The baroque Schönbrunn Palace in the Austrian capital Vienna is one of Austria's most popular tourist attractions and of great historical importance. Its more than 1,000 rooms bear witness to the Habsburgs' rule at the time and to the splendour and glory of the Empire. The surrounding palace park completes the magnificent ensemble from the imperial and royal era.
The baroque Schönbrunn Palace in the Austrian capital Vienna is one of the most important cultural works. Together with the old town of Vienna, it is one of our top 10 sights of Austria.
Emperor Leopold I, Maria Theresa, Napoleon and Emperor Franz Joseph I with his Empress Elisabeth, better known as "Sissi", all resided in the palace built in the 17th century. Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart performed in the palace theatre. Today, Schönbrunn Palace is one of the top 10 sights in Vienna.
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PICTURES: Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna
Photo gallery: Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna
History of Schönbrunn Palace
The former floodplain of the Vienna River was first mentioned in a document in 1311 as Khattermühle and was then owned by the Monastery of Klosterneuburg. In 1548, the mayor of Vienna at the time, Hermann Bayr, built his manor house, the Gatterburg, there.
In 1569, Emperor Maximilian II had the extensive property converted into his hunting grounds by creating fish ponds and keeping pheasants, turkeys and peacocks in addition to game (hence the name still used today for the pheasant garden of the rear non-public part of the grounds).
It was not until almost 100 years later, from 1638 to 1643, that Eleonora Gonzage, the widow of Ferdinand II, had an annex to the Gatterburg built in which she could hold events befitting her status. It was at this time that the name "Schönbrunn" first appeared. Incidentally, the "Schöne Brunnen" (Beautiful Fountain) still exists today in the Schönbrunn Palace Garden.
Reconstruction after the Turkish siege
After the estate was destroyed in the course of the Second Turkish Siege of Vienna in 1683, Emperor Leopold I commissioned its reconstruction four years later. Schönbrunn Palace was designed and built by the architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, who built a number of famous buildings in Austria, such as the Karlskirche in Vienna or the Dreifaltigkeitskirche and the Mirabell Gardens in Salzburg.
Residence of the Habsburg Emperors
Schönbrunn Palace was completed between 1696 and 1701. Empress Maria Theresa made the palace her summer residence, for which it was used by the Habsburgs until 1918.
She also arranged for various alterations and additions, including the construction of the beautiful Gloriette as the end of the palace garden, as well as most of the unique rococo interior. No major changes have been made since 1870.
In 1918, with the end of Habsburg rule, Schönbrunn Palace became state property. Two wings were made available to the Vienna Children's Friends as accommodation for many war orphans, and its "residents" also included high politicians, war invalids, scouts and also the court horses. During the Second World War, it was occupied by British troops and thus escaped looting and oversized damage.
Schönbrunn Palace today
Today, the 1,441 rooms and halls are mostly used as a museum, but some rooms are also rented out as private flats. The administration is taken over by Schloss Schönbrunn Kultur- und Betriebsges.m.b.H., founded in 1992. Since then, the maintenance of the palace has been financed from its own income.
In the museum, visitors have the opportunity to recreate the imperial reign and the splendour and glamour of the empire become comprehensible in the magnificent rooms. The private rooms of Franz and Elisabeth with their baroque furniture can be visited as well as the silver chamber with the treasures of that time.
Due to the cultural value of the amazingly well-preserved Baroque castle, it was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1996.
Schönbrunn Palace Park
But it is not only the pompous Schönbrunn Palace itself that attracts visitors. The baroque, French-style Schönbrunn Palace Park is also a splendour of the city of Vienna that should not be missed.
The majestic grounds of Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna are only completed by the overwhelming palace garden, which offers numerous impressive sights on its extensive grounds. It has been open to the public since 1779 at the behest of Emperor Joseph II, which caused great displeasure among the court nobility at the time.
PICTURES: Schönbrunn Palace Garden in Vienna
Photo gallery: Schönbrunn Palace Garden in Vienna
The palace park was already present in the design by the palace's builder, Fischer von Erlach, but was only planned in detail at the end of the 17th century. The largest expansion of the palace and park took place under Empress Maria Theresa, who made Schönbrunn Palace her summer residence in 1742. Ten and eleven years later, the Schönbrunn Zoo and the Dutch Botanical Garden were created.
