The former summer residence of many a Hapsburg ruler, Schonbrunn Palace, remains one of Vienna’s top tourist attractions. It’s not hard to see why.
First used as hunting grounds, the current palace was begun in 1697 and completed in 1749. It’s an enormous building with two giant wings and a prominent entrance done in a Rococo adaptation of the classical style common at the time. Of the over 1,400 rooms only 40 are open to the public. But even this small percentage provides a fascinating tour.
In the Hall of Mirrors, the six-year-old Mozart performed for Empress Maria Theresa in 1762. The Congress of Vienna, which played a role in settling affairs after Napoleon’s defeat in 1814, was held in the Grand Gallery. Both rooms, and many others, are the equal of their historic roles.
Even the Breakfast Pavilion is a wonder of period architecture. A smallish structure compared to the huge palace, this round building nonetheless is a delight to the eye. Sporting high windows and a large arched entrance, the bright yellow facade is capped by a copper crown that provides a lovely contrast. Visitors can enjoy a rest and a beverage on the tables inside or out while they enjoy the view.
Speaking of views, one of the most popular parts of the palace are the grounds, housing sculpture, and gardens and capped by something known as the Gloriette, built in 1775. Sitting atop a high hill, and now housing a fine cafe, it provides a spectacular view of the surrounding area and the main palace, along with other parts of Vienna.
Naturally, every Hapsburg prince had to have his own Roman ruins, so some were created on the grounds. Erected in 1778, it was originally known as the Ruins of Ancient Carthage, but bears little resemblance to that more famous site. It surrounds a Roman-style pool that is covered by an enormous arch set on top of high walls. Stone fragments are scattered around to complete the faux appearance of an ancient decaying building. Nearby is an Obelisk Fountain that is well worth a look.
Schonbrunn also offers an experience that is familiar to visitors of any major city: a zoo. But, this being Vienna, the example is quite a bit different from the ordinary animal park. The Schonbrunn Zoo is the oldest in the world, having been established in 1752. It was first opened to the public in 1779. The first giraffe arrived in 1828, decades before others elsewhere.
Though it began life as a means of housing the Imperial menagerie, it has grown to be one of the preeminent public zoos in the world. It offers a simulated rainforest, an aquarium, and a solarium to house Arctic species (opened in 2004). In August of 2007, it achieved the first natural insemination of a female Panda. The same year saw the birth of an anteater, an armadillo, and the latest giraffe.
Come see why Schonbrunn continues to be a wonder not only of Vienna but the whole world over 300 years after its beginning.