Like many 19th century Austro-Hungarian buildings, the outside of the Neue Burg is plastered (excuse the pun) with statues. Along the bottom, you’ll find 20 people representing key figures in Austrian history. You can explore the background behind them all on this excellent webpage from Van der Krogt.
The most likely candidate for this ferocious character is the 10th century Magyar chieftain, Lehel.
Prince Eugene of Savoy, the grand military maestro of 18th century Austria, was born in Paris. A short and sickly boy from the cadet branch of the house of Savoy, Eugene was supposed to end up where all sickly aristocrats go – the Catholic Church.
But the boy known for playing a woman in games with his pages had a secret military dream. At the age of 19, he bravely volunteered for the French army. Who turned him down flat.
In a fit of pique, Eugene went east. The Austrians were desperately battling the Ottoman Turks, and were willing to take whoever was foolhardy enough to join them (even a Frenchman). Eugene tasted blood in the Siege of Vienna and never looked back.
Over the reigns of 3 Emperors, Eugene conquered the Turks, made friends with the Duke of Marlborough, and – you guessed it – successfully vanquished the French in the War of the Spanish Succession. His later career was less starry, but he endured in the public imagination. Napoleon dubbed him one of the seven greatest commanders in history.
Reputed to be gay, Eugene never married or had children. You’ll find his body in the Stephansdom and his ghostly presence in the Upper Belvedere, the Prince’s summer palace.
The Schloss Eggenberg (Eggenberg Palace) is a down-and-out joy to explore. It has meandering gardens, peacocks in heat, astrological wonders, archaeological bits and bobs, and one stupendous art museum – the Alte Galerie. Not bad for a suburban complex.
The Schloss wasn’t always in suburbia, of course. When Balthasar Eggenberger, wily financier to Frederick III, bought the land in the 15th century, the west of Graz was still a green and pleasant land. On the back of his father’s wealth, Balthasar built a residence and a Gothic chapel. You can still view the chapel today.
Hans Ulrich von Eggenberg
God was all very well and good, but Prince Hans Ulrich von Eggenberg, Balthasar’s great-grandson had bigger dreams for his family seat. The Austrian equivalent of Cardinal Richelieu, Hans Ulrich was the righthand man of the Catholic crusader, Ferdinand II. As the Governor of Inner Austria, he wanted something suitably grandiose and he wanted it yesterday.
But that was just the start of Eggenberg demands. As a man-about-Europe, Hans Ulrich decided his home should form its own cosmological utopia. The rational world of astrological harmony (or something like that) would be reflected in every window pane and floor tile.
Enter Giovanni Pietro de Pomis. Using the El Escorial in Spain as a basis for the design, de Pomis began work on the “new” Schloss. The medieval bones were covered in the flesh of towers and arcades. De Pomis died in 1631, before the Schloss was complete, but his foremen helped finished it off.
Johann Seyfried von Eggenberg
Yet, despite de Pomis’s hard work, the Schloss still played second fiddle to the family’s city residence, the Stadtpalais. It wasn’t until 1685 that Hans Ulrich’s grandson, Johann Seyfried, gussied up the state rooms and filled the place with tapestries and furniture. And that was grand – until the male line of the Eggenbergs ran out. For some years, the Schloss was left in a state of neglect.
Bring on the ladies. In the 18th century, the state rooms had another makeover, this time by Maria Eleonora, wife of Johann Leopold Count Herberstein and the last princess of Eggenberg. Herberstein was busy creating staircases at the Stadtpalais, so the aging Maria Eleonora – known to her peers as the Old Fairy – probably decided where to place the East Asian silks and shepherdesses.
The Eggenbergs continue to live in the Schloss up until 1939. In the months before World War Two, the palace became the possession of the state of Styria. After the Germans, Allies, and Russian troops had vanished from the corridors, it was restored and re-opened.
The Schloss is open Tuesday – Sunday (and public holidays), 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from April to October. Admission only as part of the guided tour.
The gardens are open all year-round (8 a.m. – 7 p.m. from April to October and 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. form November to March). You will have to pay a nominal fee even if you only want to see the grounds.
You can reach Schloss Eggenberg via tram from the Hauptplatz or the Jakominiplatz. Take Tram Line 1 and get off at the Schloss Eggenberg stop (just after the sports complex). Signs for the Schloss lead you down a side street and into the entrance of the gardens.
