Vienna Stories and Tips

Elegant Vienna - the Belvedere Palace and Karlsplatz

The facade of the Ober Belvedere Photo, Vienna, Austria

Before you reach the end of your tether and scream at another baroque palace or ornate garden - there is still one in Vienna which is worth a look.

Some say it is the best royal palace in Vienna and makes an excellent amble after the Kunsthistorische museum which is an easy distance away. The great rococco facade of the Belvedere palace is magnificent and inside are great works of art by Gustav Klimt, Eisler and David. In fact, combined with a visit to the succession museum over on Linke Weizelle this will give you a taste of the length and breath of Viennese fin-de-circle art.

My major suggestion for visiting this area is the Karlskirche, which along with Durham Cathedral, is my choice for the most beautiful church in Europe. And after you have had enough art and baroque then a visit to the Naschmarkt on Linke Weizelle with its pigs trotters, wurstands and bierkellers is an absolute must.

The Belvedere and Karlskirche were are both south of the Ringstrasse. And were built before the city walls came down and the area was open country. The Karlskirche was the first to go up as a thank you for deliverance from the plague in the 17th century. A market was held in front of it for hundreds of years before it was moved to the Linke Weizelle.

But the person who built the Belvedere palace got the prime real estate. That person was Prince Eugene of Savoy. No one outside of Austria has really heard of Eugene and if they have it was for the relief of Vienna when it was besieged by the Ottoman Turks in 1683. But he was a fantastic general (much to the irritation of the Habsburgs) but never married. Therefore his priceless collection of artworks and architecture fell to distant relatives. And when they died Maria Theresa pinched the lot and it eventually became an art gallery.

The Belvedere has to be situated in a position perfectly designed for tourists opposite the Sudbahnhof (South station). A tram, air and rail terminus that allows you to roll of the airport bus or the train from Krakow or Budapest and just walk across the Gurtel to the Belvedere. Its magnificent south facing facade is the first thing that you will see with its roccoco design, gold filigree and statues depicting Greek gods.

As you move around it it will become apparent that there are two palaces seperated by ornate gardens. The major south facing palace is the Ober Belvedere with its works of art and at the bottom of the gardens is the Unter Belvedere with its barock museum. Both are visitable on the same ticket. When we visited the Unter Belvedere a kindly old Austrian gentleman made conversation with us and offered to show us around (the Viennese sometimes remind me very much of the English). A great marble staircase took us upstairs to the galleries which had beautiful views of the gardens and artworks by Eisler and Gustav Klimt. We had his most famous work - "The Kiss" to ourselves for a couple of minutes before a party of Austrian schoolchildren came up behind us and disturbed our concentration.

The gardens that led down to the Unter Belvedere were magnifient set against the facade of the palace. We wandered through gravel paths, clipped hedges, sphinx statues (see photo), secluded grottoes, geometric flowerbeds and marble fountains of tritons and sea gods. The Unter Belvedere is alot smaller then its uphill rival and was used by Prince Eugene for living rather then entertaining.

In many ways the Unter Belvedere was more impressive as it was more intimate and contained amazing artworks.Great canvas' by Jacques David including 'Napoleon on a rearing horse' decorated the walls. And at the far end was the "Cabinet of Gold". A white marble Canova statue was reflected in a room filled with mirrors and gold leaf. I wonder if it would work in my flat back home?

From the Unter Belvedere it is a short walk or tram ride back to the Ringstrasse. Just south of this is the Karlsplatz, a wide open platz containing greenery, benches, and statues all flanked by government buildings. But reflecting in a pool containing a Henry Moore statue is one of the most beautiful baroque churches in Europe - the Karlskirche (see photo). A lavish blue baroque dome stands atop a white marble exterior and the entrance is flanked by two carved minarets based on Trajans column and topped with golden lions. You have to back up 40ft to get the full impact of this lovely church.And the interior? The interior is wonderfull cool and bedecked in high baroque. God is depicted as a golden hebrew triangle with golden rays shooting out in all directions. I loved this church so much I came back here to kill time while I waited for my train to Budapest.

If you have had your fill of baroque palaces and twee gardens and feel the need of abit of city grime and noise then head for the Naschmarkt. This is next door to the Karlskirche and stretches half a mile down the Linke Weizelle. A mini-city of stalls and alleys it is a proper market where locals come for their shopping. Here you will find butchers, vintners, bierkellers, confectioners, grocers and fishmongers. The Viennese like their fleischwine and ropes of sausages hang from stalls and pigs heads were on display. So my advice is to find yourself a bierkeller, sit down with the locals,and order up the biggest stein of bier you German can muster.

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