Imperial Palace of Schönbrunn

  • Bunnik Tours
  • 03 Feb 21

Perhaps the most visited, and definitely one of the most beautiful, sites in Austria is the Imperial Palace of Schönbrunn. And what a sight to behold it is! But how well do you know its history? Read on to uncover more.

Schönbrunn Palace by Dennis Bunnik

Schönbrunn Palace by Dennis Bunnik

Covered in a shade that’s widely known as ‘Schönbrunn Yellow’, it remains an iconic Austrian site since its beginnings in the Middle Ages. Joining the important UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1996, its admittance highlights the palace’s, and accompanied gardens, significance as a highly unique Baroque collection.

By this stage you’re probably asking yourself, ‘well who actually owns the palace?’ and what a good question that is! In 1569 Holy Roman Emperor and member of the Hapsburg family, Maximilian II, purchased The Katterburg, a small castle estate which stood on the grounds which are now occupied by the Schönbrunn Palace you’d know today.

Image credit: Rachel Footner

Maximilian II subsequently transformed the Katterburg into his own recreational and hunting estate, including several exotic bird species and fishponds, which would lay the foundation for the elaborate gardens the Palace boasts today.

Maximilian’s successors essentially overlooked the estate, until the second wife of Emperor Ferdinand II, Eleonore of Gonzaga, took particular special interest in it. After his death, Eleonore retired to the Katterburg to live full-time, where she had a new hunting lodge built for her new home in 1641. During this time, the Katterburg experienced a name change. Becoming known as ‘Schönbrunn’, it essentially translates to ‘pretty spring’, named after an emperor discovered the beauty of spring on the estate.

Image credit: Jeremy van Heerde

The Turkish had invaded Vienna in 1529 and were now back in 1683 to lay siege once again. The newly built Schönbrunn was sadly destroyed, however; its rebirth began in 1696. Construction began on a brand new Baroque styled palace, designed by renown Austrian architect Fischer von Erlach, whose initial, very ambitious plans were rejected. After the death of Charles II, the King of Spain, and the War of the Spanish Succession that promptly followed, it resulted in the halt of construction at Schönbrunn, due to the current emperor Leopold’s lack of adequate financial planning.  

It wasn’t until the efforts of Empress Maria Theresa that the Palace achieved its full potential. Having previously been treated as an occasional summer residence (crazy right?), Maria Theresa actually favoured this palace and hence turned it into her full-time summer retreat, expanding the palace and transforming it into its current, glorious form during the years from 1742 to the late 1770s.

During the renovations, the architects relied heavily on von Erlach’s initial designs, but were modified due to the expansion by Nikolaus Pacassi, and as a result, both architects get joint credit.

Image credit: Dennis Bunnik

By the end of the 1700s, Schönbrunn was complete and stood similar to what it does today, except for its exterior which was repainted in around 1820 in the famous yellow paint. By the conclusion of the Hapsburg monarchy in 1918, Schönbrunn Palace went into state ownership, however; it’s now managed by a limited company, albeit one that’s wholly owned by the Republic of Austria.

If the incredible Imperial Palace of Schönbrunn is on your bucket-list, then check out our Eastern Europe small group tour!