Palace Gardens

Palace Gardens © Belvedere, Vienna
Palace Gardens © Belvedere, Vienna
Palace Gardens by night © Ian Ehm
Salomon Kleiner, Palace Gardens, 1731 © Belvedere, Vienna
Palace Gardens © Belvedere, Vienna
Palace Gardens © Belvedere, Vienna
Palace Gardens © Belvedere, Vienna
Palace Gardens © Belvedere, Vienna

The Palace Gardens were planned by the Bavarian Electorate’s garden designer Dominique Girard. From the Lower Belvedere, the Baroque garden ascends to the Upper Belvedere in a strictly symmetrical design with a central axis. The whole concept reflects the French model: stereometrically arranged trees and hedges, sculpture, fountains and cascades. There was an orangery, which still exists today, as well as an aviary and a menagerie.

Dominique Girard was a student of André le Nôtre, who designed Versailles palace gardens for Louis XIV. Girard was summoned to the court at Munich by Bavarian elector Max Emanuel (1679–1726) to plan the Baroque garden for Nymphenburg Palace. His garden designs for the palaces of Schleissheim and Brühl secured his status as the leading garden architect in Central Europe. In 1717, Prince Eugene commissioned him to design the gardens at his summer residence.

The prince had chosen a plot of land outside Vienna’s city gates. With its combination of sloping and level terrain and its exposed location, the land met three essentials of Baroque garden design theory: a panoramic view, an attractive setting, and natural perspective. This stunning vista of the city of Vienna with St Stephen’s Cathedral and the hill Kahlenberg later gave the palace and grounds its name: Belvedere (meaning beautiful view).

The garden unfolds in strict symmetry from the Lower to the Upper Belvedere along a central axis that links the palaces’ two main staterooms, the marble halls. A system of paths and lines of sight leads the visitor to the Upper Belvedere at the heart of the complex. This palace is equated with Olympus where the gods reside. In the garden’s mythological associations, Prince Eugene is thus glorified as a second Apollo or Hercules.

Visually the two cascades form a monumental base for the Upper Belvedere. The main cascade divides the top and central terraces, its basin adorned with heroes and nereids battling against monsters. The second cascade bridges the slope down to the lower terrace and has a shell-shaped basin borne by tritons and nereids. Concluding the garden on the other side of the Upper Belvedere is the great basin. Its curved lines give it the appearance of a framed mirror reflecting the image of the Upper Belvedere.

The Baroque garden also includes a large number of sculptures. Muses, depictions of pastoral life, allegories of the months, vases and putti line the paths and adorn the steps.

Two sphinxes are the stone guardians by the main entrance to the Upper Belvedere on the garden side. The fabulous female beasts with human head and lion’s body are symbols of power and strength paired with human insight.


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