The summer palace of the Habsburg monarchs in Vienna (their winter residence being the Hofburg), a vast golden edifice set in huge pleasure gardens. Now a major tourist attraction and one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Possession of the site passed to the Austrian Government at the end of the Habsburg monarchy in 1918, and is now administered by Schlosshauptmannschaft Schönbrunn, and the palace itself is run by Schloss Schönbrunn Kultur- und BetriebsgesmbH as a profit-making enterprise, with a mandate from the Government to undertake restorations
Before 1569, when the site was purchased by Maximilian II and came into the possession of the Habsburgs, it was owned by the monastery at Klosterneuburg and was known as Katterburg. According to the original title deeds, the site contained a house, stabling and watermill as well as gardens and an orchard. Emperor Matthias supposedly discovered the 'Schöne Brunnen' or 'fair spring', which gave the estate its name, on a hunting expedition in 1612. Emperor Ferdinand II and his wife, Eleonora von Gonzaga used Schönbrunn as a venue for hunting parties, and when Ferdinand died in 1637, his widow built the first incarnation of the palace, and officially renamed the site to Schönbrunn.
In 1683, Eleonora's palace was destroyed during the Turkish siege of Vienna, and in 1686, Emperor Leopold I decided to build a grand new residence on the site for his son, Joseph. The architect Johann Fischer von Erlach presented plans to the emperor in 1688 and was promptly engaged as the official architect. Work started following von Erlach's design in 1696. Work was halted by the War of the Spanish Succession in 1701, and by Joseph's sudden death.
In 1728, Emperor Charles VI acquired Schönbrunn, but only used it for hunting, and eventually gifted it to his daughter, Marie Theresa. She turned the palace into the centre of court life, and commissioned the architect Nikolaus Pacassi to rebuild and extend the unfinished building into a vast palace. Building started in the winter of 1742/3, and building or alterations continued until Marie Theresa's death.
The palace was then unoccupied, and was used by Napoleon in 1805 and 1809. After the Congress of Vienna in 1814/5, Emperor Franz embarked on a refurbishment programs, using the architect Johann Aman. Aman removed rococo elements from the façade, making it much simpler, and painted it in a distinctive yellow colour. In 1830 Emperor Franz Joseph was born in the Palace, and became one of its last imperial resident. More renovation programs were undertaken in 1854 to prepare apartments for his wife, Elisabeth, Duchess of Bavaria.
Emperor Franz Joseph died in the palace in 1916, and the Habsburg monarchy was thrown out in 1918, after the First World War. The Austrian Government maintained the palace as it was on the death of Franz Joseph, and it was used for many important meetings, such as the conference between John F. Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev in 1961.
The Pleasure Gardens
The park at Schönbrunn extends for approximately 1.2 square kilometres, and includes many architectural elements, including fountains, faux Roman Ruins, the Gloriette, an aviary, the Palm House and a zoo. The layout visible today is the result of the work of Emperor Franz I, the husband of Marie Theresa and consists of a star-shaped system of avenues with intersecting walks and vistas, as well as two main diagonal avenues which meet at the dominant central axis of the palace. This layout is meant to be an external continuation of the palace interior. The largest area behind the façade of the palace facing the gardens was occupied by the Great Parterre with its strictly symmetrical beds. These were constructed of box hedges on coloured gravel arranged in intricate patterns taken mainly from embroidery motifs, a style known as parterre de broderie. Flanking each side of the parterre were ornamental boskets, consisting of formal clipped walls of trees and topiary hedges interspersed with small enclosures.
Schönbrunn is located on the western side of Vienna, some way from the city centre. It is perfectly easy to take public transport there, from the centre of Vienna, take the U4 (green) line and alight at Schönbrunn, only a short walk from the palace itself. If you are driving, take the Altmannsdorf exit from the A2 or the A23 motorway, and follow signs to Schönbrunn.
Schönbrunn has all the usual facilities of tourist attractions: expensive cafes and gift shops, and a mercenary attitude to ticket prices (WARNING - they only accept ISIC cards for the student reduction). There are two levels of entry to the palace itself, a 22 stateroom tour for 8, or a 40 room tour for 10.50. You are given timed entry and an audioguide for the tour, so it all seems rather hurried. Entry to the park is free, and is well worth a visit. If you do visit one of the cafes, the one located in the Gloriette is more reasonably priced, and has the best views.
The state rooms of the palace are open all the year round.
1st April to 30th June
8.30 am - 5 pm
1st July to 31st August
8.30 am - 6 pm
1st September to 31st October
8.30 am - 5 pm
1st November to 31st March
8.30 am - 4.30 pm