Palace History

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The History of the Imperial Palace Vienna

When Austria became an archduchy in 1156, Vienna was chosen as royal residence. Unfortunately, nothing remains of the Babenberg residence at Am Hof anymore. After the Babenberg dynasty had died out, King Ottokar II Přemysl of Bohemia (1230–1278) became the righteous ruler of Vienna by marriage. Around 1275, he initiated the construction of a fortress to be situated within the city walls of Vienna. It consisted of four towers and was placed around a rectangular courtyard, which is referred to as Swiss Court today. Fighting for the German crown, King Ottokar was not only defeated at the Battle of Dürnkrut (Lower Austria) by Rudolf I of Habsburg (1218–1291), but even killed during his retreat.

After the old residence of the Babenbergs had burnt down around 1276, Rudolf moved to the former castle of King Ottokar around 1279. The descendants of Rudolf expanded the castle only slightly, adding a chapel (first mentioned in 1296), St. Augustine's Church (consecrated in 1349), and making some adaptations made to the chapel (1423–1426). Eventually, Vienna lost in significance due to the division of the Habsburg’s hereditary lands. Also, it lacked the financial resources for the castle to be expanded.

Under Emperor Frederick III (1415–1493) – first emperor of the House of Habsburg – Vienna became an imperial residence. However, Frederick and his successors used the Vienna residence only rarely, the reason why the Palace was in an abandoned and dilapidated state at times. It was Ferdinand I (1503–1564) who eventually revived Vienna as the archduchy’s capital: Spurred building activity led to the expansion and addition of another storey to the three wings surrounding the Swiss Court. The fortification wall in the northeast, to which the Swiss Gate (Schweizer Tor) was added (built in 1552, probably by Pietro Ferrabosco), thus, became the fourth wall encircling the yard. Also, another wing was added in the southwest to accommodate Ferdinand’s children (Kinderstöckl, meaning "children’s residence").

The Exchequer and the Chancellery – authorities which, at that time, had just been constituted – were integrated into the adjacent buildings at the castle square. Furthermore, an art chamber, a hospital, a passageway leading from the Palace to St. Augustine's Church and a new ballroom were added.

Emperor Ferdinand I commissioned the erection of a solitary residence for his son in 1559 around the church building of "öde Kirche". The construction works were delayed, however, and in the end, Maximilian II (1527–1576) moved into the old castle after his father had died in 1564. What had once been intended to become his residence was converted into a court stables building (Stallburg or Imperial Stables) for the Spanish horses he owned. As of 1565, another storey was added to this building.
As Ferdinand I divided his lands and his estates for his three sons, Vienna’s significance as seat of the Empire decreased. This was even more so after Maximilian II, who had been given the lands of Austria situated below and beneath the River Enns, as well as Bohemia and Hungary, moved his residence to Prague, where he was spending most of his time. In 1575, he commissioned the construction of a new building opposite of the Swiss Court, which was supposed to accommodate the royal household of his eldest son, Rudolf II (1552–1612). The building was completed in 1577, yet, extended in 1610. It reflected Late Renaissance style, with its most striking features being a turret with a "Welsh Hood" and an astronomical clock. In the end, it was the city’s governor (Archduke Ernest of Austria), who would live there. Its popular name "Amalia’s Wing" or "Amalia’s Residence" goes back to Amalia of Braunschweig Wolfenbüttel, wife of Emperor Joseph I, who chose to live there after her husband had died.

In the late 16th and early 17th century, only a few additions were made: one wing was added in the northeast of the Palace to house the Treasury and Art Chamber (1583–1585) and a ballroom was erected where the Redouten Halls are situated today (1629–1631).

The ballroom by Ludovico Burnacini (1659/1660) was converted into a modern theatre ("comedy house") under Emperor Leopold I (1640–1705). In 1666, the latter had a new opera house constructed, which was to be situated where Burggarten Park is located now. It comprised three balconies and offered place for 5,000 people.

