Just ask the Captain of the Palace

The magnificence of Schönbrunn’s Royal Apartments, reminiscent of Versailles, was to be expected. The former summer residence of the Habsburgs is an expansive piece of Baroque architecture, containing 1,441 rooms. We only saw the 40 more impressive ones. With about 40 – 50 other tourists, our timed tour was a slow progression through stuffy chambers that we weren’t allowed to photograph. I played a game with myself and sought out all the bladeless electric fans and open windows. My favorite rooms were the Study (Stair Cabinet—seriously?) and Dressing Room of Empress Elisabeth (Sisi), and the Hall of Mirrors—where a 6-year-old Mozart performed his first concert blindfolded for the royal family in 1762, after which he jumped into Empress Maria Theresa’s lap, flung his arms around her neck, and gave her a kiss!

Everything here is in keeping with the magnanimity of the empress who resides here. The palace is magnificent, the furniture befitting of a queen and in the best of taste. The gardens have everything that art has ever created,—majestic avenues, cascades, ruins, ponds, dark, sacred bushes, grottoes, bubbling springs, fountains, pyramids, labyrinths, statues, wildernesses, pavilions, lakes, menageries, aviaries and a colonnade up on the hill with a spectacular view. Since the empress has permitted all her subjects without exception to visit this elysium, thousands and thousands have done so. When the empress is not in residence, any stranger who so wishes is shown the interior of the palace. All they have to do is ask the Captain of the Palace.

Johann Edler von Kurzböck, 1779

Standing in the middle of one Kammergarten pavilion

Admiring the details in a painted ceiling

Wandering down a green hallway

Peeking through all the windows

Passing by lush garden walls

Counting the trees

Running through the maze

Stepping into every secret passageway along the avenues

Watching dragonflies skip across lily pads

Stretching out across the empty space

Basking in the glow beneath a natural skylight

Schönbrunn’s Baroque Gardens were opened to the public in 1779 as a part of Maria Theresa’s reform policy to make the gardens a celebration of the shift from autocracy to democracy. The small gardens on the sides of the palace are the most elaborate, such as the free Sisi Gardens where we started. The sprawling, ornamental grounds were such a delight that I spent the whole afternoon exploring almost every garden path, poking my head into several alcoves, and generally running all over the place like a little kid. The grounds were so extensive that you could wander down one semi-secluded lane and imagine yourself entirely alone.

When I’d had my fill of Sisi’s Gardens, we started toward the more popular Great Parterre and Neptune Fountain. By then the sun was beating down on us, and there was no shade to be found in the large square. So we figured the Gloriette looked great from where we stood, and there was no need to hike up that enormous Schönbrunn Hill for a closer look.

We did get close enough to see Neptune with his trident and shell chariot. The sea-goddess Thetis kneels on his right, entreating Neptune to favor the voyage of her son Achilles, who just left to conquer Troy. At the base of the grotto are the frolicking Tritons (mermen) of Neptune’s retinue, who use conch shells to restrain the hippocampi (seahorses) that Neptune drives across the sea—a popular motif in art from the 16th – 18th centuries to symbolize the sovereign masterfully commanding the destiny of his peoples.

Gazing up at Neptune’s glory

Trying not to get the camera wet

Pausing for an afternoon nap

Snuggling into the coziest spot

I was more excited over these little ducklings than anything else in the gardens that day, tbh.

Next time, Belvedere. Most definitely.


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