On the location of the "Kattermühle" mill of Klosterneuburg Monastery, a palace was built and bought by Maximilian II in 1559 to serve as a hunting residence; named after a fountain (the "Schöner Brunnen" = beautiful fountain) in the 17th century and destroyed by the Turkish invaders in 1683. J. B. Fischer von Erlach designed a grand new building modelled on Versailles Palace, which was planned to be located on the hill. The summer and hunting residence was built 1695-1711 according to a simplified 2nd plan. A park in the French style was laid out in 1695-1699.
Schönbrunn was Maria Theresia´s favourite residence; she charged N. Pacassi with structural alterations (1744-1749) and to turn the palace into a residence displaying an elegant, yet simple Baroque style; after the death of her husband, Emperor Franz I (1765), several rooms were redecorated in the Rococo style and the park underwent extensive remodelling following the taste of that time. In 1817-1819 the palace (mainly the court and garden façades), where Napoleon had lived and where, at a later date, his son (Duke of Reichstadt) had died, underwent Classicist alterations. Emperor Franz Joseph I, who was born and died in Schönbrunn, stayed there regularly; Emperor Karl I signed his abdication in Schönbrunn in 1918. After the expropriation of the imperial family, the palace became the property of the federal authorities.
After the heavy bomb damage from World War II had been repaired, the palace was reopened to visitors. The main building, today one of Vienna´s chief tourist attractions, is occasionally used for state receptions, while the annexes are used for apartments and by various businesses and institutions. Since 1992 the Schloß Schönbrunn Kultur- und Betriebsges. m. b. H. has been responsible for the administration, upkeep and economic use of Schönbrunn. In 1996 the palace and park were placed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list. The palace has 1,441 rooms, among them the chambers of Emperor Franz Joseph I and of Empress Elisabeth and a number of state apartments: Mirror Room, Great and Small Rosa Rooms, Round Chinese Cabinet and Oval Chinese Cabinet, Small Gallery with ceiling fresco by G. Guglielmi, Horse Room, Hall of Ceremonies with painting by Martin van Meytens, Blue Chinese Salon; apartments mostly used by Maria Theresia (e.g. the Vieux-Laque Room, the Napoleon Room, the Porcelain Room, the Millions Room), Suite of Archduke Franz Karl with Salon; Goess apartments (murals by J. Bergl); chapel (ceiling painting by D. Gran, 1744). The palace theatre built by N. Pacassi 1744-1747 in the right wing of the palace is sometimes used for performances. The former winter riding school is now the location of the collection of historic carriages used for state and everyday purposes (Wagenburg Coach Collection) belonging to the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Behind the palace and combined with it to form one architectural unit, lies the large park extending to the south, overlooked by the Gloriette belvedere. The park´s southern part has been closed off since the 1930s to form the "Fasangarten" (with the Forstversuchs- und Gartenbauanstalt forestry and horticultural research station, barracks), the northern part (the actual park) is open to the public during the day; it was redesigned under Maria Theresia from 1772; mythological figures along the main avenue, the Neptune Fountain (1780) and the Gloriette (1775) were added. As additional visual aspects of the park J. F. Hetzendorf von Hohenberg set up the Obelisk (1777) and the Roman Ruin (1778). The pavilion of the Schöner Brunnen was erected around 1750 by J. N. Jadot de Ville-Issey.
To the west lies the menagerie (Schönbrunn Zoo), and adjacent to it the horticultural garden, laid out in 1753 by N. v. Jacquin, featuring the Palm House (completed in 1882, 114 m long, 28 m wide and 30 m high), particularly renowned for the cultivation of orchids and the Victoria regia giant water lily). The garden supplies plants for the Federal gardens and parks and for state occasions.