BELVEDERE PALACE IN VIENNA


Belvedere is situated in Viennas third district. We enter the place from the upper side, from "behind", from the Gürtel, because I think that its effects are shown off better from here, even if it was planned and built from below. In 1714 the famous architect of the baroque, Lucas von Hildebrandt got the order to build a palace. The man, who gave this order, was Prince Eugene of Savoy, the great commander, who chased the Turks back all over the Balkan peninsula and thus freed Europe from the danger of the Ottoman expansionism. Prince Eugene, as he is called in Vienna, was born in 1663 in Paris and died in Vienna in 1736.
He grew up at the court of Louis XIV and wanted to start a military career. But because of his weak appearance the Sun King denied his application. Then Eugene came to Vienna and applied to Emperor Leopold I, by whom he was accepted. His reputation Eugene got after the victorious battles at Zenta (1697) and at Peterwardein (1717), whereafter he even could free Belgrade from the Turkish occupation.


Two pictures within twenty seconds and twenty meters

The latter he achieved mainly because he did not attack Belgrade from the landside, as everybody had expected, but instead built a bridge of ships on the Danube and captured the city from the riverside.
This incident became even a popular ballad, which described the event in nine stanzas. Here are the first two, singing about the bridge over the Danube.

Prince Eugene the noble knight
wanted the Emperor to have back
city and castle of Belgerade!
He had built a bridge,
so that one could move over
with the army in front of the city.

When the bridge now was built,
so that one could with man and carriage
freely move over the Danube,
he pitched a camp at Semlin,
to drive away all the Turks,
mocking them for their anger

Eugene had a very good relation with his soldiers; he led them personally into the battles, which made that he was injured not less than thirteen times. But it were not only his military successes, which made him popular - he was said to be extraordinarily kind - so that he for instance kept his gardeners even over wintertime, thus ensuring their salary.
In 1703 he was appointed President of the Council of War at the Court and became lieutenant general. That was the highest rank that was to be reached at that time. Envious people ask today, where he took all his money from, but I imagine, that he could get quite some loot on his campaigns.

Maria Theresa and her spouse Francis Stefan of Lorraine stand in the Upper Belvedere
When Eugene died without being married, he left his entire wealth to his niece Anne Victoria of Savoy, who auctioned off almost all the heritage. On the other hand she didn't even pay for his grave in the church of St. Stephan, which the wife of his nephew, Maria Theresia Anna Felicitas Duchess of Savoy-Carignan, let errect. The palace of Belvedere came later into the hands of the Hapsburgs, who more or less used it as a second domicile.
For instance the heir of the throne, Francis Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie Countess Chotek, lived here, before they were murdered in Sarajevo.

The entrance hall
But even after the Hapsburg era the Belvedere was witness of great events, concerning the state. Nobody, who on May 15th, 1955 experienced this, will ever forget: Leopold Figl, the foreign minister at that time, came out on the balcony of the Belvedere after signing the treaty and announced:
"Austria is free!"
Ten long years of the Allied occupation were finally over.

The grand staircase
But still today it can happen, that the Belvedere is used representatively on very important occasions. Though mainly it is a museum for the collections of the Austrian Gallery Belvedere, the emphasis of which lies on the Austrian painters from the Fin de Siècle and the Art Nouveau. Thus you can see pictures of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele here - and it is thoroughly forbidden to take photos.

But there are not only Austrian artists being exhibited - you can find Jacques-Louis Davids "Napoleon at the St. Bernhard" as well - and not at least a statue of Renoir, called "Victorious Venus". I like the simpleness of the workmanship. Only the apple in her hand, the one she got from Prince Paris, explains the title, which finally led to the Trojan War.

From the beginning the Upper Belvedere was thought only as an optical finish of the gardens, alike the Gloriette in Schönbrunn. And even when the palace became the summer residence of Prince Eugene, he lived in the Lower Belvedere and used the upper part only for representations. The garden in between was created soon after he had bought the area, quite some years before the buildings.

The gardens can be publicly visited since 1780. The name Belvedere comes from the pretty view over the city of Vienna (at Eugenes time this place still was situated rather far outside of the city walls.)
The many fountains make the looks of the garden more playful, in contrast to the strictly and symmetrically cut plants and bushes. Two of the marvellous wells are situated on the "Main street" between Upper and Lower Belvedere.
They form a base for the upper building, when looking from below and fulfill the harmony of the site.

It is a pity to tell, that the service in the Belvedere does not in any way reach the height of its beauty. Before we went to visit the museum in the upper part, we wanted to get a quick bite in the café. It took 45 minutes before we had gotten and paid for our sandwich.
But it was even worse at the lower part. The exhibitions are open until 6 p.m. At a quarter to 6 we wanted to get a drink in the (detached) café. But we were not served, "as they would close in a couple of minutes". That is of course impossible. That puts a shadow over the entire afternoon in the Belvedere, even months afterwards - and it is very atypical for Vienna. One should be ashamed and immediately get better staff!

The lower part of the park is not sloping and is characterized by paths resembling a labyrinth, while among others the statues of the muses (the picture shows Urania) border the main path.
The Lower Belvedere is today mainly used for showing diverse travelling exhibitions, which are changed two or three times a year. But one should not forget to have a look at the surrounding chambers - they are worth it. Much gold and many mirrors show the wealth of Prince Eugene. Even the marble chamber, which is a counterpart to that in the Upper Belvedere, is a show-piece in itself.
Last but not least, there you find the original of the "Donnerbrunnen", the copy of which you can see on the Neue Markt today. Originally this well was called Providentiabrunnen (providentia = foresight, supply - compare "provider"), but that was too difficult to grasp for the people. That is why the well was called after its constructor, Rafael Donner. Above, in the middle, Providentia is enthroned, surrounded by four of the Danubes tributaries, namely Traun, Enns, Ybbs und March. In the picture we see the rivergoddess of the March, who is leaning against a stone brick with a relief of a battle, because the area around the March historically has been seriously fought about.
Thus a visit in the Belvedere is not only to recommend because of the paintings, but it is a nice experience alltogether - and if you are lucky, you might even get served in the cafés.


Bernhard Kauntz, Wolvertem, 2009

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