From the mid-eighteenth century onwards it was used for balls, receptions and banquets.
The tall windows and the crystal mirrors facing them on the opposite wall, together with the white-and-gold stucco decoration and the ceiling frescos, combine to form a total work of art in its own right, resulting in one of the most magnificent Rococo ceremonial halls in existence.1
These days you can host a dinner in this sumptuous room or attend a concert.
This room is sometimes known as the Hall of Mirrors - I am sure you are comparing it to the room of the same name in Versailles.
The frescos in this room are fabulous. In the central panel of the ceiling are frescos by the Italian artist Gregorio Guglielmi showing the prospering of the monarchy under the reign of Maria Theresa. Enthroned at its centre are Franz Stephan and Maria Theresa surrounded by personifications of monarchical virtues. Ranged around this central group are allegories of the Habsburg Crown Lands, each with its riches and resources. The western ceiling fresco depicts the flourishing of the Crown Lands, while the fresco on the east side, a reconstruction of the original which was destroyed in a bombing raid during the Second World War, shows a military allegory.
The electrification of the massive and elaborate gilt chandeliers and wall sconces was carried out in 1901, when the candles were replaced with light bulbs.The upper set of sconces was also installed at this time to increase the illumination, with the result that the Great Gallery is lit by a total of 1,104 bulbs.
The recent comprehensive restoration of the Great Gallery in 2011/2012 included the installation of an innovative lighting system, providing a contemporary lighting solution that closely resembles the effects of candlelight. For the first time LED lights with candle-flame-shaped bulbs and integrated crystals that imitate the flickering light of candles have been used.1
The Mirror Room (above) with its magnificent white-and-gold Rococo décor and the crystal mirrors that give this room its name, is a typical example of a state room from the era of Maria Theresa.
The polished surfaces of the wooden panelling and the mirrors set into it additionally had the task of reflecting the candlelight and creating the illusion of increased space. It was either this room or the adjoining Large Rosa Room that was the setting for the first concert given by the six-year-old Mozart in front of Empress Maria Theresa in October 1762.
After his performance – according to his proud father – 'Wolferl sprang onto Her Majesty's lap, threw his arms around her neck and kissed her.'1
The Walnut Room (above) was furnished with the wooden panelling that gives it its name as an audience room for Joseph II around 1765, when he became co-regent with his mother, Maria Theresa.
The gilt rocaille décor, large mirrors and the original console tables that were reinstalled in the room when it was restored are typical of the Rococo style which came to full flower in Austria during the epoch of Maria Theresa.
This imposing room also served as an audience chamber for Franz Joseph a hundred years later. Here he gave audiences to his generals, ministers and court officials. On Mondays and Thursdays any of the subjects of his empire could request an audience with the emperor. From these audiences Franz Joseph developed an astounding memory for names and faces, a faculty he retained well into old age.1
Of the apartments once occupied by Maria Theresa, some of the most attractive are the Bergl Rooms: the richly furnished Garden Apartments with their exotic decorative styles and which include works by Johann Bergl. Another highlight is Marie Antoinette's Room (Napoleon famously stayed here) with its celebrated portrait of Francis I displaying the insignia of the Order of the Golden Fleece.
The Schönbrunn Palace Park and Gardens first welcomed visitors around 1779. The ample Baroque gardens with their buildings (Gloriette, Roman ruins) and statuary (above) testify to the palace's imperial dimensions and functions.
The original intention, when they were laid out in the 18th century, was to combine the glorification of the House of Habsburg with a homage to nature. The Orangery (below) on the east side of the main palace building is, at 186m, the longest in the world. The Great Palm House (below) is an impressive iron-framed structure, 114 m long and divided into three Sections, erected in 1880 using technology developed in England.
In recent years concerts and other outdoor events take place in and around the Palace. I associate Schonnbrun with Andre Rieu and his wonderful concert held around 20 years ago.
He made history by taking a full scale replica of the palace forecourt on the road. I had the joy of seeing the concert in Melbourne at Telstra Dome in 2008 with an audience of 38,605, which made it the biggest attendance of any Rieu show anywhere in the world, up until that time.
I could not resist including a short trailer.
During my visits to Schönbrunn Palace I have never had time to stroll through the gardens - I may need to return one day - visiting the Gloriette and Palm House is especially appealing.
If you are following my series of posts on mansions what is your opinion – is Versailles or Schönbrunn the most opulent? Many say Versailles – for me both are fabulous and I cannot decide. Feel free to let us know your view.
Next week we travel to a neighbouring country and a much smaller mansion - with a comparison to Versailles as well!