It is difficult to give an overview over the residence in Laxenburg, because apart from the large park and the lake there are a village and three castles, which must be described. But let us start at the beginning, with the Old Castle, even if it is not the first thing you get to see, when you come to Laxenburg ...

The Old Castle is situated a little further within the park and was used as a fortification by the Sires of Lachsendorf, until the Habsburgs took over the property at the beginning of the 14th century.

Duke Albrecht II let build a gothic chapel in one of the towers in the Old Castle, which is mentioned in writing in 1332 for the first time. Albrecht III lifted Laxenburg (as it was called by this time) in 1388 to a market township and let enlarge the Old Castle. The castle, about 15 kilometres south of the center of Vienna, was in coming days mainly used by the Habsburgs as starting point for hunting and fishing trips.
But here was also the place where history was written. Emperor Charles VI composed here the so called "Pragmatische Sanktion", which should make it possible for his daughter, Maria Theresa, to govern Austria, but which also declared, that the Austrian countries from Tyrol to Bohemia and Hungary were a unity, which must not be divided or separated.
Eleven years later, he signed a peace and alliance treaty with Philipp V, King of Spain. By doing this he resigned even officially from any claims on the Spanish crown, while Philipp aknowledged the "Pragmatische Sanktion".

Today, only the old core of the castle remains, because almost everything in the neighbourhood fell prey to the Turks in 1683, when they laid a siege on Vienna and ruined everything around the city. The reconstruction and later enlargements were done around the remnants that remained of the castle. A plate, fixed to the castle, states, that during the years of 1925 - 1938 a school for rythm, music and physical education was lodged here, which had pupils and teachers from all over the world. Today there are apartments in the house, where you still can admire cross vaults and one or the other old piece of furniture in the staircase.

The next castle dates back to the 15th century. Already then it had been a free farmyard, and it became the property of Sebastian von Bloenstein at the beginning of the 17th century. He has given the building the name, that is still used, "Blauer Hof" (Blue Court). A hundred years later this court was rebuilt into a barock palace by Lukas von Hildebrandt according to the wish of Friedrich Carl von Schönborn. About the middle of the 18th century it fell into imperial hands, which led to another rebuilding and enlargement. Builder was now Niccolo Pacassi, architect at the imperial court. Maria Theresa was fond of living in Laxenburg and did so quite often.
But not only she preferred the quietness of the countryside - her son Joseph II found here a possibility to get away from the stern ceremonial of the court in Vienna and to feel more liberated. And last but not least, Emperor Francis Joseph and his Elisabeth visited Laxenburg often - two of their three children were born here. Of course, today there are scientific institutions, which occupy the "Blaue Hof", among which the IIASA, the "Internationale Institut für angewandte Systemanalyse" might be the most important. Not at all as romantic as earlier - but in some form the buildings have to be maintained.

It is enchanting in Laxenburg, that one has not only restaurated the castle, but that the entire environment looks like if it had been newly built - some 200 years ago. Sure, there have been some changes. The nobility of those days had tried to build their palaces in the neighbourhood of the imperial residence, as not to be forgotten.
But since 1913 the palace of the Schwarzenberg's together with the Kaunitz-palace and the guesthouse "Zum Stern" have become a monastery of the Daughters of Charity.

The church stands there like painted. It is a pity that it is locked. After the invasion of the Turks, during which the old church of course was ruined, one decided to build a new one on the same spot.

In 1693 Emperor Leopold I layed the first stone - but the church was finished first in 1739. Partly it is the fault of the storm, which in 1724 demolished the tower, so that it had to be rebuilt entirely. At the same time there was a new frontage designed. It is thought, that Mathias Steinl was the builder of the later works, while Carlo Antonio Carlone signed for the earlier parts.

Even other houses have gone through a metamorphosis. Today's pharmacists shop is in the building, which Maria Theresa had designed to be the school, and which until 1971 was used as such. The rebuildings of castle and village by the Empress is remembered on the city hall by a wallpainting, as is the nomination by Duke Albrecht III to a market township.

Furthermore there is a plate on the city hall, telling that the regions Vienna and Lower Austria in 1962 decided together to renovate and keep the castle and the park. Today's city hall was earlier a farmhouse, which was enlarged with another floor in 1900 and even later had some enlargements. The old city hall can be seen nextdoors, painted in dark yellow.

A little further away from the Schlossplatz there is the Grünne-Haus, even called Palais Dietrichstein, which Maria Theresa bought for her daughter Marie Christine and her son-in-law Albert von Sachsen-Teschen. (The Albertina - an art museum - in Vienna got its name after this Albert, by the way.)
Finally there should be mentioned the imperial railway station, in which there is a restaurant today. Until 1935 Laxenburg was connected to Mödling and the southgoing trains from Vienna.