Out and about in the Schönbrunn Palace Garden
Schönbrunn Palace Park is open all year round from 6:30 am and closes between 5:30 pm and 9 pm, depending on the season. It is best explored on foot, but if you want to visit all the attractions of the palace park, you should plan a whole day.
Tip: If you don't want to explore the extensive palace park on foot, you can also do so in the course of a hackney carriage ride or a tour with the Schönbrunn panorama train, which goes all the way to the Schönbrunn Zoo.
Grand Parterre in Schönbrunn Palace Park
The Great Parterre forms the centre of Schönbrunn Palace Park. The Great Parterre was given its current size in 1750 under Maria Theresa. Originally, 12 more large fountains were planned here and on the slope behind it, but they were discarded because their water requirements could not be met.
32 statues from Greek and Roman mythology line the Great Parterre, which stretches from the palace to the Neptune Fountain and the hill of the Gloriette.
The Neptune Fountain at the foot of Gloriette Hill depicts the sea voyage of Neptune. It was first commissioned in 1780, before Maria Theresa's death in the same year.
The magnificent Gloriette on the hill behind the Neptune Fountain forms the visual conclusion of the palace gardens. The Gloriette was erected at the request of Empress Maria Theresa in 1775 as the end of the Schönbrunn Palace garden as a "temple of glory". In reality, it had already been planned by Fischer von Erlach, the builder of Schönbrunn Palace, as the end of the Baroque complex.
The neat building made of soft yellow Kaiserstein is almost 85 metres long and a good 25 metres high and is decorated with sculptures by Johann Baptist Hagenauer.
PICTURES: Gloriette in Schönbrunn, Vienna
Photo gallery: Gloriette at Schönbrunn - Vienna
Elegant figural decoration of the Gloriette
Both the flight of steps leading to the glazed triumphal arches and the staircases at the sides are lined with powerful figures depicting armour, eagles, lions and military insignia. Some of the structural elements, such as the bull's heads on the frieze, originate from the never completed Neugebäude Palace, which was handed over to the military in 1774, whereupon its decorations were used for the design of Schönbrunn Palace Park at Maria Theresa's request.
The Gloriette still functions today as both an eye-catcher and a vantage point and has become a Vienna landmark known far beyond the city's borders. From the viewing platform on its roof, the whole of Vienna lies at the visitor's feet behind the magnificently landscaped gardens of Schönbrunn.
The premises of the café in the Gloriette at Schönbrunn, which was established in 1996, were once used by the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I as a banqueting and dining hall. At the end of the monarchy, in 1910, the glazing of the Gloriette arches was removed and only restored in the 1990s according to original photographs.
Today, the middle section of the Gloriette offers a stunning view over Vienna while enjoying a hot melange and delicious apple strudel.
Tip: Every Sunday morning, the Gloriette Café hosts a brunch with live music ranging from classical to jazz.
Roman Ruin and Beautiful Fountain
To the east of the Neptune Fountain is the 15m high and 35m long Roman Ruin, modelled on the ruins of the Roman Temple of Vespasian and Titus on the Roman Forum in Rome. The figures on the Roman Ruin represent the river gods of the Vltava and Elbe and Hercules fighting evil.
Like the nearby Obelisk Fountain, the artificial ruin expresses the Habsburgs' claim to continue the Roman Empire. Diagonally opposite the Roman Ruin is the "Beautiful Fountain", which gave Schönbrunn Palace its name.
Even further east of the Neptune Fountain, one encounters the Obelisk Fountain, which, like the Roman Ruin, was planned by Johann Ferdinand Hetzendorf von Hohenberg, who completed it in 1777. While the artificial ruin refers to the Roman Empire, the 31-metre-high obelisk on Grottenberg, which rests on four turtles and is crowned by a golden eagle, symbolises the powerful empire of the pharaohs and the stability of the House of Habsburg.
On the south-western side of the Neptune Fountain is the Maze, which was laid out between 1698 and 1740. At the end of the 19th century it had disappeared completely and was rebuilt in 1998 according to the historical model.
Covering an area of more than 1,700 square metres, the labyrinth today provides fun for young and old alike. The maze is easy to survey from a central platform. Those who persevere in their search can discover symbols of the twelve signs of the zodiac in the hedge maze.
