Oct 02

Hellbrunn Castle (Castelul Hellbrunn)

The Hellbrunn Castle is actually a villa of colossal dimensions which had been erected in the first decades of the 17th century (1613-1619) by the order of Markus Sittikus von Hohenems, the one who held the position of Prince-Archbishop in Salzburg at that time. The construction was not created with the purpose of accommodating the Archbishop, and for that reason, there are no bedrooms in the castle.


The Archbishop was a man with a fondness for comedy and for that reason it had come with an innovative idea to create several mechanisms through which to amuse himself and his fellow guests. The castle is renowned for its water-games. There are several machines which sprinkle water when activated and the target of their ‘attack’ was usually one of the guests of the Archbishop. But even today, these water systems are functional and tourists can get to experience on themselves how the water games work. In mid-18th century, other inventive ideas were put into practice.

For instance, a mechanical, water-operated and music-playing theater was established, as well as an apparatus through which the imminent shift in power is emphasized. This consists of a crown which is situated under a water sprinkle and which moves up and down according to the movement of the water. This is a clear illustration of the rise and fall of those who rule over specific regions.

There is something worth noting and that is that the Archbishop was never subject to a practical joke because the place designated to him was not part of the water-games web so he never got wet, unlike the rest of the guests. At present, the place that was once occupied by the Prince is attributed to the tour guide.

The surrounding area of the Hellbrunn is actually an immense park which is adjacent to a zoo, a theater built out of stone and a small edifice which goes by the name of ‘little month palace.’ The name conveyed to the building is tightly connected to the history of its construction. Apparently one of the Archbishop’s guests had suggested that the view one sees out the windows of the castle would greatly improve if the landscape offered to the viewer consisted of a building on a hill. Markus Sittikus had taken this piece of advice seriously and had given order for a small building to be erected on the neighboring hill. One month later, when the same person came for another visit at the Hellbrunn Castle, the Archbishop presented him with the improved view from the window.


The construction had survived throughout time and at present is a part of the Carolina Augusteum Museum of Salzburg. The items on display are representative for the cultural past of Salzburg, thus the ‘small building on a hill’ is the subdivision of the museum dedicated to ethnography.

The main building of the castle is rectangular in shape and comprises two pavilions in the front part. The edifice is made out of three storeys which are delineated at the exterior by means of specific decorative works. The first floor of the edifice comprised the rooms of the archbishop and the entire section bears the mark of the Italian painter Arsenio Mascagni. He had adorned the walls of the chambers at the beginning of the 17th century (1615), when he had painted both the walls and the ceiling with various scenes, some depicted from the famous series of autobiographies entitled the ‘Twelve Caesars’.


Hellbrunn is situated outside Salzburg, but the two points are connected by means of a long alley. Upon arriving at the palace, tourists will first enter in the ‘courtyard of honor’, the Ehrenhof, a courtyard that broadens as one gets closer and closer to the castle. Behind the Hellbrunn Palace lies a 17th century garden which comprises beautiful flower arrangements and a pond that reigns in the center of the garden and in which a small quadrilateral isle is located.


The initial design was conveyed according to the Baroque style, but this was later changed in accordance to the trends that were in fashion in particular timeframes. There are only two markers of the original plan (from 1730) and these are the two obelisks that are located in the western part of the gardens.
Due to the gardens and the mechanisms which are incorporated within the setting, especially the water games, the Hellbrunn Castle can be regarded as some sort of Disneyland, whose sole purpose was to entertain the Archbishop and his guests.

May 29

Lazienki Palace (Palatul Lazienki)

The Lazienki Palace is also known as the Water Palace due to the site in which it is built – the Royal Baths Park, in Warsaw. The neoclassical palace has been constructed between 1683 and 1689 on an artificial island which was created on Lazienki Lake, dividing the lake into a smaller pond to the north and a larger one to the south. The palace is not stranded on the island, but it is connected to the land beyond the lake via two bridges which have ionic colonnades.


The initial plan was to construct a bathhouse on that site. The beneficiary of the building was Stanislaw Herakliusz Lubormirski, the landlord of the neighboring palace – the Ujazdow Castle. The estate was enhanced after 1678 by means of garden pavilions (four in number). The architect behind the marble building was Tylman Gamersky who had the task of creating the aforementioned bathhouse, to which he had to add a pavilion fit for living and a garden grotto.



