Some days ago I enjoyed a little stroll around Belvedere Gardens between the two baroque palaces in the third district. I especially like them in this time of the year and in the wintertime, when they are kind of “stripped” of their baroque boldness.
In 1697 Prince Eugene purchased a sizable plot of land south of the Rennweg, the main road to Hungary. Plans for the Belvedere garden complex were drawn up immediately. He chose Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt as the chief architect for building his summer residence. Construtions for the Lower Belvedere started in 1715 and in 1717 for the upper palace. Until Maria Theresia bought the estate in 1752 it was known as the “Gardenpalais”.
In 1776 Maria Theresa and her son Joseph II moved the “k.u.k. Gemäldegalerie” (Imperial Picture Gallery) into the Belvedere to make it accessible to the general public. The gallery opend five years later as one of the first public museums of the world. But in 1891 it was transferred again to the newly built “Kunsthistorisches Museum” (Museums of Fine Art).
While in 1896 Franz Ferdinand remodeled the Upper Belvedere to use it as his residence, the “Modern Galery” opened in the Lower Belvedere in 1903, the first state collection in Austria that was exclusively dedicated to modern art.
After the end of the monarchy the palaces were left to the Staatsgalerie and they have remained to be museums until today. The Upper Belvedere houses the “Österreichische Galerie”, the Lower Belvedere and the Orangery have been specially adapted to stage special exhibitions quite recently.
In 1955 the Upper Belvedere hosted a very special moment for Austria: The signing of the Austrian State Treaty on Mai 15th, which re-established Austria as sovereign state.