The park is worth a chapter of its own. Originally it was built by Francis Stephan von Lothringen as a French garden with starformed alleys (as a surprise to spouse Maria Theresa) - but then it was changed into an English garden by son Joseph II and not at least Francis I of Austria, in which nature got a much more free roll again.

In order to understand the park and the Franzensburg, we have to dive into history for a while. The bourgeois and social-liberal ideas of Joseph II (1780 - 1790) show, how progressive and far ahead of his time that man really was, if you think of the French Revolution. Here the reforms came from above and not from the people, as in France.

When, in 1792 Francis II became Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nation, he had seen some of the horrors of the French Revolution already - no wonder, that he reacted conservatively. Besides, the innovations by Joseph II had not necessarily fallen into good earth, because the people were not mature enough (neither were they in France, once they had come into power). "Back to absolutism" was therefore the parole of Francis. And the absolutism he found in earlier centuries - during the middle ages. That is why the park and not at least the Franzensburg look like they do.

Even the statue of him in the park shows his strong position - he is high up in the air and around him is nothing. He was not necessarily a bad leader (the "Hymn to the Emperor" by Joseph Haydn - today the melody of the German national anthem - has the text: "may God save and protect our good Emperor Francis"), but the fear of a revolution hang over him during all of his lifetime.

While we are talking about Francis II, we should mention, how it happened that he became Francis I. Austria was an Archduchy until 1804 - even if, since centuries, (almost) without interruption, the Habsburgs were elected emperors of the "Holy Roman Empire of German Nation", which had started with Charles the Great in the year 800. As Roman-German Emperor the husband of Maria Theresa, Francis Stephan, was Francis I - and because of that the next emperor with that name had to be Francis II. But when Napoleon made himself Emperor of France, Francis counteracted and made himself Emperor of Austria. But under this (now inheritable) crown he was of course the first Francis. He resigned from the Roman-German crown in 1806, by the way, without any successor being elected.

Back to the park. The fact, that Francis turned away from the neatly cultivated french park, has probably many reasons. For one France declared war on Austria in the same year, that he was crowned. Another reason was, that Francis was a botanist, and as such you can study the plants better in a natural park. Finally he probably was very romantic (see his faible for the middle ages).
This is why you can find a knight's tomb as well as a knight's pillar in the park, well, even a place of joust ... The Gothic bridge has also a knight's armour as a decoration and not far from that there is a "grotto". It consists only of stones, piled on each other, but nevertheless it points at a romantic nature. The original castle of the Habsburgs, which was meant to be on top of all that, never was accomplished.

But another castle was accomplished, namely the Franzensburg. It was never a place for living, it was thought as a museum from the start. It was built at the beginning of the 19th century and looks lika a giant toy castle with its different towers and pinnacles. On the other hand, that was exactly what it was ... Inside Emperor Francis did not collect toys, though, but treasures from the whole country. He got whatever he liked, from other castles and monasteries - because when Francis pointed at something, of course it had to be an honour for the owner of the castle or the abbot, to present it to him as a gift.
How often that was done with contained indignation, one can imagine. But it fits to the romanticism of Francis, that he wanted to glorify the House of Habsburg in this castle. Besides diverse arms and coat of arms, of which some really are rarities, there are in the Hall of Habsburg the statues of the seventeen Austrian rulers from the House of Habsburg, from Rudolph I until Maria Theresa. Uncle Joseph II, who is missing here, stands as a mounted statue outside the entrance to the hall. But there are also portraits and reliefs of family members all over the castle.
Not at least Francis himself is portraited here and there, as for instance on this glass panel, where his both sons stand beside him.
But it are not only the things concerning the family, that make this castle so interesting. The Emperor collected, as earlier mentioned, outstanding objects from all of the empire for his hobbycastle. And there are really exquisite pieces, that one can admire here. There are for instance parts of the architecture from the Capella speciosa, dating back to 1222, from the monastery in Klosterneuburg. There are many panelled ceilings from the 16th and 17th century - taken from the Caste of Greilenstein, the City Hall of Salzburg, the monastery in Zwettl and many others. There are historical paintings about important incidents from the history of the House of Habsburg, amazing furniture, which has surely not been bought at IKEA, enchanting glass windows and other "bagatelles". Many of them are dating back from the 14th and 15th century. It is really pretty, what can be seen here.
Maybe it is even too pretty, to be absorbed during a guiding-tour of one hour. But nevertheless, the "toy castle" is absolutely worth a visit.

You should calculate a whole day for a visit in Laxenburg, because even if you don't plan to do some rowing on the lake, big as 50 soccerfields, maybe you have to take the parks own "train", on your way back, as not to come home too late.

Bernhard Kauntz, Wolvertem, 2009

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last update: 4.3.2009 by