The Schönbrunn Palace (named after a spring found on the property - fair
spring is the translation of “schöner brunen“)
and the property where it is located was acquired by the Habsburgs in 1569.
In its early years it was used as a hunting lodge until a manor was built
here in 1642. Unfortunately, the first Schönbrunn was
destroyed during the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683.
Work on the building that eventually became today’s Schönbrunn Palace
was based on a design by Fisher von Erlach
and the central wing was completed in 1700, although further work on the
building did not occur until Maria Theresa was given the estate by her
father Charles I.
With the guidance of Empress Maria Theresa the Schönbrunn was transformed by architect Nicolaus Pacassi, between 1740 and 1760, into the Rococo style grand palace
that we see today. It was at this time that the Schönbrunn became the
official Summer Palace of the Habsburgs, while the Hofburg became the Winter
Palace. The construction of the Schönbrunn
Palace and Park were “finalized” shortly before Maria Theresa’s
death, but remained unoccupied for a period after.
The Schönbrunn was occupied by Napoleon in 1805 and 1809 during his invasions of Austria. After
the palace was transferred to Franz I, Emperor of Austria, he had his
architect replace the decorative Rococo facade of the palace with the plain
design that is visible today.
An interesting side note on the history of the palace is that the famous
Emperor Franz Joseph (Marie Theresa’s great-great grandson) was born in the
palace and died there in 1916 after a reign of 68 years. Franz Joseph's
successor as Habsburg
emperor was forced to relinquish all of his civil powers in 1918 and the Schönbrunn became
a property of the Austrian Republic.
you enter the entrance gates, the ticket office can be found to the left in the
East Wing of the Palace. One
note about touring the palace is that all interior tours are focused on the
Piano Nobile or the principal floor of the palace.
The basic tour (the
Imperial Tour, around 10€) includes the State Rooms (the Central Wing) and
private apartments of Franz Joseph and Sisi (the East Wing). In order to the
view the audience chamber of Maria Theresa and an additional 18 rooms (the
East Wing), which includes some of the most interesting areas of the palace,
you need to take the Grand Tour (around 13€). Both tours include the use of
an audio guide that is packed with interesting information on the palace and
the Habsburgs. Guided tours are also available for a slightly
During your tour you will see the private rooms (the Piano Nobile) of the
Schönbrunn, as well as the ceremonial rooms. The condition and quality of
the décor in the Schönbrunn is far superior to that to the State Rooms and
Imperial Apartments of the Habsburg, although whether this is a result of
the divergent histories of the two buildings, or just an example of better
curatorship, remains unclear.
All tours start in the West Wing and ascends the Blue Staircase to a set of
glamorous rooms that were used by Franz Joseph for meetings, including the
Billiards Chamber (a popular parlor game during his reign) and the ornate,
wood paneled Walnut Room, followed by the his study and bedroom.
Elisabeth’s (Sisi) suite of rooms (one of which once had a staircase that
allowed her to escape the palace unseen) is followed by the Marital Bedroom
(which the prince was frequently locked out of by Sisi), the Marie
Antoinette Room (Madame Antoinette was the last daughter of Empress Maria Theresa), the Children’s Rooms and several rooms for
entertaining, including the stunning Hall of Mirrors (where it is thought
that a young Mozart performed for Maria Theresa).
The standout of the Central Wing is the Great Gallery where balls and
receptions were held. The Great Gallery is truly an outstanding room that is
decorated in such a harmonious fashion that it requires several minutes to
take in the unusual and extravagant details. Although it was damaged by a
bomb near end of World War II, the Gallery has been restored to its former
greatness. The three ceiling frescos by Guglielmi are stunning, as is the
stucco work by Bolla. An interesting fact about the Great Gallery is that is
hosted the meeting between the American President John F. Kennedy and the
Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1961.
A Small Gallery and Marie Theresa's favorite rooms, the Chinese Cabinets,
follow before you reach the East Wing, which is part of the Grand Tour
ticket for the palace, but is not included in the Imperial Tour.
The East Wing continues the string of ornately decorated rooms, some of
which were the apartments of Franz I, Emperor of Austria. Perhaps the
highlight of this wing of the Schönbrunn is the Vieux-Laque room that was
remodeled by Maria Theresa as a memorial to her husband Franz Stephan, after
his death. The room is elegant in its sumptuousness, including a gorgeous
inlayed floor and highly lacquered wall panels. Following this is a set a
beautiful rooms that are diverse in their decorations and well worth
seeing. Of note is the Reiches Zimmer (Rich Room) where the future emperor
Franz Joseph was born in 1830.
The tour concludes at this point, although, if you have children along, you
might want to see the Schönbrunn Experience, a suite of rooms that serve as
a children’s museum that allow some “hands-on” play aimed at helping them
better understand the daily life at the Schönbrunn.
Otherwise, be sure to tour the Park (Garden) at Schönbrunn. The gardens were
constructed in a manner to complement the palace and their design, including
statues, monuments and buildings certainly meet this goal. Note, some of the
attractions in the Garden require a modest entrance fee or you can purchase
the Schönbrunn Pass Classic that provides for touring the Palace and some of
the attractions in the Garden. (see this page of the official website for
The Grand Parterre (patterned gardens
) flow from the palace to the famous
Neptune Fountain at the base of the Schönbrunn Hill, which is capped by the Gloriette (an ornamental triumphal arch
shown below). In addition to a
number of statues, an obelisk, an orangery and Roman Ruin (stylized), the
gardens include a Palm House ,
and a small Zoo in the Baroque style. Did we mention the Maze?
The gardens are beautiful in season and there is much to see.
While you might be tempted to breeze through them, we recommend that you
take your time and explore. After all, when you are finished you can
head for the Apple
Strudel Show at the
Court Bakery (from mid-March through the end of October) or stop for a bite to eat at one of the other cafes
or restaurants at the Schönbrunn. Or, if you are up for more touring,
you might want to visit the Wagenburg , a collection of carriages, sleighs and litters once used by the
Note that several of the attractions in the Gardens are fee based (Privy
Garden, Gloriette, Maze, etc.), so be sure to examine the Tickets & Tours
section of the official Schönbrunn
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