In the 1660s the Leopoldine Wing was erected according to plans by architect Filiberto Lucchese. This historic wing building was inserted between Amalia’s Wing and the Swiss Court. After the building had burned down shortly after its completion, it was reconstructed by Giovanni Pietro Tencala; another storey was added as part of the reconstruction process. Architecturally, the building has been categorised as Late Renaissance style. It was connected to Amalia’s Wing by Leopold’s son, Emperor Joseph I (1678–1711).

After the completion of the Leopoldine Wing, the Riding School was renovated in the southeast of the Palace; the southern tower of the old castle was demolished and the old sacristy expanded by addition of another storey. Under Emperor Charles VI (1685–1740) the gate between Kohlmarkt and the courtyard was reconverted into a monumental triumphal arch by Johann Lucas of Hildebrandt. It was intended to represent the Emperor’s power. The building does not exist anymore, though, for it had to give way to St. Michael’s Wing.

In the early 18th century, construction spurred. The Emperor commissioned Johann Bernhard Fischer of Erlach with the erection of imperial stables outside of the city walls as well as with the construction of a new court library.

After Johann Bernhard Fischer of Erlach’s death his son Joseph Emanuel Fischer of Erlach took over. By 1725, the palatial front wing of the stables was completed. However, already during their construction, it became evident that they would be too small for their purpose. Therefore, the remaining wings to be built according to the initial plans were never realised. The court library, which contains frescoes by Daniel Gran and imperial statues by Paul Strudel, was completed in 1737.

A new chancellery building was to be erected opposite of the Leopoldine Wing. In 1723 Johann Lucas of Hildebrandt was asked to plan it. However, he was removed from the project in 1726 and, thus, had to hand the project over to the court chancellery and, therefore, to Joseph Emanuel Fischer of Erlach, who was also designing the adjacent building (court chamber) and the front of St. Michael’s Church. The court chamber and the  façades of the two buildings were completed in 1728.

St. Michael’s Wing and the connection wing between the Winter Riding School as well as the Chancellery Wing were also designed by Joseph Emanuel Fischer of Erlach. Since the old court theatre stood in the way of construction, the buildings could not be completed for 150 years. In fact, it was not before 1889 and 1893 that they were finalised by Ferdinand Kirschner.

Under Maria Theresa (1717–1780) the ball house situated at Michaelerplatz Square was redesigned into a court theatre. In return, a new ball house was erected next to the imperial hospital. It is also where Ballhausplatz Square (meaning ball house square) derived its name from. Further expansions and additions followed: the conversion of the comedy hall according to plans by Jean Nicolas Jadot and the division into two dancing halls: the small and the large Redouten hall (1744–1748); another conversion of both halls (as of 1760) as well as maintenance and repair of the court library and, as of 1769, the construction of Josephplatz Square by Nicolas of Pacassi. Eventually, these properties were completed by Pacassi’s successor, Franz Anton Hillebrandt. The court library was extended in the southeast, where the Augustinian Wing was added.

Further construction projects under Maria Theresa included the installation of a court pharmacy in the Stallburg building, the relocation of the art collection from the Imperial Stables to the Upper Belvedere Palace, the demolition of the remaining towers of the old castle, and the construction of two stairways (Botschafterstiege and Säulenstiege).

Emperor Leopold II (1747–1792) gave away Tarouca Palace situated to the south of the Augustinian monastery to Duke Albert of Saxony Teschen and his wife Marie Christine (daughter of Maria Theresa) as a gift. As of 1800, Louis Montoyer started to redesign and expand it by the wing construction of Albertina Palace.

In 1804, Emperor Francis II pronounced the hereditary Empire of Austria and, thus, became the first Austrian emperor, Emperor Francis I. However, the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation came to an end when the Emperor was forced to step down by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806. In 1809, part of the bastions were bombed during the war with Napoleon, and subsequently, demolished.

