Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Schloss Schonbrunn: Glamour or Tragedy?

The Schloss Schonbrunn (Schonbrunn Palace) is built in the 17th century by order of Maria Theresa, the then Empress of Austria. The palace was used as the summer residence of the Habsburg Monarchy (Austrian Monarchy between 16th-19th century).

Schonbrunn Palace building. Magnificent structure exhibiting all the imperial glamour in Baroque style. This is however not the best time for admiring the beautiful Grand Parterre (garden).

The Gloriette erected in 1775. The word "Gloriette" comes from French, which means "little glory" and this is like a resting place for people walking in the garden. Absolutely necessary in Schonbrunn because the compound is huge. And climbing up the hill to get to the Gloriette can be physically demanding. But it offers a great view of Schonbrunn and the city of Vienna so it is definitely worth the effort to make the climb.

Schloss Schonbrunn and city view of Vienna from the Gloriette, on top of the hill

Fake roman ruins in the garden compound. Hmm... who could understand the Austrians?

The most impressive of the palace have got to be the gardens. The planning and landscaping in these Baroque gardens are something to awe at. Unfortunately, winter is never the right time to admire gardens. See some pictures of the gardens at other times during the year.

The Privy Garden. Look how beautiful!

Great Parterre when the flowers are blooming.

There is a total of 1,400 rooms in Schonbrunn Palace and 40 of them are opened to public. Opt for the "Grand Tour" which allows you to see all the 40 rooms in approximately 50 mins. Complete the tour with an audio guide in multi-languages which is included in the price of the ticket.

Some of the rooms that are particularly interesting are:

The Millions Room(Photos: Schloss Schonbrunn official website). The room got it's name most likely from the precious rosewood that is used for panelling. Notice the crystal mirror in the photo? There are actually 2 of such mirrors facing each other on opposite sides of the wall. With this, an image of an "infinity room" is created through the mirrors.

The Mirrors Room. This was where little Mozart, at age of 6, made his first performance of violin for Empress Maria Theresa. It was told by Mozart's father, Leopold that after his performance, Mozart wrapped himself around the Empress and planted kisses on her face.

Hall of Ceremonies. Whether it was his outstanding musical talent or the kisses, Mozart had certainly made quite an impression on the Empress that she later ordered little Mozart and his father to be painted in one of her paintings. The painting is hung in this room and depicts the wedding scene of Joseph II, Maria Theresa's son, in 1760. In that year, Mozart was only 4 years old and still living in Salzburg so he could not have possibly attended the wedding.

The reason why the Hall of Ceremonies is a room worth mentioning is because of the 5 precious paintings in there. One of them, as you can see from the photo, is the famous portrait of the Empress Maria Theresa herself. She was regarded as the "First Lady of Europe" because she was effectively ruling the monarchy during her time in the 18th century. Somewhat like Wu Ze Tian and Empress Dowager Cixi of China, but different because Empress Maria Theresa and her husband were truly in love even until they were much older, and they had 11 children altogether. She was also considered one of the most capable rulers in Europe.

But what really brought Schonbrunn Palace so much fame can be attributed to the famous Empress Elisabeth of Austria or better known as Princess Sisi.

Borned as a Bavarian Princess on Christmas eve of 1834, she and Emperor Franz Joseph fell in love and were enageged to each other when she was just 15. After the couple got married in 1857, Sisi proved to be a misfit in the imperial family and was disliked by her mother-in-law.

In some writings, Diana, the Princess of Whales is compared to Princess Sisi both for her beauty and defiance of the strict formalities in the imperial family. At one point in time, Princess Sisi was thought to be the most beautiful woman in Europe, and perhaps even the world!

Sisi was unhappy living in the palace due to tensions with her mother-in-law as well as frustrations with her royal obligations. It became apparent that she also regretted her early marriage, as written in one of her later journals, "Marriage is a preposterous institution. You are sold as a child of fifteen, you swear vows you don’t understand, and you regret them for thirty years or more, but you can never break them." At that time, she did not have the option of a divorce.

Princess Sisi however found great pleasures in travelling and she spent prolonged period of time away from the palace, visiting different places in Europe. She also wrote poetry, practised horse-riding and kept to strict diets to maintain her slender figure (it was said that she has a waistline of 20"). Perhaps, travelling and to be away from home were the best ways to escape all her misery.

Her life came to a tragic end when she was murdered at the age of 60 at Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Or maybe not... this could be the ultimate liberation for her.

Emperor Franz Joseph's love for his wife was, however, unwavering. When he heard news of the Empress's death, he was devasted, although he didn't die immediately.

Emperor Franz Joseph's bedroom. It was on this bed that the emperor died in 1916 at the age of 86. You may think that he was lucky to have lived to such an old age, considering with reference to the times in which he lived in. But he had survived the death of his first daughter at age of 2, suicide of his only son and murder of his beloved wife Empress Elisabeth. Maybe it was tragic for him to have lived so long.

So whether Schloss Schonbrunn is a manifestation of glamour or tragedy, it depends on which part of history you like best. Nevertheless, it is one great legacy from the Habsburg Monarchy and even if you put histories aside, the exquisitely decorated palace rooms and the well set Baroque gardens are good reasons to make this a must see site in Vienna.

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你看过了许多美景 你看过了许多美女
你品嚐了夜的巴黎 你踏过下雪的北京


你累计了许多飞行 你用心挑战纪念品
你拥抱热情的岛屿 你埋葬记忆的土耳其



你离开我 就是旅行的意义

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