Historical overview

Mag. Barbara Hafner-Düringer, DI Wolfgang Mastny, Dr. Elisabeth Springer

Laxenburg makes its first appearance in history under the name of Lachsendorf (also spelled Lahsendorf or Lassendorf), most likely originating as part of the systematic colonisation of the Vienna Basin in the 11th century. The first definite record comes to us from the year 1217: A certain Wichard von Lassendorf is mentioned as being in the entourage of Duke Henry the Elder of Mödling. He, and also the Lords of Lachsendorf who appear later, are continually encountered as partisans of the Babenbergs. The bordering Schwechat meadows were probably already used as a hunting ground by that time. We can assume that the very earliest castle structure stood in the middle of a small lake formed by a branch of the Schwechat, where the Altes Schloss (the Old Castle) is today. Lachsendorf became the private dominion of the Habsburgs through the purchase of 1306 and the later accrual of fiefdoms, at least insofar as the medieval concept of ownership regarded general aristocratic property as the private property of the ruling aristocrat.
Throughout the course of the 14th century there is evidence of the increasingly frequent presence of a duke in Laxenburg. It was under Duke Albert III (1349/50 -1395) that Laxenburg was first inhabited as a permanent ‘country’ residence outside the gates of Vienna. The duke grandly enlarged the castle, which already existed by that time, and decorated it with artworks and statues from the castle on the Kahlenberg; the surrounding grounds were expanded into a park and garden, in which an enclosure was built for keeping animals. As part of this increased ducal interest, in 1388 the village adjacent to the castle was awarded market rights and named ‘Laxenburg’. At first the older ‘Lachsendorf’ name continued to be used as well, until the new form ultimately prevailed.
The basic appearance of the castle, as evidenced by illustrations dating as far back as the 16th century, can likely be traced to this period. Of considerable significance is the castle’s position as moated between the branches of the Schwechat, as well as the moat’s freestanding ‘bathing tower’, the ground floor of which is said to have contained access to a hot spring. The property, which belonged to the ruling aristocracy, was enlarged under Albert’s successors through further purchases and exchange agreements – mostly pastures. Emperor Frederick III (1415 – 1491) memorialised himself in the second castle courtyard by installing his monogram and an inscription. His son and successor, Emperor Maximilian I (1459 - 1519) ordered construction of another zoo within the garden and had the grounds planted in the ‘Dutch’ fashion.
In the following century the Laxenburg domain was usually pledged to high court dignitaries, though the castle continued to be the imperial family’s temporary residence as well. Starting around 1610, reports of Habsburgs visiting Laxenburg as a summer retreat become more frequent. Until the 16th and early 17th centuries, revenue from the domain was generated by large ox markets, establishing a form of brokerage between the major ox breeders in Hungary and the trade’s main customers in southern Germany and Austria. The old square marked off for this market in the form of a large oblong green is still discernible in the curve of the house facades on the Schlossplatz (castle square) and on Herzog Albrecht-Strasse, as the middle of the large village green was obstructed by houses built in the 14th century.
Stays of three to five weeks each in spring and autumn have been the rule ever since Emperor Leopold I (1640 - 1705). The years between 1670 and 1682 saw brisk building activity in Laxenburg, which affected both the castle and a number of noble palaces. After the destruction of the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683, numerous townhouses and farmhouses had to be rebuilt and many of the castle’s auxiliary buildings restored.These repairs largely dealt with buildings and grounds associated with falconry. Also, palaces for the nobility, such as Schwarzenberg, Dietrichstein, Sinzendorf, Schönborn, Schlick, Kaunitz and others, were constructed in the area around the castle. Nor should the redevelopment of the parish church be overlooked, which began with Emperor Leopold laying the foundation stone on 11 June 1693.
The 18th century saw a resurgence in falconry, known as Reiherbeize; this form of hunting became even more celebrated as a courtly sport practised by few but attended by many spectators. The era of Charles VI brought many changes, including the high presence of Spanish aristocrats. Important treaties were signed here as well, and the texts of the Pragmatic Sanction drafted in Laxenburg in 1713. Construction under Maria Theresa (1717 - 1780) brought the greatest changes to Laxenburg’s topography since its founding. In order to create a direct access road from Vienna to the castle buildings, several farmhouses in the middle of the old market neighbourhood were purchased and the court road built directly through these sites. There was a simultaneous drive to modernise: the pond round the Old Castle was drained, the ‘bathing tower’ was removed and the top floors of both towers of the castle were demolished.
