Throughout the 2014 Salzburg Festival, the arts section of the Guardian Liberty Voice has featured articles about various museums and concert venues in Salzburg, Austria. The last article in this series is about the summer palace of a 17th-century prince-archbishop with a sense of humor. The Hellbrunn Palace grounds had humorous trick fountains installed that purposely would leave visitors soaked even while sitting around the table. These fountains, known as the Wasserspiele, have been delighting guests for 400 years.
Prince-Archbishop Markus Sittikus von Hohenems commissioned the Italian architect, Santino Solari, to design his summer residence shortly after he began his reign in 1612. His country villa was at the foot of Hellbrunn Mountain, just outside Salzburg. The property had ample water from a natural spring, making it an ideal location for the prince-archbishop’s “water games.”
Salzburg was already undergoing an architectural transformation that had begun with Hohenems’ predecessor, Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau. Hellbrunn was completed in 1615 with that same attention to detail ranging from opulent ballrooms to meticulously landscaped gardens. The grounds had decorative fountains with sculpture depicting Greek mythology, but it was the trick fountains that separated this pleasure palace from others.
Hellbrunn was an idyllic summer retreat, a place of relaxation and celebration often just for the day. The prince-archbishop saw to it that his guests were entertained with formal parties, sumptuous meals, leisurely gardens, and getting sprayed with water. At various locations, Hohenems would activate a well-hidden switch that caused the trick fountains to surprise his guests. The outdoor stone dining table was particularly eventful. The prince-archbishop could control the mechanism at his seat at the head of the table. The fountains were rigged so everyone would get wet except him. This was also the case while strolling along outdoor paths. Guests were subjected to a summer shower that never “rained” on their host.
The trick fountains were built by master craftsmen under the supervision of Solari, Hellbrunn’s architect. Water flows to all the fountains by machinery that was part of the original construction. Five small grottos contain scenes of mythology and local artisans are part of an intricate water pump system that is hidden. The artisans represented are the potter, grinder and miller. The Greek gods represented are Apollo flaying Marsyas and Perseus rescuing Andromeda. Even though these small figures are designed to be entertaining, they operate as an ensemble, displaying ingenuity and power of 17th-century engineering.
The prince-archbishop of the mid-18th century commissioned a water-powered mechanical theatre to be added to the grounds to replace a forge that had stopped working. The result was a three-story cutaway showing a palace, members of the court, workers and merchants typical of that time. The water power makes the scene come to life with the small figures going about their daily tasks. This was built by a miner, Lorenz Rosenegger, who finished it in 1752. He also designed the background organ music which accompanies the bustling activity.
During the time of the prince-archbishops, only he and his guests could enjoy the lavish palace. Now, it is open to the public and tours are available. In addition to the palace and fountains, the gazebo used in the 1965 movie, The Sound of Music, is on the property and the Folklore Museum occupies a small palace built in 1615 in only one month. The interior elegance of Hellbrunn Palace is quite different from the humorous trick fountains outdoors that have purposely been leaving visitors soaked for centuries. For more information and schedule of hours and tours, the website is listed below.
By Cynthia Collins
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Hellbrunn – Mechanical Theatre