The Landscape Guide

Hapsburg gardens in Austria

Among the princely houses Hapsburg was early addicted to the culture of gardens, and Maximilian I. himself wrote works on the subject. The relation of Charles V. with Spain we have already studied. He made use of his huge domain, as did his brother Ferdinand, to introduce rare plants into Vienna. At that time this city, the court capital since the eleventh century, was the flourishing centre of culture, before the first invasion of the Turks. In the fifteenth century we find Bonfini praising its marvellous situation, lying like a palace in the midst of suburbs, several of which are. comparable with itself for beauty and size, so that the whole of Vienna might be one enormous garden, adorned with vineyards and orchards. In the picture are pleasant cheerful hills, with charming country houses and fish-ponds. But this beauty of the olden time was almost all destroyed in the first cruel year (1529) of the Turkish invasion.

It is not Vienna, however, that gives us the earliest gardens due to a Hapsburg prince, but Tyrol, at the Castle of Ambras near Innsbruck. The Archduke Ferdinand, second son of the Emperor Ferdinand I., gave this castle in 1564 to his wife Philippina Weiser. By rebuilding and laying out the garden skillfully he had made an exceedingly beautiful princely seat out of a mediaeval fortress. There lived the fair woman, who had been exalted to the rank of a fully recognised wife by her knightly and (in the truest sense) princely husband. This was in spite of the disfavour of the emperor his father, and in the face of many difficulties. Here she lived a life of romantic love that became almost legendary, in surroundings that were truly worthy of her. In the year 1574 when the castle and its inhabitants were at the very summit of their happiness and glory, they received a visit from the learned Jesuit and jurist Stephanus Pighius, who was conducting the young prince Carl von Jülichberg, nephew of the archduke, on his travels through Tyrol to Italy. He describes how they rode out to the summer dwelling, the villa suburbana of the archduke.

The castle at Ambras was built on the hill, “in magnificence excelling the finest villas of the ancients.” In the women's part the visitor first saw hanging gardens and wired aviaries, but it is not clear whether by this is meant real roof-gardens or high terraces, for the gardens proper are at the foot of the hill. Below they saw "paradises"—probably garden parterres with pillared corridors—labyrinths, grottoes dedicated to various nymphs, and grand fountains; the numerous springs received their supply of water from the natural brooks. Arbours, open and covered, where meals are taken, are decked with the finest topiary, especially one round arbour with a table for guests to sit at in the middle; this table suddenly begins to move, spinning round quicker and quicker till they are quite giddy. In the eyes of the visitors. the chef-d’oeuvre is an underground wine cellar, where they are led through several grottoes into the sanctuary of Bacchus. Round these well-kept gardens lies the park, well supplied with thickets, fish-ponds, cages for animals, and. enclosures for game. Near the house are large playgrounds for knightly sport, racecourses,. stadiums, and a tennis-house, where the archduke played with his guests. At the beginning of the seventeenth century the elder Menan produced an etching of Ambras (Fig. 361) which exhibits the garden of the castle, though its size is somewhat cut down, and of the parts on high ground near the women’s quarters only one corner can be seen.

Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see


  But at the foot of the hill lies the large square intended for pomps and games, surrounded. by buildings among which on the left front the Chamber of Art is especially interesting with its famous collection. Near the Chamber of Art is the granary, and on the other side the library. Above is the part where the master’s sons live, with a flower-garden next to it. On one side this is bordered by an airy walk, and the lower building is very likely the armoury. Perhaps this little garden was one of the “paradises” seen by the strangers. Close by the castle and in the wall is built the great festival hall, whose windows look out on the ornamental garden below. The second side of this square parterre encloses the covered tennis-court, and there is a low wall protecting the third side, while the fourth appears to be open towards the park, but shut off by a row of tall trees, which follow the line of the house.

The parterre is divided into nine geometrical squares, which are apparently encircled by low fencing. In the centre there is a small round open pavilion on pillars, probably to take meals in, while in the park, which goes all about this side of the castle bill, there stands, raised high up on the wall, the great round pavilion with the revolving table. A long narrow piece between walls and near the parterre may perhaps be the stadium, and beside it is the cellar with its underground delights. This place corresponds to what Gesner demanded for a princely garden. It makes us think of early French gardens, such as Gaillon or Blois. In the copious supply of playgrounds and their buildings, and in the art collection, we find the personality of this prince, whose knightly nature and love for art were renowned far and wide. At his beautiful seat were held the wonderful Shrove- Tuesday feast, the shows, and the tournaments of the year 1580, when Ferdinand was able to take his delight in splendour and happiness and in his wife’s love. But a few weeks later the mistress of the castle died quite suddenly, and Philippina Weiser took with her to the grave the finest flowering of the princely home.