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Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna

Schönbrunn Palace, or Schloss Schönbrunn, together with its ancillary buildings and extensive park belongs by virtue of its long and colourful history to the most important cultural monuments in Austria. Scheduled as a listed monument, the whole ensemble, including the palace, the park with its numerous architectural features, fountains and statues and not least the zoo - the oldest of its kind in the world - was placed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List late in 1996. In the possession of the Habsburg rulers since Maximilian II, the ownership of the palace passed at the end of the monarchy to the Republic of Austria and was administered by the Schlosshauptmannschaft Schönbrunn.

Since 1992 Schönbrunn (with the exception of the palace gardens) has been run by the Schloss Schönbrunn Kultur- und BetriebsgesmbH. as a modern, private company which has successfully ensured both efficient management and an extensive program of renovation and conservation.

The majority of the surrounding parkland has been enjoyed by the citizens of Vienna as a recreational area since the time of the monarchy, and Schönbrunn has been one of Viennas most important monuments since the 1960's when the palace was opened to the public. The palace itself attracts approximately 2.5 million visitors each year from all over the world, while the rest of the palace complex and the park attracts a further 6.5 million visitors each year. The inclusion of Schönbrunn in the list of World Heritage Sites drawn up by UNESCO, first established in 1972, confirms the importance of the palace complex in its entirety as an example of integration of the arts of the Baroque period.

The Great Gallery

Measuring over 40 metres by 10 metres, the Great Gallery provided the perfect setting for court functions such as 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 frescoes combine to form a total work of art resulting in one of the most magnificent Rococo interiors in existence. The central panel of the ceiling frescoes by the Italian artist Gregorio Guglielmi shows the prospering of the monarchy under the rule 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 resources.

Since the foundation of the republic the room has been used for concerts and official receptions. In 1961 the legendary encounter between the American president John F. Kennedy and the Russian head of state Nikita Khrushchev took place in this room. 

The "Katterburg"

The history of Schönbrunn and the previous buildings that stood on this site goes back to the Middle Ages. The whole estate was referred to as the Katterburg from the beginning of the 14th century and belonged to the manor of the monastery at Klosterneuburg. Over the following centuries the names of numerous tenants are documented, including a few prominent figures such as, in 1548, Hermann Bayer, who was mayor of Vienna and who extended the buildings, transforming the whole into a manorial estate.

In 1569 the estate came into Habsburg possession through Maximilian II, and according to the title deeds included a house, a watermill and stabling as well as a pleasure garden and an orchard. This laid the foundations for an imposing residence and formal gardens as well as a deer park. A few years earlier, Emperor Maximilian, brought up in the Spanish court with a keen interest in the natural world, had introduced the breeding of Spanish horses, and this practice had a significant influence on the building of the royal riding school in Vienna in 1572. His successor, Emperor Matthias, used the Katterburg estate for hunting, and according to a legend is supposed to have come across the Schöne Brunnen ('fair spring'), which eventually gave the estate its name, while on a hunting excursion in 1612.


The name "Schönbrunn"

After the death of Emperor Ferdinand II in 1637, the estate became the dower residence of his art-loving widow, who needed the appropriare architectural setting for her busy social life. She therefore had a château de plaisance built around 1642, which was accompanied by the renaming of the Katterburg to Schönbrunn, a change of name first documented in the same year. In 1683 the château de plaisance and its deer park fell victim to the depredations of Turkish troops during the siege of Vienna. From 1686 the estate was in the possession of Emperor Leopold I, who decided that he would make the estate over to his son and heir Joseph, and have a splendid new residence built for him.

Schönbrunn I-Project

Soon afterwards the architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, an architect who had received his training in Rome and had been recommended by patrons from the nobility, arrived at court. In 1688 he presented the Emperor with a preliminary set of designs for a new palace, the so-called Schönbrunn I-Project, and in 1693 Leopold I commissioned concrete plans for the construction of a grand hunting lodge, on which work started in 1696. The new edifice was partly built on the existing foundations of the château de plaisance that had been destroyed by the Turks. The construction of the lateral wings was delayed from 1701 owing to the War of the Spanish Succession and the attendant financial constraints, and came to a complete halt after Joseph's sudden death.

The rebuilding of the riding school, which had also been destroyed by the Turks, was subject to similar delays; it was only when the Winter Riding School in the Vienna Hofburg was built between 1729 and 1737, commissioned by Charles VI to a design by Joseph Emanuel Fischer von Erlach, that the riding school had a new home.

The unfinished palace then became the dower residence of Wilhelmine Amalie, who had her walls hung with the portraits of noble horses which can still be seen today in the so-called Rösselzimmer (literally 'horse room').

Maria Theresia

In 1728 Emperor Charles VI acquired Schönbrunn, but used the estate only for shooting pheasants. Eventually he made a gift of it to his daughter, Maria Theresa, who is documented as having always had a special fondness for the palace and its gardens. Maria Theresa's reign marked the opening of a brilliant epoch in Schönbrunns history, with the palace becoming the centre of court and political life.