The Ring Road was complemented by the so-called Curtine Wall and escarpments. Also, three gardens ware added in the 1820s: the imperial Burggarten Park equipped with two greenhouses by Louis of Remy, which was made of steel and glass and which was to serve as a private garden for the Emperor, Heldenplatz Square and its alleys and Volksgarten Park at the centre of which the Theseus Temple (Pietro Nobile) was erected. It is also during this period when the Burgtor (Castle Gate) was erected: the project, which had been started by Luigi Cagnola in 1821, was finished by Pietro Nobile in 1824.

In 1846, a monument was placed in the inner courtyard to pay tribute to Emperor Francis I. The Stallburg building was stormed in the middle of the revolution of 1848. Also, there was fierce fighting in the outer courtyard and outside the Castle Gate, in the course of which the roof of the court library caught fire and burnt down. As a political consequence of the revolution, Emperor Ferdinand I (1793–1875) abdicated. The feared chancellor, Count Clemens Lothar of Metternich, was dismissed and Ferdinand’s nephew Francis Joseph was enthroned.

During his first years as emperor, Francis Joseph I (1830–1916) had the imperial stables adapted by Leopold Mayer. Also, the city was expanded as a result of which the city walls were torn down to give way to the splendid construction of Ring Road. In 1862, the idea of an Imperial Forum was born by architect Ludwig Förster. The area between the Imperial Palace and the Imperial Stables should become the new home to imperial museums for natural and art history (Kunsthistorisches Museum and Naturhistorisches Museum).

Equestrian statues of Archduke Charles (who triumphed over Napoleon during the battle of Aspern) and Prince Eugene of Savoy (who triumphed over the Turks during several battles) were erected by Anton Dominik Fernkorn on the outer castle square (today: Heldenplatz Square) in the 1860s.

After an ineffective call for tender as to the architectural design of Heldenplatz Square, Gottfried Semper agreed to take on the mandate in 1869. This resulted in an involuntary and inharmonious cooperation between the latter and Carl Freiherr of Hasenauer. Initially, a two-winged construction spanning Ring Road was planned, spanning out to the two twin museums (of art and natural history) and the former imperial stables. Excavation works for the museums started out in 1871. Naturhistorisches Museum opened its doors in 1889 and Kunsthistorisches Museum in 1891.

In 1901, the old greenhouses were torn down and replaced by an orangery based on plans by Friedrich Ohmann and featuring elements of Jugendstil style (completed in 1910). By 1907, the Corps de Logis, which forms the culmination point of Neue Burg (New Castle) Wing, was completed. As Emperor Francis Joseph I was no longer interested in forever ongoing construction projects at the start of the 20th century and Francis Ferdinand of Austria-Este (1863–1914), his successor to the throne, was also against the construction of a new throne hall, the plans for the construction of a second wing were dropped. Francis Ferdinand of Austria-Este, however, opted for the construction of a smaller state hall. Subsequently, the murder of the latter in Sarajevo sparked World War I. Emperor Francis Joseph died in 1916. He was succeeded by his grand-nephew, Charles I (1887–1922), yet, only for two years; the end of World War I also meant the end of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. On November 11th, 1918, the First Republic was proclaimed. As Charles renounced government affairs, but did not abdicate the throne, he had to go into exile with his family.

A watercolour by Rudolf Ritter von Alt (1812–1905) from 1873 provides a general view of the Imperial Forum. (The original hangs in the offices of the Burghauptmannschaft Österreich).

By 1888, the old court theatre had been torn down at Michaelerplatz Square and the new royal court theatre (today: Burgtheater) had been erected by Gottfried Semper and Carl Freiherr von Hasenauer. After 150 years as a construction site, Michaelerplatz Square was finally complete.

