With its Orangerie, Hof Palace possesses a real jewel with respect to both cultural history and technology. This greenhouse originally built for Prince Eugene and now authentically restored is one of the biggest and most impressive Baroque buildings of its kind.
The Prince’s passionate interest in the flora of foreign lands was demonstrated not least by his impressive collection in Hof Palace’s Orangerie. With this building the architect Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt created a worthy setting for these botanical treasures, which the great general primarily acquired from the Mediterranean region and East India. In summer the exotic plants were on decorative display in two mirror-symmetrical outside gardens. In winter they were moved back into the two greenhouses behind, which were admired by Prince Eugene’s contemporaries as architectural and technological masterpieces. In particular, the huge expanse of windows on the southern façade and a newly developed subterranean heating system were innovations that were revolutionary at in their day.
Decline and fall
Despite its magnificence and innovative technology, the Orangerie quickly lost its splendour after the death of Prince Eugene. The niece who inherited the complex took no interest in this kind of grandeur and reduced the budget for care and preservation to such an extent that only the most robust plants could survive. When the Palace was taken over by the imperial family in 1755, the last exotic flora disappeared. Emperor Francis Stephen had the remaining plants taken to his new glasshouse at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, and the greenhouses of Hof Palace were remodelled to create lodging for the servants and farmhands.
Despite these sweeping changes and the sad fact that the original plans had been lost, it was possible during the restoration of Hof Palace to reconstruct its former magnificence in an authentic manner. Careful examination of the construction along with the work of garden archaeologists provided the experts with such a clear image of the original Baroque state of the greenhouses that it was possible to rebuild them authentically down to the last detail. From the colour of the wooden supporting structure to the lead-glass façade and the heating system, the eastern greenhouse and the garden in front look much the way they did in Prince Eugene’s day. And thanks to extensive historical research and extended travel to Italy in search of plants, rare subtropical species have now returned to Hof Palace.