If you’re in the palace gardens at Schönbrunn, facing the huge Neptune Fountain at the foot of the hill crowned by the Gloriette, look left and walk along the path until you reach the Roman Ruins among the trees.
What a fabulous find, not to say coincidence that such a marvellous ruin should remain preserved in the very grounds of the Hapsburg summer residence! It’s almost too good to be true.
Well, take a closer look and you’ll see that the materials that make up the broken statues, frescoes and arches are a little newer than they ought to be. The whole collection is fake.
Not that the original architect was trying to kid anyone. Aristocrats and rich merchants in Europe often built artificial Roman Ruins on their grounds in the fashion of the time. You can see similar ruins at Villa Torlonia in Rome or in Parc Monceau in Paris.
Schönbrunn’s version was built in 1778 for the Empress Maria Theresia by the same architect who designed the park’s Gloriette: Johann Ferdinand Hetzendorf von Hohenberg.
His design is based on the ruins of the Temple of Vespasian (and Titus), as drawn by Giovanni Battista Piranesi.
The original (real) temple was built for the Roman Emperor Vespasian in the 1st century AD by his son, Emperor Titus. Titus died before it was finished, though his brother — and successor as Emperor — Domitian completed the task, dedicating it to them both (hence the name).
Vespasian, incidentally, is known for his deathbed quote, “Woe is me. I think I am becoming a god” and is alleged to be the source of such delicate lines as, “the body of a dead enemy always smells sweet.”