From humble beginnings as a hunting lodge to the seat of power of an empire, the opulent former summer residence of the Habsburg dynasty is a treasure trove of historical anecdotes
Welcoming over 3,800,000 visitors in 2017, Vienna’s Schönbrunn palace is Austria’s most popular tourist attraction, and with good reason: Classified as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1996, the former imperial summer residence boasts over 1,441 rooms and is known the world over for its imposing main building, lush gardens and elaborate fountains. However, there is far more to Schönbrunn’s history than meets the eye: Here are five things you may have not known about Austria’s most recognizable palace.
1. The façade was not always yellow
Nowadays iconic in its own right, the distinctive hue Schönbrunner Gelb (Schönbrunn yellow) adorning the main palace and most outbuildings actually made its debut during the reign of Maria Theresia, well over a century after Schönbrunn was first mentioned by name in 1642 (small buildings had existed on the property since the 16th century). Initially, a golden ochre followed by a slightly lighter tone in the 1770s, samples from the masonry revealed that the original hunting lodge was actually painted in light shades of orange and brick-red.
2. The yellow triangle in the Brazilian flag was inspired by Habsburg princess Leopoldina
Speaking of Schönbrunn yellow, the palace façade isn’t the only place where the color features prominently: you can also find it on the flag of Brazil. It was added in honor of the Hapsburg princess Maria Leopoldina, a daughter of Franz I of Austria who was married to Emperor Dom Pedro I of Brazil – fully embracing her new country, Dona Leopoldina helped design the flag of Brazil, choosing the green of the House of Braganza and golden yellow of the House of the Habsburg; and while the Empire of Brazil was replaced by a republic in 1889, the basic design of a Schönbrunn yellow rhombus within a green rectangle remains to this day.
3. The Schönbrunn Zoo was founded as an imperial menagerie and is the oldest continuously operating zoo in the world
Ever popular among locals and tourists alike, Schönbrunn zoo is located within the palace grounds and was initially a private collection of exotic animals kept for the imperial family’s pleasure. Constructed in 1752 for emperor Francis I, husband of Maria Theresia, it is worth mentioning that small animal enclosures had already existed there as early as 1540; however, it was only opened to the public in 1779, still making it the oldest zoo in the world.
4. Mozart performed here for Empress Maria Theresia at Schönbrunn when he was six years old
Already a world-renowned child prodigy at the age of six, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was invited to perform for the imperial court at Schönbrunn palace in 1762. His performance was held in the famous mirrors room, which is still viewable today during guided tours; ever the showman even at a tender age, it is reported that after his concert, young Wolferl jumped onto Maria Theresia’s lap and gave her a kiss.
5. The Austro-Hungarian Empire Ended Here
Even in the 20th century, Schönbrunn remained the stage for momentous events: it was here that Emperor Karl I was finally persuaded to abdicate in the aftermath of World War I, ending over 600 years of Habsburg rule with the stroke of a pen in the blue salon. The imperial family then departed via a side entrance. Later on during the allied occupation of Austria following WWII, the British forces requisitioned the palace and used it as their administrative headquarters as well as for official occasions such as military parades; once Austria regained independence in 1955, it was eventually handed back to the new republic.