Schönbrunn Palace (German: Schloss Schönbrunn) is a World Cultural Heritage site and Austria’s most-visited sight. The baroque total work of art consisting of palace and gardens was for centuries the property of the Habsburgs and is today largely in its original condition. Visitors will find numerous attractions here, from a tour through the authentically furnished residential and ceremonial rooms of the Imperial Family in the palace, to the maze and the labyrinth in the gardens and a separate Children’s Museum.
Schönbrunn Palace is a former imperial summer residence located in Vienna, Austria. The 1,441-room Baroque palace is one of the most important architectural, cultural, and historical monuments in the country. Since the mid-1950s it has been a major tourist attraction. The history of the palace and its vast gardens spans over 300 years, reflecting the changing tastes, interests, and aspirations of successive Habsburg monarchs.
In 1569, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II purchased a large floodplain of the Wien river beneath a hill, situated between Meidling and Hietzing, where a former owner, in 1548, had erected a mansion called Katterburg. The emperor ordered the area to be fenced and put game there such as pheasants, ducks, deer and boar, in order for it to serve as the court’s recreational hunting ground. In a small separate part of the area, “exotic” birds such as turkeys and peafowl were kept. Fishponds were also built.
The name Schönbrunn (meaning “beautiful spring”), has its roots in an artesian well from which water was consumed by the court.
During the next century, the area was used as a hunting and recreation ground. Eleonora 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. The origins of the Schönbrunn orangery seem to go back to Eleonora Gonzaga as well. The Schönbrunn Palace in its present form was built and remodelled during the 1740–50s during the reign of empress Maria Theresa who received the estate as a wedding gift. Franz I commissioned the redecoration of the palace exterior in the neoclassical style as it appears today.
Franz Joseph, the longest-reigning emperor of Austria, was born at Schönbrunn and spent a great deal of his life there. He died there, at the age of 86, on 21 November 1916. Following the downfall of the Habsburg monarchy in November 1918, the palace became the property of the newly founded Austrian Republic and was preserved as a museum.
After World War II and during the Allied Occupation of Austria (1945—55), Schönbrunn Palace 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. With the reestablishment of the Austrian republic in 1955, the palace once again became a museum. It is still sometimes used for important events such as the meeting between U.S. president John F. Kennedy and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1961.
Since 1992 the palace and gardens have been owned and administered by the Schloss Schönbrunn Kultur-und Betriebsges.m.b.H., a limited-liability company wholly owned by the Republic of Austria. The company conducts preservation and restoration of all palace properties without state subsidies. 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 interiors of the castle not only served as the residence of the imperial family, but were also built for representation purposes and were the scene of countless celebrations and ceremonies that symbolized and strengthened the prestige of the monarchy. For this purpose, many well-known artists and renowned craftsmen were appointed, who furnished the rooms with the highest elegance of the time. The styles range from the Baroque to the Rococo, the Biedermeier and styles of the Wilhelminian era, which, however, on the whole form a harmonious ensemble.
In the western wing of the 1st floor, there are the living quarters of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth from the 19th century. In the middle part are the representation rooms. In the eastern wing are the apartments of Maria Theresia and the so-called Franz Karl Apartments of the Archduchess Sophie and the Archduke Franz Karl, the parents of Emperor Franz Joseph.
The castle has hundreds of rooms and rooms, of which only the most state rooms and rooms of the imperial family are open to the public. A part of the remaining rooms are rented out as municipal apartments. The castle is therefore not empty and is still inhabited.
Every year around 1.6 million visitors move through the castle building. That’s an annual average of 4,000 people, and in high season even 10,000 people a day. The large amount of visitors is a special burden on the rooms, which were not designed for such a dense human traffic. A particular challenge for the administration of the castle is the elaborate preservation and renovation of the premises, but at the same time to keep them accessible to the public.
On the ground floor are, among other things, the private apartments of the imperial family, the so-called “Berglzimmer”. These consist of the Gisela, the Goëss and the Kronprinzenappartement, named in the 19th century for the children of Empress Elisabeth, Gisela of Austria and Crown Prince Rudolf, and the stewardess of the Empress, the Countess of Goëss. The rooms were painted with frescoes by Johann Baptist Wenzel Bergl and his workshop in the 1770s.
