Hellbrunn Palace is a Renaissance villa in Salzburg, Austria’s outskirts. It was built between 1612 and 1615 by Markus Sittikus von Hohenems, the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. Today the palace grounds cover approximately 148 acres (60 hectares) with alles of trees, beds of roses, swirling baroque-style flower beds, and small lakes.
Walking through the gardens on a sunny day is an experience of peacefulness and beauty. However, there is a segment of this garden that is imaginative, whimsical, mechanically inventive, and quite devious!
The Prince-Archbishop von Hohenems must have been quite a character. Why else would he oversee the creation of garden fountains designed to surprise, splash and spray his guests in the most unexpected ways. Hellbrunn Palace was intended as a summer residence and a place of entertainment, featuring stunning architecture and beautiful gardens.
A walk about here leads you into decorated caves or grottos. Elaborate ceilings covered in shells and stone are fascinating to see, As you look up, the water sprays down into your face. Every sculpture is soon suspect as you cautiously walk onward. Diana the Huntress, a little boy, a frog, or a turtle all send out sprays of water.
Arches of water spray over the paths. A stepping stone is designed with hidden water jets that shoot streams of water up into the air. The fountains were designed to operate on hydraulic power and continue functioning today.
These water jokes are over 400 years old. Today it is the tourists enjoying the fun. Still, the prankster, von Hohenems, who is described as having great diplomacy skills, created a garden of whimsy that continues to entertain.
The mechanical musical theatre was my favorite and the least likely to get me wet. Built in 1750, it is a fascinating and intricate masterpiece of engineering and entertainment.
Water is the driving force of this large-scale diorama of everyday life in the town. Over 200 automata (mechanical imitations of humans) depict different occupations and activities.
Men gather on the square, gesturing and nodding, carpenters build a roof, soldiers march by, women shop in the market, a blacksmith hones a blade, and a dog begs for bread. The figures are made from wood, with metal gearing, and clothed in fabric costumes realistic of the time.
The music is played by a water powered mechanical organ, and the show plays on for nearly 15 minutes. It was mesmerizing as I stood there trying to see all of the characters in this grand pageant of daily life.
All of the fountains and grottos are meant to entertain, and yet, eventually, guests of the Archbishop would be invited to dine at a large stone table. Archbishop von Hohenems would, of course, be seated at the head of the table.
Perhaps the guests in their fashionable gowns and powdered wigs would believe they could now relax and enjoy the evening. Not so, as the seats and the table were also plumbed with water jets, and the surprise, splash, and spray would happen again. Imagine the shock!