During my stay in Vienna, I knew I wanted to take a day (or two) to visit Schloss Schonbrunn, one of the most important cultural monuments of Austria. The palace and it’s gardens were constructed to the be the summer home (and recreational hunting grounds) for successive Hapsburg monarchs. The Hapsburg monarchs are best known for providing all the elected Holy Roman Emperors for over 3 centuries and for a time they could claim true, “world power”, due to their vast territories along with fairly undisputed political and religious control. Of course all this stuff about arranged marriages, family trees and church hierarchy would be well and interesting for you to learn about, but what I feel was the true fruit of their 600 year dominion over Austria is what now has become the Schonbrunn Tiergarten (Zoo). The majority of my venture into Schloss Schonbrunn turned out to be a meandering circuit around this zoo, which, founded in 1752, claims to be the oldest zoo in the world. So just like a good children’s book, this post will now be more about the pictures than the words:
The fist challenge is finding the Zoo. Once you enter the walls of Schonbrunn gardens there are miles of gravel paths through rows of trees and mazes of shrubbery. It’s a truly beautify walk, but can be frustrating when you are looking for something specific. Being my typical wandering self, I accepted the fate of getting a bit lost and enjoyed a warm summer day exploring the massive gardens until I came upon the surprisingly non-ostentatious entrance to the Zoo. The Zoo was originally opened to the public in 1779 and initially entrance was free, but of course there is no opulent monarchy keeping the animals fed these days a pass for the day was only 12 Euros, a bargain compared to some zoos and aquariums I’ve visited in the states. If I’m not mistaken, it costs at least $15 to get into the Charleston aquarium.
The zoo was constructed in 1752 to be the Imperial Menagerie for the Habsburgs and upon entering you are confronted with the baroque architecture of the central pavilion, known now as the Kaiser Pavilion, which served as the center of the menagerie and the location for imperial breakfasts. Even with some of the newly added modern elements, there is still a great sense of the 18th architecture all around the zoo.
Inside one such menagerie-style building is probably the most famous inhabitant of the Zoo, the Giant Pandas. Schonbrunn Tiergarten is one of the few places in the world to house and successfully breed Giant Pandas. Get on with your bad self Panda, you are black, white and asian.
Radiating from the Kaiser Pavilion like slices of a Viennese cake are the many sections of the old zoo. One such section houses the big cats. Lions, Tigers, Cheetah and Jaguar/Leopard. Unfortunately in 2002 a young caretaker was attacked by a jaguar during feeding, killing her in front of zoo visitors. The zoo has been plagued by several such unfortunate incidents, but I saw nothing of the sort during my visit.
The Schonbrunn Tiergarten has experienced an interesting (if not trying) history in the past century. The two world wars took a tremendous toll on the animal life. World War one resulted in major food shortages causing a decline from 3,500 specimens to only 900. World War two was much more devastating since Vienna was the site of multiple bombing raids. When the bombs fell over Schonbrunn many buildings and animals were destroyed, bringing the number of specimens to a lowly 400. More recently there was the aforementioned jaguar accident and another trainer being crushed by an elephant, this placed a lot of strain on the directors of the zoo and initiated a carousel of new leadership that left the zoo on shaky financial ground. Things are looking up for the zoo now, after seeing an increased interest in sponsorship from companies and steady leadership at the helm. After seeing almost every animal in the zoo and fulfilling my daily requirement of childish wonderment, I finally made my way back into the gardens of Schloss Schonbrunn to peruse the rest of the royal grounds and palace.
I then made my way through the rows of greenery until emerged in the grand french garden of the palace itself. To my left was the gigantic 1,441 room yellow palace and to my right was massive hill and Gloriette. Despite the heat, I decided to hike the 60 meter high hill to the Gloriette.
The Gloriette is kind of a random structure built by the Habsburgs to commemorate their greatness and have a neat spot to chill out-max and have tea parties. The structure was built using all recycled stone and has many Roman motifs scattered about it.
After descending the hill and walking through the gardens, I came around to the front entrance of the palace and got the full frontal money shot of the imperial greatness. Easily realizing how this site made it onto the UNESCO World Heritage list as a stunning example of baroque splendor.
In summary, If you find yourself in Vienna, be sure to hit up the Schloss Schonbrunn, it’s worth the U-Bahn trip.