In order to expand the imperial family’s accommodations, the Blue Court was also acquired and connected to the Old Castle with passageways after reclaiming a number of farmhouses in the surrounding area. The grandiose plan of 1765/67 which formed the basis for these changes can be traced back to Niccolo Pacassi and was carried out until 1775 only in a reduced form. The dining wing, the theatre, the Schüsselgebäude (basin building) and the Passespielhäuser (ball courts) all originated with this plan. The house owners who were affected by this reclamation and by other acquisitions made between 1760 and 1770 were relocated to vacant land along the Wienerstrasse north of the Achauerstrasse. Great expense was then also lavished on canalising the many water courses in the Laxenburg area. The most renowned engineers of the century submitted proposals in this regard, most of which also included a garden design for the park. Joseph II (1741 - 1790) was the first to make a decision in this regard, ordering construction of an English landscape garden. The ambitions of his successor, Francis II (I) – (1768 - 1835), embraced this style even further. An enormous artificial pond was now added to this English park as well, containing a replica of a ‘Gothic knights fortress’ on an island, the Franzensburg castle. The park was also enhanced with a grotto, a tournament ground and many other romantic buildings. Empress Maria Theresa, second wife of Emperor Francis, was responsible for several of these structures and, in particular, for the celebrations held in Laxenburg in the years 1790 to 1807.
No fundamental changes have been made to the outer appearance of the castle and park since that time. The only updates resulted from the technological inventions of the 19th century: we have the construction of a rail line between Mödling and Laxenburg to thank for the Kaiserbahnhof (the imperial train station), while the Aspangbahn rail line runs a long distance beyond the old town centre. The 20th century brought Laxenburg the last glint of court culture when Emperor Charles spent many weeks here between March 1917 and May 1918. This was also the time of the often quoted secret negotiations with Sixtus and Xavier Bourbon-Parma, brothers of Empress Zita. Things changed for good in 1918: the end of the monarchy also meant the end of the imperial summer residence. Following the brief attempt by a private management company, Laxenburg was subsequently managed by the Kriegsgeschädigten-Fonds (the Fund for War-Affected Persons). Everything that the founding year of 1919 entailed for the ‘former court building’ continued to hold true into the 1960s. This includes sights 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 14, 15, 16, 18, 22, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 32 and 51 of our cultural circuit. This can also be considered as applying to the castle park (no. 17) and the horse pond (no. 20). In regard to the buildings in question, the developments from 1919 to roughly 1972 are therefore not treated separately here but rather as a whole.
In 1938, under Nazi rule, the annexation of Laxenburg to Greater Vienna made the town part of the 24th district of that city. The Fund for War-Affected Persons was also dissolved at this time and Vienna’s municipal government took over management of the castle and grounds, including all court buildings and the accompanying park and agricultural area. During the Second World War, the Blue Court and its auxiliary buildings served as a military depot for the German Wehrmacht. The majority of the furnishings and artworks preserved in these buildings ended up in museums in Vienna. From 1945 to 1955 the castle and a large part of the park were used by the Soviet occupation forces. Laxenburg only gradually recovered from the destruction which ensued.
The ‘repatriation’ of the outer communities to the state of Lower Austria in 1954 presented the opportunity for a new beginning. In 1962, the establishment of an independent Laxenburg Castle operating company, supported by the states of Vienna and Lower Austria, was an essential step towards reconstruction. This was further advanced by the IIASA’s (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis) move into the Blue Court in 1972. The ownership situation was now also settled between the city of Vienna and the town of Laxenburg. Between 1975 and 1995, Laxenburg significantly increased in population and the number of houses, though later levelling off at a total population of approximately 3,300. However, the old town centre was fortunately able to preserve its historic character through thick and thin. The Schlossplatz, the roughly 8,000 m2 castle square, is considered one of the most beautiful squares in all of Austria thanks in no small part to the successful revitalisation designed by architect Boris Podrecca. Laxenburg’s very tumultuous history, presented here merely in summarised form, is treated in detail in the local heritage book currently in progress, a more comprehensive work which will serve as an excellent reference.