Visit: 3rd April 2017
Schönbrunn, located in southwest Vienna, is a former royal palace used by the Habsburg emperors. The German language has the word Gesamtkunstwerk, which means a ‘total work of art’, or something that uses a number of different art forms to make up an overall experience. The term is commonly associated with Wagner, but it is also applied to the palace, gardens and zoo here at Schönbrunn. The colour of the palace is called ‘Maria Theresa yellow’ after the only female ruler the empire ever had.
We set aside a day on our Austria trip to visit the site, catching a bus across town from our hotel. Entry is quite steep, at something like €18 per person for a self-guided audio tour. The palace was built in the 18th century in the Baroque style on the site of a hunting lodge that had been destroyed in the final Turkish siege of Vienna. This was as far as the Ottomans ever got to invading northern Europe – which was worryingly close for comfort to those in Germany and France.
Most of the rooms were preserved living quarters, with only one room (the Great Gallery, above) really impressing us aesthetically. Here Mozart used to entertain the royal court, and it was also the site of the Congress of Vienna – in which Europe’s new borders were decided at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. After seeing something like 17 rooms our tour ended and we headed out into the grounds. Although nicely landscaped, they could do more with the gardens which, as you can see in the top photo, are not exactly bursting with colour. Also, the fountain was completely dry!
We had been long looking forward to visiting the world’s oldest zoo, which sits in the grounds of Schönbrunn. Entry is not included with the palace ticket, but was reasonable at around €12. The zoo retains some of the old enclosures that were used in the past but which are not considered suitable for animals today. They stand next to the more modern enclosures and the contrast is notable. Below is a bear cage used from the 1890s to 1930s.
The most exciting animals in our opinion were the rhinos, polar bears and sea lions. There is also an interesting giant ant colony installation in which a food source is separated from the nest by several metres of perspex piping, allowing visitors to see the ants travelling back and forth to collect leaves.