Palais Harrach, Vienna:
Baroque Palais, re-built half a century ago
Palais Harrach is a Baroque palace in one of Vienna′s most exclusive areas, at the Freyung in the city centre. Many attractions are - if not in sight from there - in walking distance. The Palais itself is owned by a real estate company that lets it as office space to various companies and government organisations. It is well-known for its boutiques, together with its next-door neighbour Palais Ferstel, the palace makes a high-end shopping centre. The central courtyard of Palais Ferstel is often used for markets, small trade fairs or receptions.
Until fairly recently (1980, to be precise), the Harrach family still owned the palace - today, the former Counts of Harrach use their palace in Rohrau in Lower Austria as their primary residence. The first proper palatial building on the site was built by Jörg of Puchheim in 1435. The Upper Austrian nobleman had acquired three small houses by the Schottenstift and had them combined into one large court that he used as his Vienna residence.
As early as 1600, Karl of Harrach (then still "Freiherr" or simple lord, later "Reichsgraf" or Count, the upgraded version) purchased the building. During the early Baroque era and the 30-Years-War, Count of Harrach made his palace an important stage for politics. The Habsburg′s famous general Wallenstein was a guest at the Palais Harrach - later he married the daughter of Karl of Harrach. In 1683, a fire destroyed much of the early Baroque palais.
Palais Harrach after the Fire: Reconstruction in high-Baroque
Following the fire, the current Palais Harrach was built under the guidance of the famous Italian architect Domenico Martinelli, who was also in charge with the construction of Palais Liechtenstein nearby. Art historians think that Count of Harrach hired Martinelli directly from Rome, thereby being responsible for "luring" the famous architect to Vienna. Martinelli designed a famous staircase (a big deal for Baroque Palais), that the landlord Count Harrach fondly compared to those of other palaces in Europe ("…my staircase is bigger than yours…").
The Harrachs were keen collectors of art, and by 1844, the collection had grown to an extent that it could not be presented appropriately in the Palais. Mostly for this reason, Count Franz Ernst of Harrach gave orders to re-arrange much of the interiors; in the course of the construction work, the current façade was created more or less from scratch. This is the main reason why the Palais Harrach doesn′t look like a particularly Baroque building at first sight. The collection of paintings and other artwork was kept at Palais Harrach up to the 1930ies. Afterwards, parts of it were taken to other palaces and possessions of the Harrach family, until it was finally transferred completely just before the outbreak of WWII.
Definitely a good idea: In 1944, Palais Harrach was hit by a bomb and seriously damaged (compare this story to the one of the Gartenpalais Harrach - WWII was seriously bad luck for the Harrach family with respect to their Vienna properties). The art collection was kept in various salt mines in the Salzkammergut and in Burg Clam, a castle in Upper Austria.
Palais Harrach after the Bombs: Another Reconstruction
Today, the famous art collection is kept at the Harrach Palace of Rohrau in Lower Austria. The Viennese Palais Harrach was re-built according to its state of before WWII. It could be re-opened in 1952. In 1980, the Harrach family sold the property to the city of Vienna, which let it to the Republic after 1994, which in turn gave the premises to the Kunsthistorisches Museum. The KHM used the Palais for temporary exhibitions, lectures and concerts until 2003.
As mentioned before, a real estate company bought Palais Harrach in 2003. Since then, it is used by various companies. Noteworthy for the general tourist are the entrance area, the courtyards and two features from outside: To the right hand side of the Palais, you see a patch of green - these are the sad remains of a once elaborate Baroque garden with a pavilion by Lukas von Hildebrandt. The pavilion was destroyed by the bombs of 1944. In front of the main entrance, note the patch of stones - the original, Medieval cobble stones give an idea of what Vienna′s street have looked like 600 years ago.
Attractions nearby are numerous, so I name only those accessible within a 3-minute-walk: The Schottenstift Abbey and church, Palais Kinsky, Palais Ferstel, the BA-CA Kunstforum, the Am Hof Square with the armoury, and Palais Niederösterreich as well as the Minoritenkirche.
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