Exploring Vienna's Belvedere Palaces: A Visitor's Guide
The Belvedere Palaces - or "The Belvedere," as it has come to be known - is really two palaces in one. Undoubtedly one of Vienna's most visited historic sites, this splendid attraction consists of two Baroque palaces built for Prince Eugene: the Lower (Unteres) Belvedere and the Upper (Oberes) Belvedere. The attraction is also home to many of Austria's most important art collections, including those relating to medieval art, the Austrian Baroque period, and Austrian art from the 19th and 20th centuries. After recent extensive renovations, a visit to the Belvedere Palaces makes for a truly memorable experience when in Vienna. Be sure to purchase a Combi Ticket allowing access to all areas of the complex - and set aside a full day to properly explore this amazing site.
The History of the Belvedere Palaces
With the Château of Versailles uppermost in mind, Prince Eugene - fresh from having defeated the invading Turkish armies - had a summer residence built on the abandoned slope of the Glacis along the Rennweg. Work began in 1700, and architect Lucas von Hildebrandt devoted ten years to what was to be his masterpiece. In 1716, Lower Belvedere, where Prince Eugene actually lived, was completed. It was only in 1724 that Upper Belvedere - so named because it stands on higher ground - was completed, and the two buildings linked by a magnificent garden created by Dominique Gerard, a landscape gardener from Paris. After the death of the bachelor Prince, the entire property was sold to the Imperial Court. Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne, lived here between 1894 and 1914, and it was from here that he traveled to Sarajevo and to the untimely assassination that led to the start of WWI. More recently, it was in the Marble Chamber of the Upper Belvedere that, on May 15th, 1955, the Foreign Ministers of France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, the United States, and Austria signed the Austrian State Treaty, which restored the country's independence.
Upper Palace Highlights
Home to the majority of the Belvedere Palaces' vast art collection, this magnificent building is widely considered a piece of art in its own right. Highlights include the Ground Floor Hall (Sala Terrena) with its statues of Atlas supporting the sumptuous stucco vaulted ceiling, and the adjoining Ceremonial Staircase with its accompanying stucco relief and frescoes depicting the triumphs of Alexander the Great. In the Carlone Hall is an impressive ceiling fresco along with many rich furnishings, while in the Marble Hall - a magnificent two-story hall - are many fine period sculptures and paintings, particularly the superb ceiling fresco.
Lower Palace Highlights
Built to serve as a residential palace, Belvedere's Lower Palace is no less impressive than the large Upper Palace. It, too, has a spectacular two-story Marble Hall designed as a place to welcome guests. Highlights of this large room are its oval-shaped plaster medallions depicting the god Apollo, and its rich ceiling fresco. Also of note is the Marble Gallery, built exclusively to showcase a number of statues from antiquity along with collections of notable Baroque sculptures. The Grotesque Hall - named after a style of art popular at the time - is also worth visiting for its finely preserved wall paintings. Other highlights include the superbly decorated Sale Terrene and the Garden Pavilion with its rich paintings and murals, as well as the Spitzhof, an outlying building set aside as an exhibition space.
The Winter Palace
Although originally designed to serve as a residence for Prince Eugene, the Winter Palace (Winterpalais) is best known for its role as the Court Treasury. This splendid Baroque building, recently fully restored and now serving as an exhibition venue, also boasts a number of fine State Apartments open to the public. Highlights include the sumptuous Baroque interior and a collection of contemporary art.
Originally a heated home for the palace's orange trees, the Belvedere Orangery is unique in that it was designed so its roof and façade could be removed during the summer months, a laborious process that nevertheless avoided having to replant the trees each year. This beautiful structure today serves as a modern exhibition hall for art displays.
The Palace Stables
Once used for Prince Eugene's horses, this Baroque masterpiece now houses an extensive collection of important medieval artwork - the Medieval Treasury - including panel paintings, sculptures, and Gothic triptychs.
The Belvedere Gardens and Fountains
Linking the two palaces, the superb Belvedere Gardens contains numerous sculptures adorning its many pools. It was designed according to Hildebrandt's overall concept of a terraced park laid out along an axis with cascades and symmetrical flights of stairs bordered by hedges and paths. At the foot of the gardens lies the Underworld with Pluto and Proserpina, along with Neptune and Thetis, the deities of water, in the area where the cascades play, together with Apollo and Hercules. From the terrace in front of Upper Belvedere are wonderful views over the garden and out over the Vienna Woods.
Art Galleries and Collections
The vast majority of the Belvedere Palaces' extensive art collections are in Upper Belvedere. Here, you'll find impressive collections of Austrian art dating from the Middle Ages to the present day set out in individual galleries. Perhaps the most important of these is Masterpieces from the Middle Ages, a rich collection of sculptures and panel paintings from the 12th century to the 16th century, including the Romanesque Stammerberg Crucifix, the oldest surviving example of Tyrolean wood carving. Other highlights include four stone figures by the 14th-century Salzburg Master of Grosslobming; a Madonna and Child on a throne from the end of the 12th century; and outstanding exhibits of Crucifixion scenes, including the Wiltener Crucifixion.