The tram ride takes around 15 minutes and plonks you down in suburban Graz. On the day we visited, nuns from the Corpus Christi Procession were returning from the city with designer shopping bags in hand.
On the insistence of Hans Ulrich von Eggenberg, the palace was designed as an independent universe, built with astrological, astronomical, and mathematical principles in mind:
- 31 rooms on each floor = days in a month
- 24 state rooms on the piano nobile (2nd story) arranged in a circular fashion = hours in a day
- 52 state room windows + 8 windows in the Planetary Room = 60 minutes in an hour or 60 seconds in a minute
- 4 corner towers orientated to the 4 points of the compass = 4 seasons
A guided tour of the state rooms is highly recommended!
The Schloss Eggenberg contains the Alte Galerie – a world class art museum with none of Vienna’s crowds. It has work by Michael Pacher, Jan Brueghel the Elder, Giovanni Pietro de Pomis, and an extensive collection of stained glass, Maria statues, and panel paintings. If you’re a medievalist, you’re not going to want to miss this one.
Scavenger hunt enthusiasts can look for:
- A colorful Virgin Mary in the act of giving birth
- A realistic death portrait of an Emperor
- A skeleton accompanying a blissfully unaware man in a lute duet
- One of the first uses of Renaissance perspective in Austrian art
- Early mining technology
- Graz’s Catholic crusader, Ferdinand II, crushing the Protestant heresy under his foot
The Alte Galerie is open 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Wednesday – Sunday from April to October. It can be visited November to January 6, but only as part of a guided tour.
When it came to impressing their guests, the Eggenbergs preferred the sledgehammer to the feather. You can see this principle in action during a guided tour of the palace’s 24 state rooms.
Baroque State Rooms
Like everything in the palace, the state rooms are part of an intricate cosmological scheme. 12 rooms were originally reserved for the Prince and 12 for the Princess.
Although Hans Ulrich von Eggenberg was responsible for the construction of the modern palace, it was his grandson, Johann Seyfried von Eggenberg, who financed the decorating.
Each room is adorned with landscape friezes and elaborate ceiling paintings (500+ in total) covering the Western history of the world. A Roman hurling himself into a poisonous crevice, a Theban woman shoving a soldier down a well, an Israelite heroine stabbing a Canaanite commander with a tent peg – it’s all fun and games in this Baroque version of antiquity.
As well as historical scenes, the Eggenberg cycle contains a series of puzzle emblems. Like Polonius’s blithering to Hamlet, the pictura (“image”) plus the lemma (“motto) add up to sententious advice for young rulers. For example, the picture of a cracked bell with the motto, Ex pulsu noscitur (“It is known by its sound.”) is meant to warn princes to consider their words carefully.
The state rooms were made over in the mid-18th century on the orders of Johann Leopold Count Herberstein and his wife, Maria Eleonora, the last Eggenberg princess. The couple didn’t touch the ceilings, but they did ask the artist Johann Anton Baptist Raunacher to go all Rococo on the walls of the Semi-State Apartments in the north wing.
Since these rooms didn’t receive much sun, Raunacher kept everything deliberately airy and light – all the better for candlelit evening parties. In the new decorative scheme, ladies dance and shepherds frolic while blood continues to drip (metaphorically) from above.
Art Bonus: Keep an eye out for the couple cheating at cards in the game of Pharaoh.
The state room cycle ends and begins in the Planetary Room, where the paintings evoke a Golden Age of Eggenberg power.
Created by Hands Adam Weissenkircher, the paintings depict the 12 signs of the zodiac (12 months) and 7 classical planets (7 days of the week & 7 alchemical metals). The planets also represent the 7 coats of arms of the Eggenberg family and 7 of its most prestigious members:
- Jupiter = King of the Gods = Johann Seyfried von Eggenberg
- Venus = Goddess of Love = Eleonora Rosalia, wife of Johann Seyfried
- Mercury = Messenger God = Prince Johann Anton, Imperial Ambassador to Rome
- Apollo = Sun God = Johann Anton II, younger son of Johann Seyfried
I can only imagine what Johann Anton II’s feelings were when his parents told him he was going to be represented as the half-naked “epitome of perfection.” Who knows? Maybe he enjoyed the experience.
The State Rooms can only be visited as part of a guided tour. These take place at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m. & 4 p.m., Tuesday – Sunday from April to October, and on public holidays. You can also try to book a popular candlelit tour.