Bergl covered all the walls and ceilings with colorful landscape paintings populated by strange animals and birds. However, this world is not untouched, but integrated into human conceptions through arcades, balustrades, and rococo vases. In this respect, the baroque palace park reaches into the rooms outside. Bergl’s frescoes are based on in-depth nature studies, which he perhaps even made in the park and the orangery of the castle. The mountain rooms were used by Maria Theresa in the summer because they were cooler than the rooms on the first floor.
The frescoes were painted over in the course of time with gray paint, but in 1891 exposed again. Restoration began in 1965, and from 2008 they were opened to the public.
The apartments of Crown Prince Rudolf are located in the eastern and southeastern area. The six rooms were furnished in 1864 as an apartment for the then six-year crown prince. Between 1774 and 1778 four of these six rooms were furnished with exotic landscape paintings by Bergl and his workshop.
The area now known as the Goëss Apartment consists of four mountain rooms and is located in the southern area and was one of the private apartments of Maria Theresa.
White Gold Room
In the south-eastern part, on the ground floor, there are four rooms, the white walls and ceilings of which are decorated with golden Rococo stucco. This decor can be found in most representative rooms of the castle building. The largest room is the former gym of Empress Elisabeth and has a length of 13.80 meters, a width of 7.85 meters, a height of 4.70 meters and an area of 108 square meters. A marble fireplace with a large mirror is located in the middle of the northern wall, the floor is a parquet floor with black-white-brown diamond pattern. The smaller, remaining rooms are similarly designed. Today the rooms are used for special events.
The representative blue staircase in the west wing leads from the ground floor to the first floor, where there are mainly the audience and representation rooms. A dark blue runner stretches across the stairs. This room is one of the oldest in the castle and originally served as a dining room in the former hunting lodge of Emperor Joseph I, then heir to the throne. On behalf of Maria Theresa the room was rebuilt in 1745 by Nikolaus Pacassi. Visible is the height of the original floor of the room, as it was on the first floor, as the windows can not be opened without the help of a ladder.
The ceiling fresco is an original of the old dining room and shows the glorification of the heir to the throne Joseph as a virtuous war hero who finally wins the laurel wreath before the throne of eternity. The fresco was executed by the Italian painter Sebastiano Ricci in the years 1701/02. Whether the name of the staircase comes from the blue runner or the blue sky of the ceiling painting is not entirely clear.
The billiard room is located at the beginning of a longer series of audience and private rooms by Franz Joseph I. The walls are white with gilded stucco from the rococo and a decorated parquet floor. A white and gold fireplace is located in the northeastern corner, a clock on the northwestern corner. Today’s furniture is from the second half of the 19th century. In the middle is a large pool table from the Biedermeier, which is already mentioned in 1830 in the inventory.
The room served as a waiting room for imperial ministers, generals and officers. While waiting for their audience, they could play billiards.
The large paintings in the room changed over time. The current two paintings are about the Military Maria Theresa Order. A painting shows the first order of the Order in 1758, it comes from the workshop of Martin van Meytens. The other painting from 1857 is by Fritz L’Allemand and shows Emperor Franz Joseph on the garden staircase on the occasion of the centenary of the Order.
The so-called children’s room was not in this room, but was actually on the ground floor or in the upper floors of the castle.
It is decorated with portraits of the daughters of Maria Theresa. Most of her 11 daughters were married in adolescence for political reasons. Six portraits in the room were painted by the anonymous master of the Archduchesses. The portraits are of the Archdukes Maria Anna, Maria Christina, Maria Elisabeth, Maria Amalia, Maria Karolina and Maria Antonia. In the right half of the room hangs a portrait of Maria Theresia in widow’s costume.
On the left is a bathroom, which was installed in 1917 for Empress Zita. It is clad in marble and has running hot and cold water, a bath and a shower.
The cabinet in the southwest corner was probably used by Empress Maria Josepha, the second wife of Joseph II, as a breakfast room.
This cabinet is one of several examples of the personal involvement of the imperial family in the interior design of the castle. In the medallions are applied application works made by the mother of Maria Theresa, Elisabeth Christine. She sewed fabric scraps on silk moiree and made flower bouquets with insects.
hall of mirrors
The mirror room dates from the time of Maria Theresia and has white walls with golden rococo decorations and red velvet curtains with white curtains. The rococo furniture is also in white-gold wood, the upholstery covered with red velvet. The defining element is the eponymous seven large crystal mirrors, which reflect each other and make the space look larger. A marble fireplace is located in the middle of the northern wall. Two large crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling.
