A Wet Adventure at Schloss Hellbrunn

A few miles outside of the main city of Salzburg is a Baroque summer residence, complete with trick fountains, commissioned by the Prince-Archbishop Markus Sittikus in 1613. At the end of our second-to-last week in the city, Salzburg College organized an excursion where we were able to tour the grounds, beginning with the main residence, which is now a museum.

Markus Sittikus was appointed Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg in 1612 and soon after assuming office, he engaged the Italian architect Santino Solari to build a summer palace, construction taking around three years. We took a semi-guided tour around the building, now a museum, with the art teacher and then had around ten minutes to explore on our own. Each room had a different theme though all related to the history of Hellbrunn in some way. My favorite was a room covered with paintings of animals and plants, some real, others not. Also of importance were two chambers painted by the Italian artist Arsenio Mascagni. First is the “Fürstenzimmer” (or Prince’s Chambers), the walls and ceilings of which are painted as if the viewer is located on the streets of Rome. 12 giant, golden Caesars surround the room and a viewing platform spins in the center. The other, known as the “Musikzimmmer” (or Music Room), borders the Prince’s Chambers, though the focus is on music instead.

The main building (now a museum) at Schloss Hellbrunn.
A stuffed “unicorn” in the room of natural wonders.
A sculpture of music in the painted “Musikzimmer”.


After exploring the museum, we met for our guided tour of the trick fountains. Becaue it was a rainy/snowy day, we in some ways lucked out and received warnings of all the tricks, usually used to play pranks on the guests, though this also lessened the surprise.

We began the tour at the Sovereign’s Table, made of stone, gathering on the steps of the Roman Theatre above. Ten stone stools surround the table, nine of which have a small nozzle in the center to spray water. Unfortunately, there are no records as to who designed the gardens nor who created the many trick fountains.

The Roman Theatre in the distance with pools of water in front.
A non-working fountain in the shallow pool.
The Sovereign’s Table showing the wine cooler in the center and water spurting from the chairs.

Next came the Orpheus Grotto, in which Orpheus plays to a reclining Eurydice, both of which are surrounded by animals and volcanic limestone. The figure of Eurydice resembles Countess Isabel Mabon, who was known as the Prince-Archbishops’s ‘muse’, and wears nothing but a portrait of Markus Sittikus around her neck.

Orpheus playing to Eurydice in the Orpheus Grotto.

Further on are more grottos, located in the ground floor of the palace. The first of these is dedicated to Neptune, who is guarded by a pair of seahorses. At his feet is a caricature face of a man with enormous ears who can roll his eyes and stick out his tongue, the motions all operated by flowing water. Known as the Big Mouth, it is said to represent the Prince-Archbishop’s laughing reaction to his critics.

The entrance to the series of grottos.
The mask known as Big Mouth, situated at the feet of Neptune between the two seahorses.
The painted walls of the main grotto hall with another grotto behind.

Upon leaving, antlers upon a deer spurted water away from the grotto.

Water streaming from the antlers of a deer.

Another grotto farther down the path is known as the Crown Grotto for its main attraction. In the center of the room is a metal crown that dances up and down, held aloft by a powerful jet of water. Upon leaving the grotto, we encountered jets of water on either side that created arches above the path for us to walk under without getting wet.

The metal crown before the trick is performed.
The flying crown near the top of the grotto.
The exit of the grotto showing the arches of water.

Along with fountains, water-powered automatons were also an attraction. During one part of the trail, five small-scale automatons housed in stones covered with ivy portrayed various scenes. The first three are domestic scenes, portraying a knife grinder, a potter, and a miller all hard at work. The latter two, however, show scenes from mythology, the first being Perseus killing a sea monster and the second Apollo flaying a bleeding Marysas.

One of the small automatons, this one showing a knife grinder.

A variety of other fountains are encountered, many of which are not attached to any big grotto or story. One of these is a pair of tortoises who spout water into each other’s mouths.

The spitting tortoises, separated by a small stream.

After finishing at the trick garden, we walked through the park grounds and up a hill to reach the Little Month Palace, so named as it was supposedly built in a month.

A wet path in the park grounds.
One of the larger bodies of water outside of the trick garden.
The back of the Little Month Palace.

Since 1923, the palace has been used by the Salzburg Museum as a place to host exhibitions relating to the local and regional culture of the province of Salzburg. These include traditionally painted and carved furniture, monastic crafts and religious artworks, farming traditions. Two of the most interesting are the Samson-figures and Perchten masks. The former come from the Lungau region, where the giant figure, accompanied by dwarves, is carried around in a procession. The latter is a tradition with pagan origins that is still commonly practiced all over the Salzburg province, generally in the winter months of December and January.

A decorative hat to be worn during a festival procession.
Examples of Perchten masks, made from a variety of materials.
The giant Samson with a dwarf on either side.
A bed covered with religious paintings.

Our last stop of the day was the Stone Theatre, built in the quarry used to construct Schloss Hellbrunn. The first opera performance north of the Alps, Monteverdi’s “L’Orfeo”, was given here in 1617.

The art teacher from Salzburg College peering through an opening in the Stone Theatre.
Students from Salzburg College climbing on the Stone Theatre.

2 thoughts on “A Wet Adventure at Schloss Hellbrunn

  1. Such a fun palace to visit! I wish Carolyn & I had more time to visit the museum and water gardens on our visit (we only saw the exterior); we’ll just have to go back one day. I went when in my 20’s with two other Americans I had met on the train. It was warm enough we didn’t mind getting wet and I still remember many of the water features you described. It must have been good to be the Prince Archbishop.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m so glad you got to see the inside of the museum and the surrounding grottos with all their water tricks. Our “Sound of Music” tour guide told us about some of the trick fountains, but we didn’t have time to see any of them. The Prince Archbishop apparently enjoyed being a prankster. I love all the water-activated features. Very clever engineering.

    Liked by 1 person

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