If you like symmetry, balance and color in a garden, you’ll love Mirabell Gardens in Salzburg, Austria. Mirabell is considered one of Europe’s most beautiful Baroque gardens.
Positioned throughout the garden are sculptures and water features by some ofAustria’s best known artisans. Seasonal colorful annuals are planted in geometrically designed beds.
This respite in the heart of Salzburg is anchored on one end by the historic Mirabell Palace and silhouetted on the other end by the 900 year old Hohensalzburg Fortress, the biggest and most fully-preserved fortification in Europe. Mirabell Gardens is one of the most beautiful and peaceful places in Salzburg.
Mirabell Gardens began as a kitchen garden prior to 1690 and has since undergone several remodels. The Grand Parterre, the oldest part of the gardens that is still maintained, was built along a north-south axis to take advantage of views of the historical Fortress and the 17th century Salzburg Cathedral.
The flower beds, hedges, water features, and statues are set amidst generous grassy plots separated by paved pathways that permit visitors to easily wander aimlessly throughout the garden.
This landscaping is all surrounded by an inner and outer marble balustrade topped with elaborately decorated marble vases sculpted by Johann Berhnard Fischer von Erlach who was trained as a sculptor but is best known as Austria’s Father of Baroque Architecture.
Enter the garden at the south entrance and you’ll walk beneath the outstretched hands of two Borghesian fencers from the late 17thcentury. The fencers on the outer balustrade were sculpted by Michael Bernhard Mandl. His father-in-law, Andreas Götzinger, sculpted the ones on the inner balustrade. Both men were master Austrian sculptors.
At the far north end of the Grand Parterre is the misty rose colored Schloss Mirabell (“beautiful view). Originally built in 1606, the palace was rebuilt from scratch in the 18th century, seriously damaged by the 1818 fire then rebuilt in the following years. Today the Palace houses the offices of the mayor of Salzburg and the town council. It is also known for its famous marble hall and is considered to be one of the loveliest wedding venues in the world.
In the heart of the Grand Parterre stands an octagonal fountain surrounded by four marble statues. The statues, sculpted in 1690 by Ottavio Mosto, symbolize the four elements – Water (the abduction of Helen by Paris that started the Trojan War), Fire (Aeneas fleeing from the flames of Troy with his old father), Earth (the abduction and rape of Proserpina, Zeus’ daughter, by Pluto, Lord of the Underworld), and Air (the battle between Hercules and Antaeus).
The Greek mythology theme continues with the fountain of Pegasus in the Small Parterre located along the west end of Mirabell Palace. Unlike most of the designs in Mirabell Gardens, the Winged Horse fountain is made of copper. It was designed in 1661 by Kaspar Gras for the well on the Kapitelplatz near the Salzburg Cathedral. It found its present home in the heart of the Small Parterre after several moves in and around the gardens.
You can also enter the Mirabell Garden via steps at the north end of the Small Parterre. From your vantage point on Rose Hill, a part of Mirabell Park, you have a magnificent view of the entire Small Parterre, the dome of the Salzburg Cathedral and the Hohensalzburg Fortress looming in the distance.
These steps, also known as the Do-Re-Mi steps, from a Sound of Music sequence where Fräulein Maria and the Von Trapp children hop up and down the steps singing Do-Re-Mi.
Continuing along the west side of the Small Parterre is a path leading to the very popular hedge arcade and maze which contains the Heckentheatre or Hedge Arcade. The Heckentheater was built between 1704 and 1718. It is one of the oldest hedge theaters north of the Alps and is still used during outdoor summer performances, including concerts of the Salzburg Festival.
In the history of almost every palace is a beautiful love story. And Mirabell is no exception. Prince Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau, a senior member of the clergy, had the original palace built for Salome Alt, his great love.
Together they had 15 children. However, as a member of the clergy, he could not marry her. He had the first palace built for Salome in the hope that it would somehow make up for the fact that they were excluded from most social events and their children were considered illegitimate. He named the palace Altenau in her honor. It was renamed Mirabell by his successor. The fountain statue of Susanna in the Bathwhich now stands on the southern end of the Small Parterre formerly stood in the Archbishop’s private garden. The statue is said to have features that resemble Salome.
Before you begin your reenactment of the Trapp family’s run to the Hedge Arcade, walk a few steps west to an old bastion where you’ll find the Zwergerlgarten or Dwarf Garden. The four foot marble dwarves are representative of disfigured men and women who once lived at the Palace. Even though they were considered to be grotesque in appearance, they were a part of almost all Baroque European courts. They were highly respected and well-treated because of their integrity and loyalty but kept primarily for entertainment purposes.
The nine dwarf statues in Mirabell Gardens date back to Archbishop Franz Anton Graf Harrach who had a dwarf theater with 28 dwarves. After the statues were removed from the original Dwarf Garden on the southwest side of the garden, they were “lost” for more than a century. Years later they were acquired by the Salzburg Society for the Preservation of Local Amenities. In 1921 the Society convinced the city council to place the nine dwarves in their historically correct venue. Although the figures have been fully restored, nothing is known of their creator.
On the southeast end of the Grand Parterre are the Statues of Gods. The four seasons are represented by the goddesses – Diana, Flora (spring), Minerva, Ceres (summer); Pomona(fall); Venus, Vesta (winter) and Juno. Statues of Apollo, Mercury, Volcano, Hercules, Mars, Jupiter, Bacchus and Chronos stand nearby.
Other features of Mirabell Gardens include the Orangery, the 18th century winter home of the orange trees. Today the former Orangery houses the Salzburg Baroque Museum installed in 1973 and exhibits the 17th and 18th century works of Cortona, Rubens, Bernini and other baroque artists. Guests can also attend performances ranging from baroque to modern music in the unique setting. On the northern end of the Small Parterre is the Volière or Birdhouse. The 17th century building is used today for art exhibitions.
Mirabell Gardens was opened to the public in 1854 by Emperor Franz Joseph. The garden is always open and free to the public.
If you go
Mirabell Gardens is an easy walk over the pedestrian bridge from the heart of Old Salzburg. It is also a short walk from the train station. The best time to visit is early mornings before the hordes arrive.
The Mirabell Palace and its Gardens brochure http://www.barockmuseum.at/folder_pdf/Mirabell_en.pdf