One thing you probably don’t expect to find in the grounds of a Baroque palace are some Roman ruins. Unless that palace is Vienna’s Schönbrunn…
- Fake (but impressive) ruins built in 1778
- Mimics the Temple of Vespasian and Titus
- Part of the park area open to the public
- See also: Schönbrunn tickets & visitor info
Roman ruins in Austria?
(© Schloß Schönbrunn Kultur- und Betriebsges.m.b.H., Photo: Alexander Eugen Koller)
What a fabulous find, not to say coincidence, that such a marvellous ancient ruin should remain preserved in the very grounds of the Habsburg 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 of this Roman temple seem a little newer than they ought to be. The whole collection is fake, albeit a rather convincing one.
Not that the original architect was trying to kid anyone.
Aristocrats and rich merchants in Europe often constructed artificial Roman ruins on their grounds in the fashion of the time. Similar ruins exist at Villa Torlonia in Rome or in Parc Monceau in Paris.
Schönbrunn’s little piece of Rome went up in 1778, built for the Empress Maria Theresa by the same architect who designed the park’s Gloriette: Johann Ferdinand Hetzendorf von Hohenberg.
The ruins make a remarkable impression for what is, essentially, a garden ornament. Step a little away from it, for example, and the central arch frames a statue up the hill behind it.
The design mimics the actual ruins of the Temple of Vespasian and Titus, as drawn by Giovanni Battista Piranesi.
The Roman Emperor Titus built the original (real) temple for his father, Emperor Vespasian, in the 1st century AD. Titus died before it was finished, though his brother — and successor as Emperor — Domitian completed the task, dedicating it to both his predecessors (hence the name).
(Temple of Vespasian and Titus by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, 1756, used as a model for Schönbrunn’s Roman ruins. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Vespasian, incidentally, is known for his deathbed quote, “Woe is me. I think I am becoming a god” and is also allegedly the source of such delicate lines as, “the body of a dead enemy always smells sweet.”
To be fair, it’s not so unrealistic to imagine Roman ruins in Vienna. Excavations in the city have revealed, for example, a Roman garrison once stood close to the centre. Vindobona (as it was known) included a small town and Emperor Marcus Aurelius (of Gladiator fame) spent time here in the 2nd century.
How to get to the Roman Ruins
If you’re in the palace gardens at Schönbrunn, standing at the foot of the huge Neptune Fountain below the hill crowned by the Gloriette, look left and walk along the level path until you reach the Roman ruins on your right among the trees. Continue past to reach the Obelisk with its Egyptian hieroglyphics (another fake).