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Like the Dutch Botanical Garden at Schönbrunn, the Menagerie was originally founded by Emperor Franz I Stephan, who had a profound interest in natural history.

Based on designs by his court architect Nicolas Jadot dating to 1751, a menagerie was constructed consisting of thirteen animal enclosures arranged radially around a central pavilion. While the enclosures were completed by 1752, the central pavilion was not built until 1759.

The Zoo

The individual enclosures, each with its own well, were separated from one another by high walls and from the central pavilion by railings set between pilasters and crowned by vases and groups of animals, through which the animals could be viewed. The back of the enclosure was formed by a ‘lodge’ or hut providing shelter for the animals at night. In a lower-lying area to the west is a two-storeyed building intended as accommodation for the keepers. Beyond this is a pool with roosting pens for water fowl.

The central single-storeyed pavilion, where the imperial couple occasionally took breakfast, forms the visual emphasis of the great diagonal axis connecting the centre of the palace and the pavilion. The pavilion is elevated on an octagonal plinth and can be accessed via four entrances.

The shallow projecting sections on four sides of the building have semi-circular arched doorways and pediments decorated with figures. In between are segmentally-arched window embrasures. The bell-shaped domed roof is crowned with a continuous balustrade. 
Originally painted green, the interior was refurbished shortly after 1765 on the orders of Maria Theresa as a memorial room for her late husband, with rich rocaille wooden panelling, mirrors and paintings of rare birds and animals. The paintings are by Johann Michael Purgau and consist of twelve portraits of very rare animals, not all of which were in fact present in the imperial Menagerie at that time according to recent research, but which were highly desirable collector’s items. The shallow dome of the interior is decorated with a ceiling fresco by Josef Ignaz Mildorfer showing scenes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Besides the Bacchanalian revels centring on the lovers Bacchus and Ariadne, various episodes are represented in which humans are transformed into animals.

The initial animal collection at Schönbrunn was formed by the stock of animals from the former palace of Neugebäude and the menagerie belonging to the Belvedere. These animals – with the exception of the ‘rapacious’ beasts – were moved to the new menagerie at Schönbrunn. The number of exotic animals subsequently increased through new acquisitions and gifts. Both the zoological and botanical collections benefited from the expeditions to the West Indies financed by Franz Stephan.

The opening of the gardens to the general public in 1779 also included free admission to the menagerie. Joseph II continued the upkeep of the menagerie, and expeditions undertaken during the 1780s contributed new specimens to the collection. However, ignorance of the correct conditions in which to keep the animals as well as lack of a suitable diet led to regular losses.

During the course of the nineteenth century new animals were added to the collection, with existing enclosures being adapted and new enclosures built. The attractions included elephants, camels, kangaroos and other exotic fauna. 
A sensation was caused by the arrival of the first live giraffe, the gift of the Egyptian viceroy, in 1828. The enthusiastic Viennese flocked to the menagerie in their thousands ‘in order to satisfy at last their burning curiosity by looking at this most peculiar of creatures’. The arrival of the giraffe had an effect on fashion and social life – dresses, accessories and hairstyles à la giraffe were popular, and at a ‘Giraffe Fête’ held at the Black Grape in the Viennese district of Penzing, the Alexandrian giraffe-keeper was guest of honour. Despite being given the best care possible, the giraffe died after only ten months, and it another twenty-three years were to pass before the menagerie was able to boast a giraffe in its collection again.

From Menagerie to Zoological Garden

At the end of the nineteenth century the appearance and objectives of the menagerie at Schönbrunn were to change, and in time a modern zoological garden evolved out of the Baroque menagerie. The walls between the enclosures were knocked down in 1880 and replaced by bars, so that ‘the specimens may be viewed more easily and conveniently’. After 1900 the zoo was extended eastwards as far as the Neptune Fountain, on the site of the former Small Pheasantry, in order to provide more appropriate conditions for the animals. In 1914 the zoo had a total of 3,470 animals, the highest number it was ever to contain.

Further information on the zoo at Schönbrunn (opening hours, admission charges, etc.) can be found on the Tiergarten Schönbrunn website.

Further Literature 

  • Ash, Mitchell G. und Dittrich, Lothar (Hrsgg.). Menagerie des Kaisers – Zoo der Wiener. 250 Jahre Tiergarten Schönbrunn. Wien 2002
  • Pechlaner, Helmut/Schratter, Dagmar/Heindl, Gerhard (Hrsgg.). Tire unterwegs. Historische und Aktuelles über Tiererwerb und Tiertransporte. Wien 2007
  • Ash, Mitchell G. (Hrsg.). Mensch, Tier und Zoo. Der Tiergarten Schönbrunn im internationalen Vergleich vom 18. Jahrhundert bis heute. Wien-Köln-Weimar 2008
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