The same architect would then embellish the interior of the edifice with wonderful stucco works. Due to the purpose for which it was intended as well as the surroundings in which it was found, the decorative elements of the edifice also included water divinities, and these were mainly located in the center of the building, surrounding the fountain. Other ornamental elements used were reliefs, Latin inscriptions and sculptures, both on the interior and on the façades of the edifice.

Another member of the Stanislaw noble family, this time August Poniatowski, decided to turn the bathhouse into a dwelling and thus the remodeling work began in 1764, under the supervision of Domenico Merlini. The project was completed in 1795, but the edifice suffered damages during WWII, as many other edifices did in that time. The German troops pierced the walls of the edifice so as to place explosives and thus turn the building into ashes. But they never got around to doing this. Soon afterwards, the edifice was used as a garrison.



Architectural design

The façades of the palace form a unity by means of an entablature which is sustained by immense Corinthian pillars that connect the two floors and are ‘embraced’ by a banister which is decorated with statuettes representing mythological beings.

On the ground floor, one can admire Bacchus’ Room which is beautifully adorned with Dutch alabaster from the 17th century and a painting from Jacob Jordaens workshop (a Flemish Baroque painter) which illustrates ‘Silenus and Bacchantes.’ The same room used to contain a painting on the ceiling (the 1778 ‘Bacchus, Ceres, Venus and Cupid’), but the Germans destroyed it during WWII (1944).



The Round Room (Rotunda) occupies the central part of the palace. The interior is dressed in white and yellow marble and adorned with the representations of the Polish kings. It is no wonder that this is one of the most relevant rooms in the palace, representative of the neoclassical decorative art.
Opposite of the Round Room is the small Art Gallery in which one can find minor works signed by the masters Rubens and Rembrandt. Other rooms located at the ground floor are the chapel and dining room which used to hold the famous ‘Thursday Dinners’ that brought together free masons and other important figures of the Polish Enlightenment. The furniture and the paintings found in this room follow the classical design.


Solomon’s Room, one of the largest ones at this floor, was embellished with a series of painting which retraced the history of Solomon – this explains the name of the chamber. The artist behind the paintings was Marcello Bacciarelli who had created the works of art between 1791 and 1793 for King Stanisław Augustus. However, all of the 6 paintings from this series were destroyed by the Germans back in 1944.

The first floor holds the royal apartments, an art gallery, a balcony, the king’s cabinet, royal chambers, a vestibule and an office.

The palace is impressive in itself but the picturesque location in which it is situated makes Lazienki Palace more alluring to the tourists who want to catch a glimpse of history in their travelling but who also want to wonder in a peaceful and natural surrounding and admire the clear water of the lake and the beautiful garden of flowers.

May 09

Durnstein Castle (Castelul Durnstein)

All those interested in gaining more knowledge about the world history will be pleased to learn that in the heart of Austria lies one such marker of historical times. So if you are in this country do not hesitate to visit the Wachau region where the ruins of the Durnstein Castle are found.

While not much is left of the castle, except a desolate image of a once glorious edifice, the location bears touristic importance due to the historical weight it carries. It is said that the King of England, Richard the Lionheart was captured in 1193 by the Duke of Austria Leopold V and held prisoner in this castle, until he was rescued by his faithful minstrel Blondel de Nesle.



Upon reaching the castle, you will first get to see the picturesque town of Durnstein which is surrounded by hills, thus entering into a tranquil setting where all the worries seem to be left behind. While the entire region has a lot to offer, it is the solitary castle which mesmerizes the tourists. It seems to spring from the rocks and reign over the valley. It is impossible to describe the image you are given the privilege of admiring once you ascend to the ruins. A feeling of liberation seems to take hold of your being.


History and Legend

Richard Lionheart did not manage to come out successful in the Crusade and he was on his way back to England when Leopold’s army captured him. He considered that a journey over land would be less dangerous than one over the sea, where there was a higher risk of being captured either by pirates or by his archenemy King Philippe Auguste of France. But luck was not on his side as he fell to the hands of Leopold.




