A lot of us have crockery for daily use and the crockery we bring out for visitors. Prince Eugene applied the same principle to palaces.
Upper Belvedere was largely for show, Lower Belvedere primarily for actually living in. Though if that sounds like Lower Belvedere was all bare walls and dustbins, it couldn’t be farther from the truth.
This U-shaped palace at the southern end of the main gardens was completed in 1716 under the watchful eye of architect and military engineer Johann Lukas Hildebrandt.
Photo: Roland Voraberger, © Belvedere, Wien
The main entrance gates lead directly off the road (Rennweg) to the large courtyard with the palace entrance on your right. Here you can pick up a ticket and a map (look for the “plan” brochure).
So what’s inside this Baroque residence?
Well, the building hosts high-quality, temporary art exhibitions and many of the rooms are now fitted out like a modern gallery. But many also still contain Baroque elements (like a decorated ceiling) or retain pretty much all their original and magnificent glory.
So don’t feel a visit is wasted just because the current exhibition doesn’t get your adrenaline flowing: there’s plenty else to see inside…
East wing highlights
Leaving the ticket area takes you into the hall of grotesques (Groteskensaal) with its patterned marble floor.
Despite the name, it’s not a collection of disfigured mummies or similar. “Grotesque” refers to a fanciful style of decoration popular in Ancient Rome, with flowing, quasi-floral patterns integrating botanical, zoological and mythological elements, often with caricatures.
This room is essentially one giant grotesque painting. The style was also a big feature of Prince Eugene’s Winterpalais residence in the city center (no longer accessible to the public).
Moving off to the right takes you through the east wing into the marble gallery, golden room, book cabinet and then the exit to Orangery and stables.
Marble gallery (Marmorgallerie)
As the name cunningly suggests, the floors and walls here are marble, interlaced with stucco reliefs. Imagine a Wedgwood plate made into a room. Large mirrors at either end add a white marble vastness to the room’s feel.
This is also your introduction to the two themes that permeate much of Belvedere: military victories and the vanity of Prince Eugene.
The ceiling has a relief of said Prince receiving a laurel wreath from an angel, while a manifestation of peace drives away envy and hate (and possibly modesty). It’s not the last time you’ll find depictions of the house’s owner basking in the glory of his military genius.
Golden room (Goldkabinett)
Originally a conversation room, this room was later decorated with gold walls, giant mirrors and grotesque paintwork, thus making conversation impossible thanks to sensory overload.
Stand in front of the opposing mirrors and you see a never-ending cascade of gold and colored arches that exude imperial opulence and grandeur (the adaptations took place after Eugene’s heir sold the palace to Empress Maria Theresia).
© Belvedere, Wien
It demands an awful lot of self-control not to take a selfie in front of those glorious mirrors.
(The book cabinet that follows isn’t very big. Although Eugene did apparently have a very large book collection. I’m guessing most were biographies of himself.)
West wing highlights
You can leave the book cabinet to view the Orangery and stables, with their art displays. Or return back to the hall of grotesques and go the other way through the palace, beginning with the shop and its traditional stock of books, souvenirs and similar.
Most of the rooms beyond are modern, gallery-style exhibition display rooms. But with some rather wonderful exceptions. So you may discover a marble-edged ceiling painted to look like a giant stone dome. And most importantly, of course, there’s the marble hall that is the centrepiece (literally and figuratively) of Lower Belvedere palace.
Marble hall (Marmorsaal)
This large two-story hall feels like Prince Eugene’s personality expressed in marble and stone. Sit on one of the benches and let your eye wonder across the numerous reliefs depicting hard-earned military trophies, statues of shackled enemies, and balconies and alcoves that turn out to be clever paintings designed to create architectural illusions.
And, of course, there’s Eugene in the ceiling fresco, receiving honors from the Pope via the God Mercury. It’s all rather impressive. So let us forgive Eugene his vanity, because without it we wouldn’t have this Baroque splendor to marvel at. And remember – this is the more functional palace: you haven’t seen Upper Belvedere yet.
How to get to Lower Belvedere
See the directions article.