Presumably, the first concert of the six-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart took place here or in the adjacent Rosa Zimmer in front of the Empress Maria Theresia and the court. According to eyewitness reports, the young Mozart jumped on the lap of the Empress’s piano prelude and hugged and kissed her, much to her delight.
The Hall of Mirrors was also used as a reception hall by Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth.
The Great Gallery is the heart of the castle building. With a length of over 40 meters, a width of almost 10 meters and a total of 420 m², the Great Gallery was used mainly for festive receptions, balls and as a boardroom. The room has high windows to the garden with opposite crystal mirrors. The white walls are decorated with gilded Rococo stucco, the ceiling covered with three large paintings. Over 60 gilded sconces and two heavy chandeliers originally donated candles to light.
The ceiling is covered by three large paintings, works by the Italian painter Gregorio Guglielmi. The middle fresco depicts the well-being of the monarchy under the reign of Maria Theresa. Surrounded by the personified virtues of reign, Franz Stephan and Maria Theresa throne in the middle. Allegories of the crown lands with their respective riches are arranged around this central group.
In addition to concerts and events, the Great Gallery is still used for state receptions. In 1961, the meeting between US President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev took place here.
In the spring of 2010 began a two-year renovation. 1400 m² of wall and ceiling area are extensively cleaned and restored by around 15 experts. The cost of the renovation was estimated at 2.6 million euros.
The ceremonial hall was used primarily as an antechamber to the apartments of Emperor Franz Stephan. Here, the imperial family gathered for celebrations such as christenings, name days, birthdays, and for large court panels, and to enter the oratory of the castle chapel. Six large paintings are the defining element in this hall, which Maria Theresa commissioned from Martin van Meytens and his workshop.
Five of these paintings deal with the marriage between the successor to the throne and later Emperor Joseph II with Isabella of Parma in 1760. The marriage was not only a social, but above all a political event, it was the relations between the House of Habsburg and the French royal family improve the Bourbons.
The painting cycle is arranged chronologically, the individual paintings show the most important highlights of the festivities. The first and largest painting depicts the solemn entrance of the princess from the Belvedere Palace into the Hofburg. An endless cortege of festive carriages, coaches and riders meanders through a Siegestor towards Hofburg. The other paintings depict the wedding in the Augustinerkirche, the adjoining court panel in the Knight’s Hall and the Supper, as well as the Serenade in the Redoutensaal of the Hofburg. Van Meytens painted the buildings and people and their clothes in such detail that individual identification is possible. In the painting of the Serenade in the Redoutensaal of the Hofburg even the little Mozart in the lower right corner is suspected.
In the middle of the eastern wall, between the paintings of the wedding ceremony in the church and the serenade in the Redoutensaal, there is a large portrait of Maria Theresa. It shows her standing, as the “First Lady of Europe” in a precious Brabant lace dress next to a table with four crowns on a red velvet cushion with golden tassels. Her right hand rests on a scepter, with her left hand she points to the crowns of her dignity: the Imperial Crown, the Bohemian Wenceslas Crown, the Hungarian Crown of St. Stephen and the Austrian Archduke’s Hat.
The former study of the Roman Emperor Franz I (Franz Stephan of Lorraine) is called Vieux Laque room. After his death in 1765 his widow Maria Theresa had his room remodeled as a memory room.
The room is floor-to-ceiling with walnut wood. Between the walnut black lacquer panels from Beijing are used, which are provided with gilded rococo frame. Furthermore, there are three portraits: in the middle hangs the painting of Francis I, which was completed four years after his death in 1769 by Pompeo Batoni. On the right side is the painting of Emperor Joseph II and his younger brother Leopold, Grand Duke of Tuscany, later Emperor Leopold II. This painting was also executed by Batoni in 1769.
The paint panels were originally part of a Chinese screen, which was sawn into pieces as a wall decoration. The sawing produced cracks that became stronger over time. The items have been adapted to the aesthetics of the room, not the original, Chinese layout. Moisture and temperature changes further attacked the paint substance over time, ultraviolet light bleached the gold surfaces. The cracks and surface were repaired several times, but a thorough renovation started in 2002 and lasted three years. The last refurbishment before that was in 1872, when the castle was spruced up for the 1873 World’s Fair. For the renovation, the 138 larger and 84 small panels of the walls, door panels and Supraporten were successively removed, restored and reinserted. Older, faulty repairs were removed and professionally repaired to return the panels to their original appearance. In order to protect the panels better in the future, the room is continuously shielded from the sunlight and is lit only with subdued, electric light.
