The Palace Gardens were planned by the Bavarian Electorate garden architect Dominique Girard. Starting at the Lower Belvedere, the baroque garden layout unfolds in strict symmetry along a central axis to the prestige building of the Upper Belvedere. The whole concept accords with the French model, stereometrically arranged trees and hedges, sculpture, and fountains and cascades. Next to the Orangerie, which still exists today, there was an aviary and a menagerie.
Dominique Girard was a pupil of André le Nôtre, who had designed the gardens surrounding the palace of Versailles for Louis XIV. The Bavarian elector Max Emanuel (1679-1726) summoned Girard to the Munich court to plan a baroque garden for Nymphenburg Palace. His garden designs for the palaces of Schleissheim and Brühl ensured his status as the leading garden architect in Central Europe. In 1717, he received the commission from Prince Eugene to design the gardens of his summer residence.
For his summer residence Prince Eugene chose a plot of land outside the city gates of Vienna. With its combination of slope and level terrain and its exposed location, the land corresponded to three essential concepts within the theory of baroque garden architecture: a panoramic view, the pleasant background scenery, and a natural perspective. The splendid view onto the city of Vienna with St Stephen’s Cathedral and Kahlenberg later gave the palace and grounds its name: Belvedere: beautiful view.
The garden unfolds in strict symmetry along a central axis from the Lower Belvedere to the Upper Belvedere and interlinks the two premier ceremonial rooms of the palaces, the Marble Halls. A system of paths and axial perspectives leads the visitor to the heart of complex, the Upper Belvedere. The palace structure parallels Olympus, the seat of the gods. The patron commissioning the architecture, Prince Eugene, thus enjoys his glorification as second Apollo or Hercules within the mythological associations of the garden.
The two cascades act optically as a monumental base for the Upper Belvedere. The main cascade is situated between the top and central park terraces. Adorning the basin are heroes and Nereids, fighting monsters.
The second cascade bridges the slope down to the lower terrace with a shell-shaped basin fountain born by Tritons and Nereids. The great curving basin forms the margin of the garden. Like a framed mirror, it reflects the image of the Upper Belvedere.
The baroque garden includes in its inventory a great number of sculptures. Muses, depictions of pastoral life, allegories of the months, vases and putti line the paths and adorn the meandering steps.
Two sphinxes stand as stone guards at the garden side of the main entrance to the Upper Belvedere. The fabulous female beasts with human head and lion’s body are symbols of power and strength paired with human insight.
To the west of the Lower Belvedere is the privy garden of Prince Eugene, also the location of the Orangerie. The orange trees could be planted directly into the ground, the roof could be pushed back on rollers and the south façade was completely removable. Of the seven pavilions, carved of lattice work and decorated with artful woodcarvings, only two have been preserved. The rear part of the privy garden had an aviary of wrought iron and wire plaiting.
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