Schloss Grafenegg Palace, Lower Austria:
Historicist Ugliness near the Wachau
The palace of Schloss Grafenegg can be found in Lower Austria, about 14 kilometres east of Krems and thus, within easy reach from both the Wachau and Vienna. Despite of having a historic core, most of Schloss Grafenegg was built in the late 19th century, when Romantic ideas of Medieval architecture reached a peak and resulted in Historicist kitsch-orgasms like this one: Innumerable gargoyles, buttresses, arches and stained glass windows, condensed into a thick image of the fancied Medieval or Tudor castle. After having spent several years in Cambridge, a city that holds a high number of similar buildings, I have come to appreciate real Gothic architecture even more.
Most rooms in Schloss Grafenegg can be visited by tourists (but why should they want to?). Since 1971, concerts, theatre performances and other cultural events take place their, taking advantage of the vicinity to Vienna. Since 1976, the very popular Christmas market "Grafenegger Advent" is held every year in December. There are a riding school, a hotel and an inn on the premises of Schloss Grafenegg.
Particularly nice are the gardens of Schloss Grafenegg, which were also set up in the 19th century. They were outlaid in the style of an 19th century English landscape garden and extend over 30 hectares. Decorated with lots of tacky follies, the gardens contain some 2,000 trees - many of them are exotic species, several local trees are 250 years old. Schloss Grafenegg is one of several venues for the annual garden show of Lower Austria. A new era in the history of Schloss Grafenegg just started in 2008, though.
Current Use of Schloss Grafenegg: Annual Music Festival
In 2008, the open-air festival stage "Wolkenturm" ("Cloud Tower") was completed. It seats 1,750 people in the extensive parks of Schloss Grafenegg and is supplemented with a festival hall, the "Auditorium Grafenegg". These facilities stage the now annual Grafenegg music festival of classical music every summer, a series of concerts that are highly popular with the geriatric upper-class of Vienna. But there is more to Schloss Grafenegg than just tacky architecture and a few weeks of high-quality music.
Let′s start with the "real" bits: The settlement of Espersdorf at today′s Grafenegg was first mentioned in 1294. A central administrative building was fortified with a bailey around 1435, and a few years later, Ulrich of Grafeneck purchased the property and gave his name to it. Schloss Grafenegg changed owners a few times (including Emperor Friedrich III) before the little castle was extended around 1500 and then again into a proper fortress during the 30-Years-War in 1622 and again in 1633. Nevertheless, it was conquered by Swedish troops in 1645. After the 30-Years-War, the fortress shared a fate with many other fortresses in Europe and lost its significance for warfare.
Schloss Grafenegg changed hands once again a for a few times until it was finally bought by Count August Ferdinand Breuner-Enckevoirt in the early 19th century. His son August Johann is responsible for the construction of the current Schloss Grafenegg between 1840 and 1888. The culprits or architects in charge with this project wee Leopold Ernst and his son Hugo Ernst.
Economic Crisis ends Construction of Grafenegg
At the economic crisis of 1873 (for other references to this please read my articles on the Vienna stock exchange, the Palais Epstein or the Messe Wien), the Counts of Breuner-Enckevoirt lost almost all of their fortune and so much of the original plans for Schloss Grafenegg had to be given up. In 1894, Schloss Grafenegg went to the Dukes of Ratibor and Princes of Corvey. It accommodated Soviet troops between 1945 and 1955, who looted the palace and burnt much of its furniture. Only in 1967, Schloss Grafenegg was refurbished again.
Schloss Grafenegg consists of four wings that are arranged around one central courtyard. The outside is dominated by a strange neo-Gothic and neo-Tudor style, matched with the interiors by Ludwig Wächtler. Visitors enter Schloss Grafenegg at the Northern wing over a bridge and through a gate with a fan-vaulted ceiling. The Northern wing contains the chapel, the main staircase and the core of the palace, the Rittersaal or Hall - all richly decorated, modelled after its contemporary Victorian Gothic palaces in England.
The Western wing contains a loggia and representative rooms; from here, you can also see the 15th century tower in the Eastern Wing. This wing also contains the neo-Baroque library of the palace. Note that the previously existing parts of Schloss Grafenegg were not destroyed - actually not even altered very much - in the course of the 19th century re-modelling.