The Schönbrunn Palace near Vienna is one of the most important cultural monuments in Austria and since the 1860s has also been one of the major tourist attractions in Vienna.
In the year 1569 the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II purchased the Katterburg which was located on a large area between Meidling and Hietzing where today Schönbrunn’s parks and different buildings are situated. He showed interest in the newly founded zoo, the Tiergarten Schönbrunn Zoo Vienna, and tried to establish not only a systematic maintenance of wild animals, but also a plantation of rare and exotic plants. He is justifiably called the creator of Schönbrunn’s garden arrangement.
The alternate name Schönbrunn ("beautiful spring") has its roots in a water well from which water was consumed by the royal court in Vienna. During the next century many members of the royal family of Austria spent their summer vacations and hunting excursions in the Katterburg. In the days of the Turkish sieges the Katterburg was nearly destroyed and it appeared to be impossible to restore the castle.
Emperor Leopold I gave architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach the order to design a new palace. His first draft was a very utopian one, dealing with different antique and contemporary ideals. His second draft showed a smaller and more realistic building. Construction began 1696 and after three years the first festivities were held in the newly built middle part of the palace.
Unfortunately, not many parts of the first palace survived the next century because every emperor added or altered a bit on the inner and outer parts of the building. By order of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, the architect Nikolaus Pacassi reshaped Schönbrunn Palace in a way of the style of the Rococo era. At the end of the so-called Theresianian epoch Schönbrunn Palace was a vigorous centre of Austria’s empire and the royal family.
In the 19th century one name is closely connected with Schönbrunn – Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria. He spent most of his life here and died on November 21, 1916 in his sleeping room. In the course of his reign, Schönbrunn Palace was seen as a Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art) and remodelled in accordance with its history.
After the downfall of the monarchy in 1918 the newly founded Austrian Republic became the owner of Schönbrunn Palace and preserved the beautiful rooms and chambers as a museum for the visitors. In the 20th century the palace was used several times for important events such as the historical meeting between John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev in the year 1961. The UNESCO placed Schönbrunn Palace on the World Cultural Heritage List in 1996.