More than 350 years old, Mirabell Gardens has been a focal point of all my trips to Salzburg during the last 25 years. I like its contrasts within a city that itself holds a smart balance between uniform elegance to its imperial past and egalitarian principles of the present. The gardens are a place of sanctuary and busyness; formality and fun; low flower beds and high hedges; vivid colors and dramatic shadows.
When you walk through the gates from Makartplatz, the broad lawn and flower designs—as though they were embroidered silk on green felt—jump at you like a Monet masterwork. Their scope as a courtyard to Mirabell Castle is unlike anything you’ll see in Europe. Nonetheless, at first you tend to think, “Is this it? Nice. This is it. Okay, then. Move on?” No, no, no … now it’s time to explore. This garden is enormous.
You’ve entered perhaps the most beautiful Baroque garden in Europe. Over the centuries design changes have altered its look here and there, but formality has always been at the heart of each change. The “Grand Parterre” is Mirabell’s oldest section still preserved. It has two balustrades that hold the original 1689 statues of Roman gods created by van Opstal: Diana, Bacchus, Hercules, Flora, Vulcan, Minerva, Ceres—it seems the whole gang is here. At its center is a fountain with four statue groups: more Roman god scenes: the rape of Persperina; the rape of Helena; Aeneas and Anchises; and Hercules and Antaeus.
There are four main areas to Maribell Gardens. Perhaps the most famous today is the hedge arcade along the west side of the Grand Parterre. Famous it is because this is where Fraulein Maria and the von Trapp children ran through the arcade in the 1960’s movie “The Sound of Music”. You’ll see lots of tourists reenacting this scene; some of them even sing one of the songs we all who grew up in that era seem to remember. Inside the hedge arcades is the entrance to the Heckentheater, or hedge theater, a hedge maze that hosts concerts during the summer Salzburg Festival.
Mirabell Gardens has spectacular views of Salzburg’s Hohensalzburg Fortress, looming high on Monchberg hill across the Salzach River. The best view is from the “Rosenhugel” or Rose Hill, on the west side of the Mirabell Castle, past the Pegasus fountain. The Hohensalzburg Fortress seems close enough for you to reach out and touch. The setting is something out of a fairy tale. Yet this is the city of Mozart, cellar clubs, chocolate, life-size chess games played in historic courtyards, and some fine skiing just down the turnpike.
Down the Freitreppe stairway and to the right along an old bastion is Mirabell’s most whimsical feature: an adorable assortment of life size dwarf statues that you’ll have fun taking pictures of the family draped around them. Kids love this garden. Some reviews of the Zwergerlgarten call the dwarfs “grotesquely deformed,” but I think they’re cute. In fact, some of the statues represent dwarfs who lived on the court during Prince Archbishops of Salzburg’s reign.
(read more about Mirabell Gardens highlights here)