The original screen showed real and imaginative scenes from the Chinese landscape. You can see motifs with lakes, rocks, pavilions and mountains on which saints and genii rest, as well as palaces, hunting and everyday scenes of the Chinese nobility and their servants. Luck and wealth or transience and immortality are symbolized by animal, fruit and flower motifs.
When Napoleon occupied Vienna in 1805 and 1809, he chose the castle as headquarters. During this time he probably used this room as a bedroom. Through his marriage to Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria, the daughter of Emperor Franz II / I, in 1810, the peace between the two kingdoms was to be sealed. From this connection, the son of Napoleon Franz Bonaparte emerged, who was later appointed by his grandfather Emperor Franz I Duke of Reichstadt. After Napoleon’s defeat and abdication, Marie-Louise brought her two-year-old son to Vienna. Here he grew up well protected at the court of his grandfather. As a favorite of the grandfather, he shared his interest in botany.
The young Duke died of tuberculosis in this room in 1832 at the age of 21. In the room is his death mask and a preserved crested lark, which was his beloved pet.
The porcelain room served Maria Theresa as a playroom and study. The blue and white painted, wooden carved framework imitates porcelain and covers the entire room up to the ceiling. The designs for the decoration of the walls probably come from Maria Theresa’s daughter-in-law Isabella of Parma. 213 blue ink drawings are inserted in the framework. They were made by Emperor Franz I. Stephan and some of his children and were designed according to the designs of François Boucher and Jean-Baptiste Pillement.
Only the chandelier in the room is made of porcelain despite the name.
The millionaire room is one of the most precious in the castle. Originally called the Feketin Cabinet, this room was given the name because of its very valuable rosewood paneling.
Indo-Persian miniatures are embedded in 60 rococo cartridges depicting scenes from the private and court life of the Mughal rulers in India in the 16th and 17th centuries.
In order to adapt the miniatures to the asymmetrical forms of the cartridges, the single sheets were cut up by members of the imperial family and re-composed in a kind of collage into new pictures. The chandelier is a Viennese handicraft from 1760 and is made of bronze, decorated with enamel flowers. The bust behind the sofa shows Maria Theresa’s youngest daughter, Archduchess Marie Antoinette, later Queen of France. On both sides of the room are crystal mirrors that reflect each other, creating the illusion of an infinite space.
Next to the millionaire room is the miniature cabinet. The walls of this comparably small room are decorated with a large number of small and partly signed pictures by the husband and children of Maria Theresa. The walls and ceiling are decorated with stucco from the baroque, the parquet floor has a diamond pattern in three types of wood. The white embroidered lace curtains contain the imperial double-headed eagle in the middle. These are from the time of Franz Joseph I.
On the walls of the room hang Brussels tapestries from the 18th century, called tapestries, which show market and harbor scenes. The large tapestry in the middle represents the port of Antwerp. Antwerp was then part of the Austrian Netherlands. The six armchairs are also covered with tapestries and show the twelve months of the year with the associated zodiac signs.
Finally, the salon of Archduchess Sophie, the mother of Emperor Franz Joseph, was used as a living room. After the Archduchess’s death in 1873, the space was given today’s facilities on the occasion of the Vienna World’s Fair.
Writing room Archduchess Sophies
Originally, the room served as a library. Behind the panels, which can be opened, are the bookshelves. In the 19th century, the room was furnished as a writing room by Archduchess Sophie, the mother of Emperor Franz Joseph I, and was therefore part of the apartments of the parents of Emperor Franz Joseph.
The red salon got its name from the stretched silk wallpaper on the walls. The curtains are made of red velvet and silk, the carpet is also in red.
In the salon there are several portraits of emperors in the order of the Golden Fleece, including Leopold II, his son and successor Franz II / I, his son Ferdinand I and his wife Maria Anna of Savoy. The double portraits of Emperor Ferdinand I and Empress Maria Anna were painted by Leopold Kupelwieser.
On the right in the entrance area of the forecourt is also a castle theater, built in 1745 and opened in 1747.
The sculpted garden space between the palace and the Sun Fountain is called the Great Parterre. The French garden, a big part of the area, was planned by Jean Trehet, a disciple of André Le Nôtre, in 1695. It contains, among other things, a maze.
