This is what the rich did before YouTube pranks.
Hellbrunn manor is located on the outskirts of Salzburg and is a testament to what happens when one man with too much money wants to prank other people. It’s almost like the pranks on YouTube, but the 17th century edition. The manor was built as a pleasure summer palace, which means that no one ever actually lived there and it was only used for elaborate dinners and celebrations.
In 1613 the reigning Prince-Archbishop Markus Sittikus decided to build a place beyond belief, using all the latest technology and automatization of the time. He commissioned an Italian architect, Santino Solari, who created a large, lavish palace with a wondrous garden with water fountains full of hidden tricks and pranks. All of this splendour was built in only 3 years, as the entire complex was finished by 1615. Markus Sittikus was apparently quite an impatient man and the Hellbrunn manor reflects his lust for life, but underneath all his pranks and spirit was a darker condition, as he is believed to have been diagnosed with melancholy and weariness of life.
I suppose when you have everything, you need more and more to get excited and strange, even cruel pastimes and entertainments were quite common in the Renaissance and later eras. In order to entertain the rich, ambitious people would dream up weirder and weirder ideas, such as the cat piano (trapping live cats inside a piano and hitting them to produce screeching noises) and blind pig fighting. Markus Sittikus certainly created a whole amusement park for himself, but at least his water pranks that we know of today were not sadistic – humiliating maybe, but ultimately harmless. He was reportedly not well-liked among his peers, but everyone wanted an invitation to his famous Hellbrunn parties, so I guess it worked out great for him.
Today you can visit the entire Hellbrunn manor, although the trick water fountains are only accessible by joining a tour. Now, I don’t usually like guided tours, but this is one of my favourites, so I promise you will have plenty of fun and you might even get a bit wet. The tour takes your through the whole garden and they show you every fountain, grotto (yes, he built entire caves with beautiful statues from Greek mythology) and trick, as well as a mechanical theatre. All of the systems run on water power and were made as a show of power and capability of Markus’s engineers. At every corner, there are unexpected water jets intended to catch you unaware and put you in your place, as only he knew where to stand to avoid getting drenched.
Since the pranks are unique and fun, I do not want to go into too much detail. You need to experience it for yourself and I do not want to spoil it, but here is a video of one of the original water automatons built in 1615 to give you a taste of the experience.
The first time I visited as a child, I loved playing with the water and I ended up getting quite wet. The guides really enjoy their job and channel the spirit of the original owner. However, the second time I visited in May 2019, we had some unannounced snow, so they took great care not to get us wet in the cold weather.
The biggest attraction on the whole tour, the mechanical theatre, was added in 1750 and depicts a whole baroque city, with each resident hard at work, accompanied by one of Mozart’s songs. Again, the entire thing runs on water power and is therefore quite impressive, particularly considering when it was built.
The theatre is one of the last attractions on the tour and afterwards you are free to explore the surroundings of the palace, featuring a large park, the famous pavilion from the Sound of Music film, an old stone theatre, a wonder garden of the senses, a small Month palace and even the Hellbrunn zoo, which is based on the baroque menagerie built by the Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg and is considered to be the world’s oldest zoo. Besides that you can also visit the inside of the Hellbrunn manor with an audio guide (a bit long-winded), where you will find some of Markus Sittikus’s collection of interesting artefacts, which includes a real live stuffed unicorn, so do not forget to check that out. 🙂
Impressions of Hellbrunn manor
As you can probably tell by now, a visit to Hellbrunn manor can be a whole day activity, but if you are only interested in the palace and the water tricks, then you could be done in about 2-3 hours. We were quite fast the last time I was there, because we were rather unprepared for the sudden early May cold and were freezing during the entire tour, but we still enjoyed it all the same.