Another collection focuses on Austrian Baroque artwork and boasts a large collection of paintings and sculptures from between 1683 and 1780. The most important pieces of Masterpieces of Baroque are to be found in the Rottmayr Room, dedicated to the work of Johann Michael Rottmayr. Often compared to the likes of Rubens, his work is famous for its bright, light colors and includes masterpieces such The Praising of the Name of Jesus and The Sacrifice of Iphigenia. In the Troger Gallery, works by Paul Troger including his masterpiece, Christ on the Mount of Olives are displayed.
Other important collections include Austrian art of the 19th and 20th centuries, with works by Austrian greats such as Oskar Kokoschka and Oskar Laske, Herbert Boeckl, Josef Dubrowsky, and Rudolf Wacker. Among the postwar movements are Austrian Informel, the Viennese School of Fantastic Realism, and the New Painting of the Eighties. Impressionist works are represented by artists including Hans Makart, Claude Monet, and Vincent van Gogh, along with Austria's Gustav Klimt, famous for The Kiss.
Also of note are Upper Belvedere's fine collections of works by artists from the Classic and Romantic periods. Highlights include the historical, mythological, and religious themes seen in the works of Heinrich Füger, Johann Peter Krafft, and Leopold Kupelwieser, as well as landscapes by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, the master of the Viennese Biedermeier movement who became famous through his skills in handling light, as seen in his Great Prater Landscape. Other landscapes are by Carl Blechen, Rudolf von Alt, Joseph Anton Koch, and Adalbert Stifter. Among the portrait painters represented are Friedrich Amerling, Johann Baptist Lampi the Elder, and Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller.
Finally, more modern works and collections can be seen in the ultra-modern 21er Haus at the south end of the Belvedere grounds.
Touring the Belvedere Palaces
Hour-long English language guided tours are available. English language audio guides are also available for Upper Belvedere, as well as Lower Belvedere and the Orangery. Also of interest is the attraction's extensive educational programing, including longer themed tours and events focusing on a particular exhibit (available for both adults and children). For a truly unique experience, art lovers can participate in Restoration and Conservation Workshops hosted in Lower Belvedere. Highlights include painting preservation and restoration, framing, paper and mounting workshops, as well as photographic workshops (contact Visitor Services for further information). Also of note is the opportunity to see public restorations of important works of art, held Tuesdays and Thursdays (10am-6pm) in Upper Belvedere.
Tips and Tactics: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to the Belvedere Palaces
The following Tips and Tactics will help ensure you get the most out of your visit to Vienna's Belvedere Palaces:
- Dining: Upper Belvedere has a bistro, the Menagerie, offering snacks and light meals. The B-Lounge serves similar fair in Lower Belvedere. During summer, the small Café Garden provides light snacks with great views.
- Shopping: Three stores are available for souvenirs, books, and gifts (two in Upper Belvedere, one in Lower Belvedere). Online shopping is also available.
- Access: The Belvedere Palaces are fully wheelchair accessible.
Getting to the Belvedere Palaces
- On Foot: The Belvedere Palaces lie within walking distance of Vienna's city center and the majority of its main tourist attractions.
- By Bus: The Belvedere Palaces are well served by Vienna's bus services (Route 69A, stopping at Quartier Belvedere).
- By Tram: Vienna's superb tram services travel to the Belvedere Palaces regularly (Route D, stopping at Schloss Belvedere; Routes 18 and O stopping at Quartier Belvedere).
- By U-Bahn (Subway): The nearest subway station is Südtirolerplatz.
- By S-Bahn (Overground): The Palaces are served by Station Quartier Belvedere.
- By Train: Vienna is well served by major rail routes from across Europe and Austria. The nearest station to the Belvedere Palaces, Station Quartier Belvedere, is only a few minutes walk away.
- By Road: As with most major European cities, much of Vienna's city center is designated as pedestrians only. If driving is a must, park on the city's outskirts and use public transit.
- Parking: No on-site public parking is available.
- Belvedere Palaces - Prinz Eugenstrasse 27, A-1037 Vienna
Given their central location, the Belvedere Palaces are close to numerous other popular attractions in Vienna. Among the closest gardens and parks are the lovely Botanical Gardens of the University of Vienna, the Alpengarten and the Schweizergarten, all great locations for a little relaxation or a picnic after a busy day at the galleries and museums. For art lovers, a number of excellent collections can be seen at the Austrian Gallery (Osterreichische Galerie) with its 19th- and 20th-century art, along with displays of Baroque and Medieval masterpieces. Also of interest is the Museum of Military History (Heeresgeschichtliches Museum) to the south of the Belvedere, home to numerous historical artifacts including Archduke Ferdinand's car, which he and his wife were riding in when assassinated in 1914.