In 1742, she celebrated her victory over those who had opposed her accession to power with the famous ladies' carrousel in the Winter Riding School, which was captured on canvas by Martin van Meytens. It is from this painting, hung in 1858, that the Carrousel Room in Schönbrunn takes its name. Under her personal influence and the supervision of the architect Nikolaus Pacassi Joseph I's grand hunting lodge was rebuilt and extended into a palatial residence.

Work on the unfinished building began in the winter of 1742/43 and eventually culminated in a huge rebuilding project which gave the palace the appearance it still largely has today. The first construction phase from 1743 to 1749 was closely associated with Nikolaus Pacassi, who extended the audience chamber and residential apartments of the future emperor and empress in the east wing. The following phase included the removal of the central exterior flight of stairs that Fischer had huilt on the Parade Court front, in order to create a spacious carriageway out of the ground floor of the central projection, together with the Great and Small Galleries above it on the piano nobile. The two galleries at the centre of the palace provided space for large-scale festivities, with the Small Gallery being used for more intimate family celebrations. At this stage the two rooms were as yet unadorned with the rich stucco decoration and the ceiling frescoes that were later to grace them.


Other alterations at this time included the colonnades connecting the side wings - known as the 'Cavalier Wings' - along the Parade Court which housed the upper ranks of the court servants. Adjacent to these and extending both eastwards including the Orangery) and westwards a complex of working quarters was constructed. Schönbrunn had then become an imperial residence, and more than 1500 people had to be provided for and accommodated. At Maria Theresa's express wish a theatre was also built in the north Parade Court wing and was ceremonially opened in 1747. Pacassi was appointed court architect in recognition of his achievements.


The second phase of building work (from 1752 to 1765) was not limited to creating more room in the palace: it also included the decoration of the ceremonial and state rooms. Following the sudden death of Emperor Franz I Stephan in 1765, which was a devastating blow to Maria Theresa, a new phase of refurbishment and alterations ensued. The widowed empress had several rooms in the east wing of the palace appointed as memorial rooms and spared no expense in fitting them out with precious Chinese lacquer panels and costly wooden panelling which have survived to this day. On the ground floor Maria Theresa had the so-called Bergi Rooms painted with exotic landscape murals between 1769 and 1777, and used these rooms as her apartments during the hot summer months. 


Emperor Napoleon I

After Maria Theresa died, Schönbrunn Palace remained unoccupied and was only used as a summer residence again during the reign of Emperor Franz II/I. During this intervening period Schönbrunn was occupied twice in 1805 and 1809 by Napoleon, during which the French emperor used the memorial rooms to Franz Stephan in the east wing as his quarters.

On October 14, 1809, the Treaty of Schönbrunn was signed in the palace, which, with the defeat at Wagram, marked the end of the Austrian War of Liberation against Napoleon. An era had come to an end.

The Congress of Vienna

On the occasion of the Congress of Vienna in 1814/15 it had become clear that Schönbrunn urgently needed refurbishing. During the course of these improvements Franz I/II had the facade altered between 1817 and 1819 to designs by the court architect Johann Aman which considerably changed its appearance. Aman removed Pacassi's elaborate Rococo decoration from the facade, reducing it to much soberer forms with few deco- rative elements, and had the palace painted in "Schönbrunn Yellow", giving it the characteristic appearance it still retains today.

Emperor Franz Joseph

In 1830 Franz Joseph was born. When he succeeded to the throne in 1848 the palace was once again to experience a brilliant epoch, as he eventually chose Schönbrunn as his favourite residence and was to spend the major part of his life there. At the beginning of his reign Franz Joseph moved into apartments in the west wing facing the Parade Court which he was to continue to occupy until his death on 21st November 1916. While the state and ceremonial rooms remained largely unaltered, the emperor's private apartments were redecorated and refurnished. Preserved to this day, the rather sober and bourgeois style of the furnishings reveals Franz Joseph's character and predilections. In preparation for his impending marriage to Elisabeth, Duchess in Bavaria, in 1854, work had begun the previous winter on adapting apartments for the future empress in the west wing facing the Hietzinger Kammergarten. Elisabeth's apartments consisted of several rooms centred on the empress's salon. In preparation for the forthcoming world exhibition in Vienna in 1873, work was undertaken from 1869 on the 18th-century Rococo interiors, which were either repaired or replaced with neo-Rococo features as an expression of the imperial style.

This restoration work affected the two galleries and the rooms in the east wing. The walls of these latter rooms were hung either with tapestries from the imperial collection or refurbished with new red silk pineapple damask hangings like those that are still to be seen in the palace today. The mid-18th-century marble-finish stucco work in the Small Gallery was replaced with stucco work with a highly polished white lead finish with elaborate gold decoration in the form of agrafFes, trophies and arrangements of weapons.