Back in the 17th century, the Habsburgs had a small summer palace on this site. However, this was destroyed during the second Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683. After the defeat of the Turks, Emperor Leopold I commissioned the Austrian Baroque architect Fischer von Erlach with the construction of a hunting lodge. Fifty years later Maria Theresa had Schönbrunn remodelled in the Rococo style by her court architect Nicolaus Pacassi. Here she spent the summer months together with the court household, which numbered more than 1,500 individuals. The imperial family also contributed personally to the furnishings and decoration of some of the rooms in the palace. This is just one of the features that make the history of the palace come alive today, telling the story of the changing fashions for interior design and the everyday life of the Habsburgs. Maria Theresa’s successors also left their mark on the palace, above all her great-great grandson, Emperor Franz Joseph, who was born in the palace and died here in 1916, after a reign lasting 68 years. When you get to the first floor, turn to the right, into the Herringbone Room. Through the window on the left you can look into a courtyard called the Grosser Kaiserhof, which is now part of the Children’s Museum. There you can find out about everyday life at the imperial court and try out some of these aspects for yourself. Through the open door you can look into the Aide-de-Camp’s Room. The main duty of the aide-de-camp was to ensure that the emperor was supplied with the latest military intelligence, which is probably why he was accommodated in close proximity to the imperial apartments.
01 - Guards’ Room
We are now in the Guards’ Room. The personal guard of Emperor Franz Joseph was stationed in this room to keep watch over the entrance to the emperor’s apartments. To your right is a ceramic stove, which like all the others in the palace was stoked (originally with wood) from a passage running behind the walls of the rooms, so that the imperial family was not disturbed and to reduce the amount of dirt. In the 19th century a steam heating system was installed which was in use until 1992.
02 - Billiard Room
This room served as a waiting room for people attending an audience with Emperor Franz Joseph. Imperial audiences were held twice a week. The billiard table, which belonged to Franz Joseph’s grandfather, Emperor Franz I of Austria, was used by army officers to pass the time. On the walls you can see three large paintings. The central painting depicts the first awarding of the Order of Maria Theresa in 1758. Founded by Maria Theresa, this was the monarchy’s first order of merit and one of the highest honours bestowed by the imperial dynasty. The paintings on the left and right commemorate the centennial anniversary of the order‘s foundation. Franz Joseph held a magnificent banquet in the Great Gallery of the palace as well as a reception in the park to mark the event.
03 - Walnut Room
This room gets its name from the precious walnut panelling, which together with its gilded ornamentation and the console tables belongs to the original Rococo décor from the time of Maria Theresa. The chandelier dates from the 19th century. It was in this room that Franz Joseph received individuals who had requested an audience. People would come for an audience in order to thank the monarch for the award of an honour, to lodge a request, or to present themselves on receiving an official position. Franz Joseph would receive up to a hundred people in a morning and was famous for his phenomenal memory, never forgetting a name or a face. These audiences lasted for a few minutes and were brought to an end when the emperor inclined his head slightly.
04 - Study of Emperor Franz Joseph
Franz Joseph ascended the Austrian imperial throne when he was only eighteen. He dealt with a phenomenal amount of work each day: starting before five o’clock in the morning, he spent the day at his desk, which you can see here on the right, where he worked diligently through the files put in front of him. He even had his breakfast and lunch served to him at his desk. This was how the first public servant of his state, as he liked to describe himself, spent most of his time. The emperor was uninterested in having his rooms done up in sumptuous style. He was content to surround himself with private paintings, photographs of his family and keepsakes given to him by his children and grandchildren. One of the two large portraits shows Franz Joseph at the age of 33, while the other depicts his wife, Empress Elisabeth, who was called Sisi in the family, a name that has come to encapsulate the enduring myth of this tragic empress.
05 - Bedroom of Emperor Franz Joseph
Running to a strict schedule, the emperor’s daily routine began at four o’clock in the morning. After rising and performing his ablutions in cold water the emperor, who was a strict Catholic, said his morning prayers kneeling on the praying stool which you can see to the left of the bed. The iron bedstead is further evidence of the emperor’s rather Spartan lifestyle. Franz Joseph died in this bed at the age of 86 in 1916, after a reign of 68 years, amidst the turmoil of the First World War. The painting on the easel shows the emperor on his deathbed. During the course of his long life, the emperor had suffered numerous blows of fate: his eldest daughter, Sophie, died at the age of two, and his brother Maximilian, emperor of Mexico, was executed by revolutionaries. This was followed by the tragic suicide of his only son, Rudolf, and the assassination of Empress Elisabeth by an Italian anarchist. At the exit to this room, on the left-hand side after the door, is the emperor’s lavatory. It was installed “on the English system” for Franz Joseph in 1899. The next three rooms belonged to the suite occupied by Empress Elisabeth. The Stairs Cabinet was used by Empress Elisabeth as her study, where she kept up her extensive correspondence and wrote her diaries and her poetry. From here a spiral staircase, which was removed after the fall of the monarchy, led down to the empress’s private apartments on the ground floor. The Dressing Room is devoted to the beauty regime of the empress. Elisabeth was considered to be one of the most beautiful women of her time, and was well aware of this. Her beauty regime and sporting activities to preserve her slender figure dominated the empress’s daily routine, with the care of her magnificent ankle-length hair occupying several hours a day. Please go through this room and enter Room 9, the Bedroom of Franz Joseph and Elisabeth.
09 - Bedroom of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth
In 1854 Franz Joseph married his cousin Elisabeth, who was just sixteen years old at the time. This room was furnished and decorated as their bedroom on the occasion of their wedding. Franz Joseph worshipped his wife all his life. Whether this affection was returned to the same degree remains a matter of speculation. Elisabeth rejected the rigid etiquette of court life from the very beginning and over the course of the years developed into a self- confident woman. She led an independent life, travelling extensively, and in later life was rarely to be seen in Vienna. In September 1898, at the age of 61, Elisabeth was stabbed to death with a file by the Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni in Geneva.
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