“ Historic Baroque gardens in Salzburg, Austria. „
As handsome as Salzburg is, I found it an oddly dull city in terms of colour. Roofs and walls are grey; the pavements much the same. In the back ground the mountains, unless clad in snow, are jagged peaks of more grey stone. A few of the handsome townhouses and hotels are painted but the colours tend to be muted.
In spite of it being one of the busiest places in the city, I was grateful for the vibrant colours of the Baroque Mirabell Gardens. Stepping into the carefully manicured gardens reminded me of how the Wizard of Oz moves from monochrome to technicolour as Dorothy leaves Kansas and arrives in Oz.
Opened to the public in 1854, the gardens belong to Schloss Mirabell (the name means Palace with a beautiful view) a magnificent palace built at the end of the seventeenth century and they started out as a kitchen garden. The palace is occupied today by the Mayor of Salzburg but can be visited free of charge and frequent concerts of chamber music are held in the great hall. The main gardens are open daily throughout the year from around 6.00am until dusk.
With its elegant fountains, gorgeous flower beds and handsome statues its obvious why visitors to Salzburg are keen to see the Mirabell Gardens. Local people also use the gardens; you'll see older people sitting on a shady bench, couples sitting in companionable silence while old ladies gossip and old men debate the issues of the day; on summer evenings families come out, the children on trikes chasing each other round the fountain while their parents enjoy the last of the sun's rays; young couples find quiet spots to smooch, there are plenty of them in the expansive park and there's no denying that it's a romantic spot.
The Grand Parterre is the main section of the Mirabell Gardens and you'll get the most dramatic impression if you enter from the Marktplatz (where the Mozarthaus is). There are two balustrades decorated with statues of Roman gods. The statues date from the end of the seventeenth century. There's a large fountain in the middle of the garden and the various statues around it depict the rape of Prosperina, Hercules and Antaeus, the rape of Helena, and Aeneas and Anchises.
The former palace 'Orangerie' just on the edge of the Large Parterre is home to Salzburg's Baroque Museum. The Small Parterre runs just off the large one and contains the statue of Pegasus that the Von Trapp children famously dance around in the movie 'The Sound of Music'. I was tempted to do the same but with this being one of the most photographed parts of the gardens I decided against. If you stand on the slightly raised balustraded northern end of the Small Parterre you'll be able to enjoy one of the best views of the Hohensalzburg Fortress. The statue of Pegasus, with its lovely verdigris patina, is notable in that it is constructed from copper, unlike the other statues in the gardens.
As the Mirabell Gardens make a very pretty short cut across town many visitors just pass through and don't discover some of the other parts of the complex. It's worth taking a peek at the Mirabell Hedge Theatre which dates from 1717; this charming outdoor theatre is still used for performances during the Salzburg Festival.
The Zwergerlgarten, or 'Dwarf garden' dates from 1715 though it has been remodelled since then. This little garden contains a rather discomforting collection of grotesque statues of dwarves, some modelled on dwarves that lived in the palace complex during the time of the Prince Archbishops. Near to the Dwarf Garden is the pretty 'Vogelhaus' and little building with an ornate wrought iron dome that was originally used to house colourful birds; today it's frequently used for art exhibitions.
You won't find in Mirabell Gardens a place to escape the crowds, practically everybody heads this way at some point during their visit to Salzburg; however, it is such a colourful and lively spot it's worth putting up with the crowds. Usually I prefer my nature untamed; symmetrical, precise gardens such as these often leave me slightly disappointed but the energy of the colours and the combination of sculptures and flowers is really memorable.