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The Schönbrunn Palace Orangery in Vienna

The widowed Empress Wilhelmine Amalie had an orangery garden installed in Schönbrunn with the purpose of overwintering her bitter orange plants inside a greenhouse.

Even today, concerts are held in grand old style in this historical location. The Schoenbrunn Palace Orchestra interprets the most famous works by Mozart and Strauss at the original location every evening.

Orangeries - Worlds for plants and fine arts

Most orangeries, consisting of the building and garden as a complete art work, were erected at the beginning of the 18th Century together with Baroque Architecture and the French garden.

It was not the architecture that was the focus of the pre-Baroque buildings but rather the admiration of the "Seville orange trees" from foreign countries, Not until the Baroque period did the possession of Orange trees become a metaphor of princely virtue. Oranges and citrus fruits were equated with the golden apples from the mythical Garden of Hesperides at the end of the world which the hero Hercules brought as a prize for his virtue and as a symbol of eternal life on earth having killed the dragon which guarded the trees.

In Versailles these symbolic orange trees were even set up in the chambers of Louis XIV. Baroque orangeries were thus not only used as the winter storage for sensitive plants but also frequently became the setting for courtly feasts and events. They were an important element of the palace.

The orangery of the Trautson Palace in Vienna (architect: J.B. Fischer von Erlach, built 1710) or the orangery of the Schoenborn country palace in Goellersdorf (architect: J.L. von Hildebrandt, huilt; 1716) are examples of Baroque orangeries.

Vienna's Belvedere Palace was unusual in keeping the Seville orange trees in their place all year. A wooden orangery was built over them in Autumn and removed again in Spring.

The Orangery Schönbrunn is, with its 189 meter length - longer than the palace - and 10 meter width, the largest orangery after Versailles. Both orangeries are the only ones still in operation.

History of the Orangery Schönbrunn

In the 17th Century Schönbrunn Palace was a summer residence without an orangery. The Emperor Joseph I's widow Wilhelmine-Amalie along with her gardeners was the first to establish an orange collection worth mentioning.

A picture from the Albertina Graphic Collection shows the unique structure of this garden: 344 orange plants stand in an eight fold arrangement around a fountain. The antique world considered the number eight a mysterious and esoteric number.

Around 1754 Franz I Stephan instigated the building of the Orangery by Nicola Pacassi. The south façade is articulated by an alternating series of large and smaller round-arched bays separated by rusticated pilasters decorated with masks. The Orangery's hall annexes the Cedrat House to the east where especially sensitive citrus fruit tress are housed. The capitals on the garden facade with their mask forms are the only figured sculptures of the Orangery. With their grotesque features they depict monsters, innocents, smiling faces, the ironic, story tellers, fire eaters, shouters. Fantasy knew no boundaries!

A further speciality of the Schoenbrunn Orangery is the floor heating which has been in operation for 250 years (see the dark plates on the floor of the hall) which guarantees the plants regular temperatures during the winter.

The Orangery served not only as the winter quarters for citrus trees and other plants kept in tubs but also as a winter garden used for court festivities. Joseph II was especially fond of holding celebrations in the Orangery with festively-decorated banqueting tables, ranks of flowering plants and illuminations in the citrus trees. One of these concerts was even the setting for the competition between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri in 1786, probably the only time this ever occurred.

The Orangery garden was built around 1760.

Venue for arts and banquets

During the reign of Emperor Joseph II gala dinners were arranged in Winter, when the Orangery was filled - like nowadays it is - with trees planted in tubs. The Emperor had seen such banquets held in the St. Petersburg Winter Garden on his journey to Russia. On 6th February 1785 Emperor Joseph II gave a gala dinner and invited 56 aristocrats selected through a draw. The participants recalled: "On a splendid table the flowers from all seasons gave off a wonderfui aroma in the depth of Winter. Beautifully illuminated orange and lemon trees stood in circles and after dinner there was acting and a ball in this blooming Winter hall".

Scenes from Lessing's "Emilia Galotti" and the comedy "Der seltene Freier" (The Rare Suitor) as well as the Italian opera "II finto amore" (The Coloured Love) were played. At a similar gala a year later, on 7th February 1786, the opera "Der Schauspieldirektor" (The Music Director) with music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieris opera "Prima la musica, poi le parole" (First the Music then the Talk) were both performed. Mozart and Salieri entered a musical competition with each other with the pieces commissioned by Emperor Joseph II.

 

Changing fate

Several gala dinners were also held here during the period of the Vienna Congress. On llth October 1814 princely guests dined at two tables with 62 places. The highest ladies and gentlemen had places under the fan leaves of a large palm while the building and garden were illuminated with 28,000 lamps. It is interesting that the Orangery's banquet table was preserved at the time and put on show for the public!

The last important imperial event in the Schoenbrunn Orangery took place in 1839 as the imperial family gave a gala banquet for the heir to the Russian throne.

From the first half of the 19th century the symbolic importance of an orangery no longer played the same role it had in the 18th century. In this period the building only served as a winter home for the palace's decoration plants. In late Autumn 1848 imperial troops were quartered in Schoenbrunn and the Orangery even became a stall for war horses.

In Summer 1905 the exhibition of the first International Botanical Congress was held in the Orangery. The building once again presented itself to the world as a brilliant focal point. More than 13,000 visitors admired the many exhibits and above all the slides which were set up against the light of the Orangery windows - these were a worldwide novelty.

Downfall and new life

The Orangery had already begun to be used in a new function as a fruit and vegetables house before the World Exhibition. This remained the function of the building in the 1st half of the 20th century. After World War II the Orangery Schönbrunn experienced a further change of purpose. The Renaissance fountains were removed and stored in a depot, the garden was converted, glasshouses and hotbeds were erected in front of the building, the long hall was renovated and the Orangery itself was shortened internally to enable the installation of a heating room. The revitalisation of the Orangery did not begin until 1985. Great emphasis was placed on retaining the substance of the building during the renovation process. The Orangery stands under the protection of national monument legislation.

The division of the Orangery by a glass wall is intended to allow the viewer to experience the building in its total length although the interior is actually intended for double use. The longer part of the Orangery on the palace side today serves once again as a green house, while the part on the side nearest the Meidling gate has been reconceived as a cultural and event centre.