Gilded, glittering glamor whose opulent beauty only rivals Versailles – and Schönbrunn Palace was originally just supposed to be a summer residence.
Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous have nothing on this 1,441 room Baroque masterpiece and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Schönbrunn Palace, whose name literally means ‘beautiful spring,’ was the dazzling focus of court life during Habsburg rule, celebrating Austrian culture and hosting the leading statesmen of Europe and the world – both then and now. A mere hour’s drive from Vienna, it was one of the first homes of Marie Antoinette (the daughter of Empress Maria Theresa who was then known as Marie Antoinia). Mozart at the age of only six-years-old performed in the Hall of Mirrors for one of his first royal audiences (hence it is also the location of where he and a seven-year-old Marie Antoinette legendarily first met). Years later, Napoleon chose it for his Austrian headquarters when he occupied Vienna in 1805 -- and after his defeat and exile, his son grew up here. In more modern times, the palace hosted the legendary meeting between John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev in the opulent Great Gallery.
Originally built for Emperor Leopold I in 1696, the palace’s golden age truly began five decades later when Empress Maria Theresa commissioned court architect Nikolaus von Pacassi to create glamorous interior modifications. These designs added to the luxurious beauty of Johann Fischer von Erlach’s original exterior and were completed between 1749-1749. Adding many splashes of Rococo to the overall design, von Pacassi added a magnificent court theater and Great and Small Galleries, the latter two of which were used as receptions. The palace is outfitted with numerous Bohemian crystal chandeliers, white porcelain tile stoves, frescoed ceilings, huge mirrors, gilded ornaments, 18th century furnishings and ceiling frescoes celebrating the history of the mighty Habsburgs.
Millions visit the palace annually, making it one of Austria’s most popular destinations. Along with the lavish palace, the gardens have long been one of the grounds’ must-sees. It’s not hard to see why. Open to the public since 1779 (and hence during Maria Theresa’s lifetime), it ranks as the first public park in the world – and the park still maintains the same appearance it has for centuries. The harmonious Great Parterre and Privy Gardens (the latter of which is sometimes referred to as the Crown Prince Garden) are both gems of manicured, symmetrical design. The Grand Parterre’s Neptune Fountain was originally commissioned by Maria Theresa and is simply breathtaking. High up on a 200-foot high hill to overlook the gardens, Maria Theresa commissioned the iconic Gloriette. (As a fun tidbit, Fischer von Erlach originally planned to build the castle itself on this hill.) There is now a café located here for tourists.
Other favorites include an elegant iron and glass Palm House, a hedge maze, labyrinth, viewing terrace, zoo and butterfly house. The Palace can also be seen in numerous films and television shows – including James Bond’s The Living Daylights, Sophia Loren’s A Breath of Scandal and the Amazing Race.