In the park, former court building
The Old Castle is the oldest building in Laxenburg and has managed to keep its medieval look and feel despite all the later changes. It is fascinating to explore the layers of architectural history surrounding the castle’s medieval core. After serving as the ‘Fortress of the Lords of Lachsendorf’ (as it was originally called), the castle became the Habsburgs’ spring and autumn residence in 1306. The first reports of construction activity are handed down from the time of Duke Albert III (1349/50 - 1395, aka Albert with the Pigtail) and include a chronicle as well as a bill of charges; remnants of this are still discernible in the inner courts and on the Gothic apse of the castle’s chapel. The 16th and 17th centuries saw multiple renovations and the construction of annexes.
There was radical modernisation under Maria Theresa: the chapel was given an opulent Baroque interior, some towers were partly reduced by two levels, others were removed entirely and the surrounding moat was drained. After completion of the Blue Court (see no. 3), the Old Castle was used as accommodations for a number of archdukes, aristocratic guests and court domestics. In 1918 the property was transferred to the Fund for War-Affected Persons, which from 1925 to 1938 leased a large portion of the castle to the Dresden-Hellerau ‘School for Rhythm, Music and Physical Education’. Through its directors (husband and wife Karl Baer and Christine Baer-Frisell, herself instructor of Rhythmic Gymnastics), the music instructor Ernst Ferand, and under the artistic direction of Rosalia Chladek, the school gained international acclaim as the ‘Hellerau-Laxenburg School of Dance’. From 1945 on, the castle was mainly used as a residential building. The castle’s chapel was deconsecrated when it was leased to the Hellerau School of Dance. Some interior items were transferred to the parish church, such as the Nativity altarpiece (currently in the vestry), Michael Nussbaumer’s ‘Christ Conquering Death and Hell’ and the positive organ. Located in the immediate vicinity of the Old Castle is the ‘court ice cellar’. The ice was originally taken from the moat surrounding the Old Castle, later from the castle pond, and stored in the court ice cellar and the town’s ice cellars. The court ice cellar is a semi-subterranean brick building with eight side entrances and is covered in earth and trees for insulation. This is an architectural creation unique in all of Austria, whose special cultural, historical and monumental value makes it worth preserving. In 1995 the court ice cellar was cleared of rubble and other debris from the post-war era. The ice cellar is currently closed off as structurally unsound, though endeavours are being made to restore it.
The Old Castle was integrated into the landscape garden and offers a fascinating window into the past. Details about the beautiful castle chapel, which is still in use today and whose Gothic core and later Baroque additions are still visible, can be found at www.schloss-laxenburg.at.