The Austrian Duke was a little baffled about what to do with the royal hostage so he kept him locked in the Durnstein Castle until a decision was to be taken about the future of this inmate. Leopold, in alliance with Henry IV, was planning to receive a huge ransom if Richard was to be set free.

It is here that the historical reality ceases and in its place comes the legendary rescue conducted by Richard’s troubadour. He had managed to escape the ambush in which his king was caught and he fled to England where he informed the people about the king’s terrible fate.

There were numerous attempts to discover where Richard was held captive but none had succeeded. Blondel then took it upon himself to find his master. He came up with an intelligent plan which would undoubtedly unveil the whereabouts of Richard the Lionheart.




He and Richard were the only two people acquainted with a specific song, so Blondel decided to sing this tune near each grand castle in the hopes that his master will give a response. Legend has it that, upon beginning the song near Durnstein Castle, the voice of Richard came through, singing the second verse. The story goes on with mentioning how Blondel came to Richard’s rescue, helping him escape his imprisonment.

But the reality was that the English army succeeded in tracing down their king and that the capturers negotiated his freedom.



Even if the events have been documented and there is an evident inaccuracy in the legend presented above, this makes a good story nonetheless as it stresses out important traits such as friendship and loyalty. Just to understand the importance of these aspects, characteristic of human nature, it is enough to think that the legend has survived the passage of time, being transmitted from generation to generation.

Such moving stories, but also the historical events that took place within the walls of the edifice, make the Durnstein Castle such an important tourist attraction. It is precisely this that urges tourists to climb up the rocky path and admire the remains of the castle, but also the valley below.

Apr 17

Budvári Palota – The Royal Palace of Budapest (Palatul Regal din Budapesta)

The Royal Palace, also known as Buda Castle, was built in 1265 on the southern slope of Castle Hill. It is important to mention that the castle was rebuilt more than 30 times due to the fact that it suffered immense damages in times of conflagration and invasion.


Budvári Palota, as it is the name in the Magyar language, was erected in the 13th century by the King Béla who, after seeing the results of the Mongolian invasion, decided to transform the castle into a fortified citadel which would stop any future attacks.



The castle was strategically built as anyone who had control over the edifice controlled the entire valley. Because of its position, it was rather difficult to conquer the citadel thus giving the Hungarian rulers the upper hand when it came to military confrontations.

But even so, the castle changed hands quite a lot of times. The original edifice was constructed in the Gothic style, but since its erection, it underwent constant modification – the palace having been extended more than 300 times. It was during the reign of King Mathias that the palace went through its “golden years.”

A complete annihilation of the edifice occurs in 1686 when the Habsburg army decides to free Budapest of its Ottoman occupation. In the fights in which the two armies are engaged, the royal palace fells victim.



But the Habsburgs built another palace on the same place, but smaller than the former, at the beginning of the 18th century. Unlike the architectural design of the previous one, the new castle is representative of the Baroque Style. But this new construction does not hold its ground for long as the 1848 Independence War leaves its mark on the building.

The reconstruction work which took place at the end of the 19th century bought immense modifications to the castle, almost doubling its dimensions. One change consisted of a large wing being added at the back of the construction. During World War II, the German troupes sought cover inside the walls of the castle before being finally defeated by the Allies in 1945.



Another reconstruction takes place after the war and during these works the foundations of the constructions built in the Gothic and Renaissance styles come to light. These elements are incorporated within the Royal Palace upon its rebuilding process. And the result consists of a mixture of architectural styles which transform the edifice into a symbol of the Hungarian history and architecture.


At present, the Royal Palace is the home of three museums: the History Museum of Budapest, the Hungarian National Gallery and the Contemporary Art Museum.



At the National Art Gallery there are more than 100.000 pieces of art on display which track the evolution of the Hungarian people from the Middle Ages and up to the 20th century. The History Museum of Budapest contains archeological evidence dating from the Roman period and up until the 13th century.

The best way for tourists to reach the Royal Palace of Budapest is to take the cable tramway from the Clark Adam Square. On Castle Hill, tourists can also visit the church where Matei Corvin got married and where Franz Liszt sung the Coronation Mass in 1867, as well as the Sandor Castle, which is the Office of the Hungarian President.