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Schönbrunn Palace

Schönbrunn Palace (42)

Although there have been manors documented since the Middle Ages in the area today as Schönbrunn Palace, the true history of this beautiful place as we know it today began in 1569, when it was handed to Maximilian II, which meant that it joined the heritage of the Hapsburgs. 

From then until well into the seventeenth century, these lands, which were once called Katter burg, were used by emperors as a hunting ground. Over time, the name of the place changed and it began to be called Schönbrunn, which means "beautiful spring". In addition, a hall was built to house the members of the royal family during their hunts.

In 1683, during the Turkish siege of the city of Vienna, the hunting lodge was destroyed. Three years later, Leopold I decided to build a residence for his son Joseph, who would become Emperor Joseph I, in Schönbrunn. He entrusted the work to the architect Johann Bernard Fischer von Erlach, who devised a splendid Baroque-style palace.

Although the works, under the direct supervision of the architect, began in 1696 and by 1700 the central section had been completed, construction of the side wings was delayed due to the economic difficulties caused by the astronomical costs of the War of Spanish Succession. After the death of Joseph I in 1711, construction stopped completely.

Until Charles VI gave the palace to his daughter Maria Teresa when he restarted the works, which were commissioned to the architect Nikolaus Pacassi. The work, which began around 1743, gave the building great splendour, and in fact gave it the appearance that you can see today. By 1746, the courtroom and the queen's private quarters were complete. However, the construction of the magnificent complex concluded in 1749.

In 1750, the empress, aware that the royal family was growing fast, commissioned Pacassi to complete a further extension. During this phase of construction, the interior of the rooms was exuberantly decorated in the rococo style, with elements such as ornate mirrors and oriental-inspired lacquered panels. As for the artists who contributed their touch of mastery, especially significant are the frescoes by Gregorio Guglielmi and the stuccoes by Albert Bolla. 

During this time, Francis I, Maria Theresa's husband, entrusted the design of the palace's stunning gardens to a number of renowned artists. In 1752, he also commissioned the construction of the menagerie that would eventually become the Tiergarten, the city zoo.

On the death of her husband, Francis I, the Empress decorated the rooms even more sumptuously with panels made of great and noble woods, but the palace was reduced to the status of a summer residence.

Coinciding with the time when she became a widow, the Empress dismissed the plans of court architect, Ferdinand von Hohenberg, who had devised an elaborate design for part of the gardens located immediately behind the palace. In the end, she opted for a simpler solution, with a Neptune fountain at the foot of a hill crowned by a gazebo with beautiful neoclassical arches.

Already in 1817, Francisco II commissioned Johann Aman for the restoration of the palace and the architect made significant changes to the building appearance . He mainly dealt with eliminating the rococo décor that Pacassi had given to the façade. In addition, he painted this part of the palace in the characteristic yellow colour that we consider inseparable from the appearance of the building.

The palace enjoyed a golden age from 1848 during the reign of Franz Joseph. The emperor, who was born and died here, was always very attached to this place, it was always his favourite residence. Hence, the private rooms were redecorated to suit his taste and that of his wife, Empress Sisi. At the end of the century, a greenhouse was added to the gardens called the Palmhaus in which spectacular tropical plants grow. 

Although you can only see 42 of the more than 1400 rooms that Schönbrunn Palace has, to get an idea of the wealth of this great residence of the Habsburgs it is worth taking part in one of the guided tours offered here. A walk through the superb gardens rounds off your day. 

At Christmas, there is a lovely market where you can buy original handmade Christmas decorations, cookies and cakes and even warm up with a delicious hot punch.

By the way if you have kids, do not miss the special visit designed for them at Schönbrunn. An original activity where they will experience the daily life of the children of the Emperor, what they did, how they behaved, how they dressed, their hygiene, etc. They can even dress as them. It really is worth the experience.  

By the way, a great option for covering part of the 160 hectares around Schönbrunn in the most convenient way is with the Panorama Train, a small train with nine stops where you can get on and off as often as you want. Ideal if you go with children.

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