ABOVE: Schönbrunn Park with palace. INSET
PHOTO: Rooftop clock at Schönbrunn.
Summer cottages have
always been popular with wealthy Europeans, so it shouldn't have come as a
surprise when Emperor Leopold I--ruler of the
Austro-Hungarian Empire--commissioned a hunting lodge near the old Tiergarten,
or Zoo, at Schönbrunn ("Beautiful Fountain") on Vienna's outskirts in
1695. What was surprising was the grandiosity of his vision: He ordered
Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, the greatest architect of the Baroque Era, to
design a palace larger than Versailles. Fortunately for the Austrian Treasury,
the emperor balked when the architect's estimate came in, and the Habsburg
family settled for a more modest dwelling with only 1,441 rooms.
When Empress Maria Theresia ascended to the throne in 1740, she had
Schönbrunn Palace expanded and redecorated in French Rococo style over a
five-year period from 1744 to 1749. The palace was later occupied by Napoleon
and surrendered to the Austrian Republic upon the abdication of the last
Habsburg emperor, Charles I, in 1918. Today, the restored palace is both a
national monument and an apartment house for a number of lucky Viennese.
For a description of Schloss Schönbrunn in its heyday, let's turn to
of a Nobleman, written by the Belgian Prince Charles Joseph de Ligne in 1833*:
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"Schönbrunn, the building of which was begun by the princes of
the House of Austria, was the object of Maria-Theresia's particular affection.
It was she who completed it, and, in order to accelerate the work, part of it
was done by torchlight. The castle is delightfully situated on the right bank of
"The majestic ensemble of its architecture proclaims at at once
to be a royal residence. The gardens, nobly and most gracefully planned,
interpersed with sheets of limpid water skillfully disposed, planted with trees
of the most luxuriant vegetation, and studded with the most precious marble and
bronze statuary, harmonize most imposingly with the magnificence of the palace
"The park is alive with deer of all kinds, the peaceful tenants
of those beautiful spots, and they, as it were, seem to invite the approach of
visitors. Every day and at all hours these glades and avenues are open to the
public. Numberless carriages and horsemen are constantly there.
"The park is surrounded by pleasuances, the inmates of which in
the milder season are the eyewitnesses of a succession of fêtes and rejoicings.
The sound of those rejoicings pierces the wall of the imperial habituation, and
adds by its animation to the charms of the noble pile."
* Excerpt from Journal of a Nobleman is
quoted from Vienna, by Frederic V. Grunfeld and the editors of the Newsweek Book
Division, Newsweek, Inc., 1981, IBSN 0-88225-304-2.
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