/ Europe2017

Fun with water

Back 400 years or so ago it was common amongst part of European society (often high,-ranking Catholic cardinals) to have gardens that were a fun escape from the humdrum everyday life. Often the fun element was supplied by water, with unexpected fountains and even water-powered tableaus. Sadly most of the renowned Italian gardens are no longer around but here in Salzburg Schloss Hellbrun maintains its 400 year old water garden in almost original condition.

What's a trick fountain? A good example is Hellbrun's al fresco dining table. 10 seats around a long stone table in a beautiful Roman theatre grotto.  The centre of the table has a running water wine cooler. But the trick is not the wine cooler; 9 of the seats (i.e. not the host's) have small nozzles hidden in them and at a nod from the host and a flick of a switch from a servant, 9 strong jets of water rudely interrupt the guest's repast!

There are other unexpected water fountains, deer heads on the sides of one grotto spout fountains of water from their antlers, walls of water suddenly appear in front or to the side of you (unlike the original host Marcus Sittikus, our guide ensures they didn't appear directly beneath us!).


There are grottos featuring Orpheus, and Neptune - this one having a wonderful little feature of a rude face whose eyes would roll and tongue poke out as a hidden mechanism filled and emptied with water.

Another grotto was mirrored and yet another had birds singing, the song again being created by some hidden hydraulic effect. And of course little trick fountains to catch the unwary.

There is a stream with little automata tableaus carved into the bank. A potter works at a turning wheel, a knife grinder and miller similarly ply their trades and there's a dragon slaying.


A recent addition, a mere 250 years or so ago is a theatre where 160 different animations take place. To mask the clatter of animation a water powered organ plays an aria from Don Giovanni (it had to be Mozart here in Salzburg, didn't it?). The organ is the only water powered organ N of the Alps and is in regular use daily throughout the year.

The finalé is a conical crown raised and lowered on a single jet of water. Of course, leaving this final grotto the guide makes sure everyone gets at least a little splash of water as the water arch that appears safe has a couple of wayward jets. 

Good fun and amazing that all of these water tricks and featureswere engineered four centuries ago.

Liz has all the good pictures including a 2 minute video of the theatre tableau. I forgot my camera and the phone just wasn't flexible enough. But I did get a picture of this magnificent sturgeon in the ornamental lake.