STEPHEN SCOURFIELD tells the story of two remarkable European women
Schonbrunn Palace is half an hour’s drive from the centre of Vienna and quite easy to reach by public transport.
From 1569 to the end of the monarchy in 1918, it was owned by Habsburgs. Between 1638 and 1643, after the death of Austrian King Ferdinand II, his widow Eleanora Gonzaga built the first palace here.
She called it Schonbrunn — “beautiful spring” in German, for the artesian mineral waters which do, indeed, spring here.
But its most glorious years were from 1760, during the reign of Empress Maria Theresa, mother of Marie Antoinette, who made it what we see today.
Between 1696 and 1712, she completely renovated and developed the 1441-room Schonbrunn Palace. She and her royal family came here from May to October each year, 3000 servants with them.
Yet there is another woman who, in the following century, would make Schonbrunn her own.
After marrying Emperor Franz Joseph I in 1854, Sisi (more precisely, the Empress Elisabeth of Austria), moved to the capital city of Vienna, the residence of the imperial family.
But she spent many summer months in the apartments on the west side of Schonbrunn Palace and, later, on the first floor.
When the monarchy ended, Schonbrunn Palace became the property of the Republic of Austria. It was opened to the public soon afterwards and in 1996 the palace and its park were designated a UNESCO World Heritage cultural site.
This is an edited version of the original, full-length story, which you can read here.
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