Palais of Vienna:
Noble Residents in Austria′s Capital - Part II

The construction of a Palais usually required the demolition of several Medieval houses. Due to the limited space (Vienna was constrained by its city walls), the construction of a Palais became increasingly expensive. This did not put an end to the building boom: Between 1683 and 1730, dozens of Palais were erected. By 1730, of the approximately 1,200 houses in Vienna, some 250 were Palais. Since the Turks had flattened the villages and suburbs around Vienna, land there was pretty cheap - and so many noblemen purchased properties outside the city walls.

Here they were further from the Emperor, but they could also afford to build enormous parks and gardens. The most famous preserved examples of such "Garden Palais" are the Palais Schwarzenberg, the Palais Liechtenstein and the Schloss Belvedere Palace - the latter one being a super-sized Palais with all the features described above an in the following sentences.

A Garden Palais usually consists of one main building that looks similar to a City Palais - only that it normally lacks a central courtyard and often has a central ball room that spans all floors except the ground floor and is topped by a large roof or cupola. In addition, there is a separate building in parallel to it. In between, there was space for formal gardens, pigeon cages, zoos, pheasant enclosures, fountains, mazes and follies.

Courtly Culture in Vienna & 19th Century Palais

Amount and extravaganza depended solely on the wealth of the landlord. Suddenly the gardens became stages for representation, and garden culture peaked with Baroque gardening. On contrast to the city Palais - which you find almost exclusively in the first district - the garden Palais are mostly in districts two to nine. Very rich families could afford two Palais, one in the city and one with a garden. This applies for example to the Esterhazys, the Liechtensteins, the Schwarzenbergs or Prince Eugene of Savoy.

In the 19th century, when the industrial revolution finally arrived in Vienna, the population increased enormously. The prices for land increased rapidly and many noblemen sold the parks of their garden Palais. Today, very few garden Palais still have their original gardens - the new "palaces" of the 19th century were those of industrialists, entrepreneurs, corporations.

They often modeled their headquarters or even private houses after the traditional Palais, only in "fancy dress" - the age of historicism had started to spoil Vienna forever. Decorative styles were picked up and recycled for new buildings; one of the most important examples of this period is the Palais Ferstel, which happens to be surrounded by many of Vienna′s oldest, "proper" Palais.

End of the "Palais Age" after WWI

With WWI and the collapse of the Empire, representation near the Imperial Court was not needed any longer. Most noble families spent their days in their homes - wherever that was. The Palais in Vienna often fell into disrepair and were used only infrequently. In WWII, many Palais were damaged by allied bombs. Since most of the Baroque Palais were made of old brick, they were rather vulnerable.

Because of the vast number of Palais, the Viennese didn′t care about demolishing several of them even though the war damages could have been repaired. Nevertheless, the surviving ones are still enough to make Vienna one of the most "palatial" cities in Europe. Even if you ignore Palais that were built after 1804 (the year that the Austrian Empire was founded to "replace" the Holy Roman Empire for the Habsburgs), there are still dozens left to explore. The most splendid ones are those designed by Lukas von Hildebrandt and Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach.

Especially after WWII, many Palais were sold by the families that owned them. They are often used by companies as representative buildings, as museums or event venues. Several Palais, however, are still owned by the families whose noble ancestors built them in Baroque times. For an outline of some particularly noteworthy Palais, see my "Alphabetical List of Palais in Vienna".

Return to "Palais of Vienna - Part I"

back to "vienna travel guide"

Vienna by District

District Overview - 1st (Innere Stadt) - 2nd (Leopoldstadt) - 3rd (Landstraße) - 4th (Wieden) - 5th (Margareten)- 6th (Mariahilf) - 7th (Neubau) - 8th (Josefstadt) - 9th (Alsergrund) - 10th (Favoriten) - 11th (Simmering) - 12th (Meidling) - 13th (Hietzing) - 14th (Penzing) - 15th (Fünfhaus) - 16th (Ottakring) - 17th (Hernals) - 18th (Währing) - 19th (Döbling) - 20th (Brigittenau) - 21st (Floridsdorf) - 22nd (Donaustadt) - 23rd (Liesing) -  Ringstraße - Surroundings

Further Reading

Official website of the Vienna Tourist Information

Palais in Vienna (German)

List of Palais in Vienna