Mirabell Palace, or Schloss Mirabell, is a Baroque palace in Salzburg, Austria, with elegant gardens, fountains and statues of mythological creatures. It was built in 1606, during the time when Salzburg was an ecclesiastical state and part of the Holy Roman Empire. The wealth and power of the ruling prince-archbishops transformed Salzburg from a medieval city to one filled with Baroque art and architecture. Mirabell Palace was constructed during this transformation but its history began as a forbidden, yet true, love story between a prince-archbishop and his mistress.
Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau and Salome Alt fell in love. She was the daughter of a wealthy Protestant merchant and granddaughter of Ludwig Alt, a mayor of Salzburg. Their relationship was neither a casual nor secretive affair. She accompanied him in public, served as adviser and hostess, and was the mother of their 15 children, 10 of whom survived. Raitenau convinced the emperor to elevate her rank. The prince-archbishop commissioned, Vincenzo Scamozzi, the Italian architect who had designed the residential palace, to build a palace with gardens for her and their children. The residence was named Altenau Palace, which would later be known as Mirabell Palace.
Raitenau was arrested in 1612 over a dispute involving salt mining rights and sent to prison by his nephew and successor, Markus Sittikus von Hohenems. That same year, Alt and her children were forced out of Altenau after having lived there since 1606. She remained in exile in Wels, Austria, until her death in 1633. Raitenau died in prison in 1617. Throughout their relationship, he tried to get permission from the Catholic Church to marry her but his request was denied. She was acknowledged as his common law wife and their relationship lasted more than 20 years until his death.
Sittikus had the palace name changed to Mirabell after Raitenau’s death. Approximately 100 years later, from 1721 to 1727, Mirabell Palace was extensively redesigned during the reign of Prince-Archbishop Franz Anton von Harrach by Franz von Hildebrandt, a well-known Baroque architect. He made the separate buildings a more unified complex. He also created a marble staircase with cherubs decorating the balustrade. Various other artists were commissioned for frescos, sculptures and paintings. It was also during Harrach’s reign that the Dwarf Garden, or Zwerglgarten, was created with statues made out of white marble.
The design of the original Mirabell Gardens was changed in 1690 and again in 1730 under the ruling prince-archbishops at that time. The palace was partially damaged by a large area that went through of the city in 1818. By then, Salzburg had been annexed by Austria and the prince-archbishops were no longer in power. Peter de Nobile, a court architect from Vienna, served as consultant for the restoration, giving it more of a neo-classical look. The marble staircase and Marble Hall, or Marmorsaal, were not damaged. Marble Hall was the prince-archbishops’ ballroom and where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart performed with his father, Leopold, and sister, Nannerl, under the patronage of the last prince-archbishop, Hieronymus von Colloredo.
The gardens and fountains of Mirabell Palace are in the 1965 movie, The Sound of Music, when Maria and the children are singing Do-Re-Mi. The Pegasus Fountain was not installed until 1913 but the four surrounding groups of statues were created in 1690. Each group is a different element of earth, air, fire and water. Emperor Franz Joseph first gave the public access to the gardens in 1854.
Mirabell Palace continues the historic legacy that began out of true love. Salome Alt’s grandfather was mayor of Salzburg in the 16th century. Today, the palace houses offices of the mayor and other civic leaders. Marble Hall was the scene for grand balls and concerts during the time of the prince-archbishops. Today, it is a favorite place for weddings, receptions and chamber concerts. For information on hours the palace and gardens are open, the website below has the schedule.
By Cynthia Collins
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Mozart Birthplace Museum Depicts Early Life of Salzburg Composer
Salzburg Festival: Austria’s Annual Tribute to Music, Arts and Culture
Salzburg Museum – Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau – Biography
Salzburg Museum – Salome Alt