Today, we decided to head out to see Schonbrunn Palace, the summer palace of the Habsburgs. It was a quick fifteen minute train ride along the U4 line from our station across the road from our hotel.
There was another Christmas market operating at the Palace, making the grounds very busy. It seemed to have more handmade products than the other markets that we have seen.
This palace is Vienna’s most popular tourist attraction. Over 2 1/2 million people visit each year. It has also been recently made famous by the musician Andre Rieu who uses it as a backdrop on his set while his orchestra plays Strauss waltzes. I think that he has also done a mega-concert here with thousands of people attending. I didn’t expect to see him here today (he is actually a Dutchman), but we did see a choir singing Christmas carols under a giant Christmas tree in front of the Palace.
We took a tour of the 40 rooms (out of the 1440) that were open. It has a classical Rococo style of architecture – all gilt and ornamental and very much over the top in terms of its ‘grandness’. For example, each of the three candelabras in the 40 metre long ballroom held 70 candles until the palace was electrified early in the 20th century.
I can’t really understand why a palace would need so many rooms. Let’s assume that the Habsburgs and their extended family lived in sixty, or even on hundred, of them. The palace might have employed 800 staff including military and officials. Then you need a ballroom and a few reception rooms, another few rooms for your butterfly, painting and stamp collections. So that leaves over 500 rooms unaccounted for! Would they have been for visiting relatives or guests? Think of the cleaning costs! Maybe all those window cleaners actually needed a room each?
The area of the palace was originally stocked with game for hunting in 1548, with the original palace being started between 1638 to 1643. The gardens and parterres are enormous. There seem to be kilometres of pleached trees lining the pathways. High on a hill behind the palace is a ‘Gloriette’ structure which was originally intended to glorify the power of the royal family. The palace became owned by the State in 1918 after the defection of the last of the Habsburg family. It was twice occupied by Napoleon and was once the site of a meeting between the American President Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev of the USSR.
We left in the mid afternoon to return to our hotel after a short visit to see the famous Strauss memorial in Statd Park. By then, the light was fading and it was becoming quite cool.