Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The glorious Schoenbrunn Palace in Vienna

Another of our most memorable visits while in Vienna was our excursion to the Schoenbrunn Palace. This massive residence was once home to the ruling Habsburg dynasty and has to be seen to be believed! It is now a UNESCO world heritage site with much of the grounds and parkland open to the public for free, and part of the house viewable for a price. The two house tours are both accompanied by audioguides. The Imperial Tour takes visitors through 22 rooms and the Grand Tour takes in 40 rooms. We chose the Grand Tour and were glad to have done so because the most interesting room decor was in the later rooms after the two tours diverged! Photography within the house is forbidden so I can't show the sumptuous interiors here - although a quick Google will no doubt give you the idea!

Schoenbrunn Palace was originally built as a hunting lodge in the mid-1500s. Maria Theresa had it rebuilt and extended in the 1740s after she received the estate as a wedding gift and her family continued to occupy the Palace until the last Habsburg emperor was deposed in 1918. It has been a museum since the 1950s although only a few of the 1441 rooms can be seen. The audioguide is quite good albeit brief so we found there were artworks - tapestries especially - in some of the rooms about which no information was given and staff were few and far between. The overriding impression of the Palace for me was of a family spending more and more money to stave off depression. For all their power and wealth, I didn't hear of one actually having a happy life and many died young or were murdered.

The parkland was lovely to walk around and we enjoyed strolling the shaded avenues as we visited on a pretty hot day. Areas such as the Palm House (pictured) and its companion Desert House require additional payment to enter, but their architecture - the most impressive aspect for us - can be admired for free from outside! I also liked the brightly coloured floral displays immediately in front of the Palace. Their swirls and serpentine borders reflected the gilded ornamented ceilings we had seen in almost every room of our house tour.

Numerous sculptures are dotted throughout the park. Several are anonymous, but we learned that the Roman-style folly entitled The Ruin Of Carthage was designed by Johann Ferdinand Hetzendorf von Hohenberg and built in 1778. It features the river gods of the Danube and the Enns as sculpted by Wilhelm Beyer. There is absolutely nothing authentically Roman about the work. Even its ruined appearance is the result of Hetzendorf's design although recent renovation means it doesn't look quite as ruined now as it did a decade ago! Apparently the Habsburgs saw themselves as the natural successors to the earlier Roman conquerors so having The Ruin Of Carthage built in their garden was essentially propaganda.

Also a magnificent sight within the gardens is the Neptune Fountain - another Johann Ferdinand Hetzendorf von Hohenberg and Wilhelm Beyer collaboration. Commissioned by Empress Maria Theresa, it was intended to be the crowning glory of the gardens and I would say it fulfils that purpose! Started in 1776, the Fountain was completed just before Maria Theresa died.

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