History of the Orangery Schoenbrunn
In the 17th Century Schoenbrunn Palace was a summer residence without an orangery. The Emperor Joseph I's widow Wilhelmine-Amalie along with her gardeners was the first to establish an orange collection worth mentioning.
A picture from the Albertina Graphic Collection shows the unique structure of this garden: 344 orange plants stand in an eight fold arrangement around a fountain. The antique world considered the number eight a mysterious and esoteric number.
A baroque classicism's building
Todays Schoenbrunn Orangery was erected in the years 1754-1755. The architect Jean Nicolas Jadot is presumed to have been responsible for the planning. The construction was in any case the task of the Court Architect Nikolaus Pacassi as Jadot had already left Vienna in 1753. The Orangery garden was completed around 1760 after the erection of the building.
The building is, with its 189 meter length - longer than the palace - and 10 meter width, the largest orangery after Versailles.
The Orangery's hall annexes the Cedrat House to the east where especially sensitive citrus fruit tress are housed. The capitals on the garden facade with their mask forms are the only figured sculptures of the Orangery. With their grotesque features they depict monsters, innocents, smiling faces, the ironic, story tellers, fire eaters, shouters... Fantasy knew no boundaries!
A further speciality of the Schoenbrunn Orangery is the floor heating which has been in operation for 250 years (see the dark plates on the floor of the hall) which guarantees the plants regular temperatures during the winter.
Venue for arts and banquets
During the reign of Emperor Joseph II gala dinners were arranged in Winter, when the Orangery was filled - like nowadays it is - with trees planted in tubs. The Emperor had seen such banquets held in the St. Petersburg Winter Garden on his journey to Russia. On 6th February 1785 Emperor Joseph II gave a gala dinner and invited 56 aristocrats selected through a draw. The participants recalled: "On a splendid table the flowers from all seasons gave off a wonderfui aroma in the depth of Winter. Beautifully illuminated orange and lemon trees stood in circles and after dinner there was acting and a ball in this blooming Winter hall".
Scenes from Lessing's "Emilia Galotti" and the comedy "Der seltene Freier" (The Rare Suitor) as well as the Italian opera "II finto amore" (The Coloured Love) were played. At a similar gala a year later, on 7th February 1786, the opera "Der Schauspieldirektor" (The Music Director) with music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieris opera "Prima la musica, poi le parole" (First the Music then the Talk) were both performed. Mozart and Salieri entered a musical competition with each other with the pieces commissioned by Emperor Joseph II.
Several gala dinners were also held here during the period of the Vienna Congress. On llth October 1814 princely guests dined at two tables with 62 places. The highest ladies and gentlemen had places under the fan leaves of a large palm while the building and garden were illuminated with 28,000 lamps. It is interesting that the Orangery's banquet table was preserved at the time and put on show for the public!
The last important imperial event in the Schoenbrunn Orangery took place in 1839 as the imperial family gave a gala banquet for the heir to the Russian throne.
From the first half of the 19th century the symbolic importance of an orangery no longer played the same role it had in the 18th century. In this period the building only served as a winter home for the palace's decoration plants. In late Autumn 1848 imperial troops were quartered in Schoenbrunn and the Orangery even became a stall for war horses.
In Summer 1905 the exhibition of the first International Botanical Congress was held in the Orangery. The building once again presented itself to the world as a brilliant focal point. More than 13,000 visitors admired the many exhibits and above all the slides which were set up against the light of the Orangery windows - these were a worldwide novelty.
Downfall and new life
The Orangery had already begun to be used in a new function as a fruit and vegetables house before the World Exhibition. This remained the function of the building in the 1st half of the 20th century. After World War II the Orangery Schoenbrunn experienced a further change of purpose. The Renaissance fountains were removed and stored in a depot, the garden was converted, glasshouses and hotbeds were erected in front of the building, the long hall was renovated and the Orangery itself was shortened internally to enable the installation of a heating room. The revitalisation of the Orangery did not begin until 1985. Great emphasis was placed on retaining the substance of the building during the renovation process. The Orangery stands under the protection of national monument legislation.
The division of the Orangery by a glass wall is intended to allow the viewer to experience the building in its total length although the interior is actually intended for double use. The longer part of the Orangery on the palace side today serves once again as a green house, while the part on the side nearest the Meidling gate has been reconceived as a cultural and event centre.