The complex however includes many more attractions: Besides the Tiergarten, an orangerie erected around 1755, staple luxuries of European palaces of its type, a palm house (replacing, by 1882, around ten earlier and smaller glass houses in the western part of the park) is noteworthy. Western parts were turned into English garden style in 1828–1852.
The area called Meidlinger Vertiefung (engl.: depression of Meidling) to the west of the castle was turned into a play area and drill ground for the children of the Habsburgs in the 19th century. At this time it was common to use parks for the military education of young princes. Whereas the miniature bastion, which was built for this purpose, does not exist anymore, the garden pavilion that was used as shelter still does. It was turned into a café in 1927 and is known as Landtmann’s Jausen Station since 2013.
At the outmost western edge, a botanical garden going back to an earlier arboretum was re-arranged in 1828, when the Old Palm House was built. A modern enclosure for Orangutans, was restored besides a restaurant and office rooms in 2009.
The Great Parterre of Schönbrunn is lined with 32 sculptures, which represent deities and virtues.
The garden axis points towards a 60-metre-high (200 ft) hill, which since 1775 has been crowned by the Gloriette structure (Fischer von Erlach had initially planned to erect the main palace on the top of this hill).
Maria Theresa decided the Gloriette should be designed to glorify Habsburg power and the Just War (a war that would be carried out of “necessity” and lead to peace), and thereby ordered the builders to recycle “otherwise useless stone” which was left from the near-demolition of Schloss Neugebäude. The same material was also to be used for the Roman ruin.
The Gloriette was destroyed in the Second World War, but had already been restored by 1947, and was restored again in 1995.
The Gloriette today houses a café and an observation deck which provides panoramic views of the city.
Originally known as the Ruin of Carthage, the Roman Ruin is a set of follies that was designed by the architect Johann Ferdinand Hetzendorf von Hohenberg and erected as an entirely new architectural feature in 1778. Fully integrated into its parkland surroundings, this architectural ensemble should be understood as a picturesque horticultural feature and not simply as a ruin, which due to lack of maintenance it had increasingly grown to resemble prior to its recent restoration.
The fashion for picturesque ruins that became widespread with the rise of the Romantic movement soon after the middle of the 18th century symbolized both the decline of once great powers and the preservation of the remains of a heroic past. Erected at the same time not far from the Roman Ruin, the Obelisk Fountain was intended to complete the iconographic program of the park at Schönbrunn as a symbol of stability and permanence.
The Roman Ruin consists of a rectangular pool enclosed by a massive arch with lateral walls, evoking the impression of an ancient edifice slowly crumbling into the ground. In the pool in front of the ruin is a seemingly haphazard arrangement of stone fragments supporting a figural group which symbolizes the rivers Vltava and Elbe.
Schönbrunn is Vienna’s most popular tourist destination, attended by 2,600,000 visitors in 2010. The whole Schönbrunn complex with Tiergarten Schönbrunn, Palmenhaus, Wüstenhaus and the Wagenburg, accounted for more than five million visitors. At the official website tickets can be purchased in advance for tours. In addition to tours and tour packages, many classical concerts featuring the music of Mozart and his contemporaries can be enjoyed with the added benefit of more time in the spectacular halls, Orangerie, or Schlosstheater.
The annual Summer Night Concert Schönbrunn is held on the grounds of Schönbrunn.
Film and television productions
The gardens and palace have been the location for many films and television productions including such productions as the Sissi trilogy in the 1950s, A Breath of Scandal with Sophia Loren, and also briefly in James Bond’s The Living Daylights when Bond and Kara are riding through the palace garden; the palace is also seen during the end credits. The comedy The Great Race was filmed there in 1965. Jackie Chan shot scenes for Armour of God on the grounds. More recently, the television drama The Crown Prince starring Max von Thun as Crown Prince Rudolf and Klaus Maria Brandauer as Kaiser Franz-Josef was filmed there.
The Austrian television series, Kommissar Rex has shot several episodes there. In the Kuroshitsuji episode 2: His Butler, Omnipotent, Sebastian Michaelis tells his master that he was a guest at the Schönbrunn Palace soirees before his contract was sealed with Ciel as he teaches the young master how to dance. Dutch violinist André Rieu and the Johann Strauss Orchestra, along with the Opera Babes used it as the back drop for a version of the European Anthem, “Ode to Joy” in 2003.
In the sixth leg of the Amazing Race 23 teams had to race through the garden’s maze and search for the pit stop located at the Gloriette.