From the maze, a path leads directly to the Star Fountain and the magnificent Rose Garden. From the Star Fountain and the Rose Garden straight on is the Japanese Garden, which is directly opposite the main entrance to the Schönbrunn Zoo.
Crown Prince Garden
Directly on the east façade of the palace building, once the flat of Crown Prince Rudolf, lies the magnificent Crown Prince Garden. Until 1918, this was a private garden where the imperial family strolled for pleasure. Beautifully laid out flower arrangements and pavilions painted green and white make the Crown Prince Garden an impressive jewel of Schönbrunn Palace Park.
Between the Hietzinger Tor and the entrance to the Schönbrunn Zoo lies the Sonnenuhrhaus, originally built in 1904. It once served as winter quarters for some of the plants in the Palm House and now houses the Desert House, a counterpart to the Rainforest House in Schönbrunn Zoo.
Right next to the Sundial House, on the other side of the Great Parterre, still "behind" the Schönbrunn Zoo, is the unmissable Palm House on the site of the former Dutch Garden. The impressive building of the Palm House in the Schönbrunn Palace Gardens is the largest palm house in Europe and houses around 4,500 plant species from all over the world within its historic glass construction.
Visit to the Palm House
Thanks to a high-performance steam water heating system, each of the three pavilions of the Palm House forms its own climate zone in which rare exotic plants also thrive excellently. In the north is the so-called "Cold House", which presents rarities from China, Japan, New Zealand and the Himalayas.
The well-tempered central building is enthroned in the middle and displays plants from the temperate climate zones of the Mediterranean, America, South Africa and Australia. To the south of the Palm House is the hot and humid Tropical House, where plants from the equatorial region are on display.
Highlights of the Palm House at Schönbrunn
In spring and summer, one of the largest water lilies in the world can be admired in the Schönbrunn Palm House, with a leaf diameter of over one metre. Also record-breaking is an ancient olive tree that is estimated to have thrived for 350 years. It was presented by Spain at the Vienna International Garden Show in 1974 and subsequently donated to the Austrian Federal Gardens.
A special rarity is the Seychelles palm, which was grown from a nut given to the Palm House by the island nation in the Indian Ocean in 1990. The nut takes nine months to germinate alone, and the first flower is expected after 50 to 100 years. Another remarkable palm was the Sisi palm, which had to be cut down in 2008 because it hit the roof of the Palm House.
Also worth mentioning is the living fossil "Wollemia nobilis", a rarity from Australia, which was only discovered in 1994 and is cultivated better than anywhere else outside Australia. The specimen, which the Palm House received in 2004 for its 250th anniversary, was the first ever to be sent abroad from Australia.
The Palm House from the Imperial Era to the Present Day
The Palm House was built according to designs by the court architect and bridge expert Franz Xaver von Segenschmid. It was commissioned by Emperor Franz Joseph I because the Old Palm House, which had previously housed the imperial collection of exotic plants, was bursting at the seams.
After only two years of construction, the 2,500 square metre Palm House was opened on 19 June 1882. The architect used the style of late historicism in the realisation of the Palm House and designed it with three pavilions connected by glass tunnels.
The massive iron and glass structure was built by court locksmith and iron designer Ignaz Gridl and is 113 metres long, 29 metres wide and 25 metres high. The refined design of convex and concave lines gives the Palm House a feeling of lightness, despite the fact that it is made of 600 tonnes of wrought iron, 120 tonnes of cast iron and 45,000 panes of glass.
During the Second World War, these were completely destroyed after bombing raids on the grounds of Schönbrunn. However, some plants were saved for the neighbouring Sundial House, which today functions as the Desert House. The opening after the reconstruction took place on 14 January 1953.
The last renovation was completed in November 2014. The hot and humid climate had taken its toll on the iron of the Palm House and many parts of the framework had to be replaced. Now the historically significant building is expected to last "for decades".
Official website of Schönbrunn Palace with current events, opening hours, guided tours, etc.
Opening hours and fountain operating times in Schönbrunn Palace Park
Opening hours of the Palm House and the Schönbrunn Palace Park in Vienna
Information on round trips through the grounds of Schönbrunn with the panorama railway
Official website of the Gloriette Café
Info on the Vienna City Card