The turret eventually got its cupola, and the concave building of St. Michael’s Wing was finalised by Ferdinand Kirschner. Also, Lorenzo Mattielli’s cycle of statues on the Chancellery’s façade was complemented by four "Deeds of Hercules" (bordering the gates). By 1893, the Imperial Palace had its magnificent façade.

The Imperial Forum was initially planned by Carl Hasenauer in 1866; in 1869, the plans were broadly modified by Gottfried Semper.

The museums displayed in the front (Naturhistorisches Museum to the left and Kunsthistorisches Museum to the right) and the right wing (which accommodates the Festsaaltrakt Wing, the Neue Burg Wing and the Corps de Logis) displayed in the centre were erected. The construction plans for the Ring Road and the entire left wing were never completed.

Despite the end of the monarchy, the interior decoration of both the Festsaaltrakt and the Neue Burg wing were continued until 1926. Many buildings were deprived of their purpose after the end of the monarchy. In contrast, the Imperial Riding School continued to be used. Furthermore, the Imperial Stables were used for exhibitions of the Vienna Fair (Messepalast building) from 1921 onwards. From 1928 on, the Corps de Logis housed the newly created ethnological museum which had been part of the museum of natural history until this date. In 1935, the arms collection of the museum of art history was moved to the Neue Burg Wing.

In the years 1933–1934, the Outer Castle Gate (Äußeres Burgtor) by Rudolv Wondraček was redesigned to be a war memorial for the victims of WW1. In 1935, the pylon portals featuring eagle sculptures by Wilhelm Frass were added to the left and right of the Gate. In March 1938, Heldenplatz Square and the balcony of the Neue Burg Wing gained sad notoriety, as it was there that Adolf Hitler announced Austria’s Anschluss (annexation) to the German Reich to a cheering crowd. The National Socialists planned on remodelling the Square to turn it into a marching and ceremonial place. The plans were never realised, however. Instead, a fire pond was dug there in 1943. Later, the Square was used for agricultural purposes. The Messepalast building was used for propaganda events during the Nazi era.

During the war, the Imperial Palace Vienna (Stallburg, Augustinian Church, Albertina, offices of the Federal president, today’s Federal Chancellery building) was severely damaged by bombs: The first Federal president of the Second Republic, Dr. Karl Renner, moved his office into the Leopoldine Wing in 1946 (former apartments of Maria Theresa and Emperor Joseph II).

During the occupation, the Allied Control Commission was situated in the Neue Burg Wing.

By 1946, the first events were again hosted in the Messepalast. Two large halls were erected in the main courtyard. In the course of Austria’s reconstruction, war damage was repaired, and the Imperial Palace Vienna refurbished. The Stallburg building was reconstructed. In 1958, the Congress Centre was established in the Festsaaltrakt Wing.

From 1962 to 1966, the modern library of the Austrian National Library was situated in the Neue Burg Wing.

In 1989, the idea of a museum quarter ("Museumsquartier") arose. It was to house contemporary art and culture. The oversized design draft by Laurids and Marnfred Ortner was re-dimensioned several times as the project was met with resistance by the citizens. The "quarter" was built a decade afterwards.

In 1992, both Redouten Halls completely burned down. Shortly afterwards, their reconstruction started. The attic was expanded and the small Redouten Hall was restored. The large Redouten Hall had to be renovated. It was decorated with paintings by Josef Mikl. Both halls were re-opened in 1997.

From 1997 to 2002, the MuseumsQuartier (the "museum quarter" housing, among others, Kunsthalle Wien, Leopold Museum) was adapted and the old structure was refurbished.

The year 1999 featured the start of the refurbishment and remodelling of Albertina Museum. The museum was expanded to include a study building, two exhibition halls and an underground storage area. The museum was re-opened in 2003. An oversized flying roof by Hans Hollein was erected over the Albertina ramp. 

In the year 2006, additional rooms for the Congress Centre were added in the area of the Kesselhaushof Courtyard.

(Source: Trenkler, Thomas: "Die Hofburg Wien", Vienna, 2004)