Palais Pallavicini, Vienna:
Neo-Classicist Palais with 3rd-Man-Relevance

Palais Pallavicini is a Baroque Palais in one of Vienna′s most exclusive neighbourhoods, directly opposite to the Austrian National Library. It is also known as Palais Fries-Pallavicini and became internationally famous as the house where Harry Lime lived in the movie "The Third Man", featuring Orson Welles. Whilst most people will recognise Orson Welles as a cinematic legend, usually only Austrians know Hans Moser, the man who played the concierge of the building in the 1950ies movie.

In Austria, Palais Pallavicini is also known as the headquarter of "Tanzschule Elmayer", the country′s most famous and one of the most exclusive dance schools. It was Tanzschule Elmayer that did the choreography of the Vienna Opera Ball for many years, a pretty big deal for many Austrians (myself not included). The "Österreichische Rennverein" or Austrian Horserace Association can quite ironically be found in the former stables of Palais Pallavicini.

Originally, the site of today′s Palais Pallavicini was occupied by the "Majoratshaus" or local headquarter of the Counts of Salm. Count Niklas Salm was a key figure in the defence of Vienna against the Turks during the Second Siege of Vienna in 1683. Together with Count Rüdiger von Starhemberg (see my article on Palais Starhemberg), he coordinated the troops in the city. It was his brother Hektor who sold the Majoratshaus to Emperor Ferdinand I in 1559, who in turn left it to his son Karl.

Palais Pallavicini: Ferdinand von Hetzendorf's Masterpiece

In 1592, Karl′s nice Queen Elisabeth, the widow of the French King Charles IX, returned to Vienna. Karl sold the palais to her; Elisabeth later founded the "Königliche Frauenkloster" or "Königinnenkloster", a nunnery that was dissolved later on by Emperor Joseph II (see also my article on the Elisabethinenkirche). Ironically, it is the memorial of Joseph II that faces the site of the former nunnery today.

The property was sold to the banker Count Johann von Fries, who demolished the palais in 1783. A new building was erected, a palais for the von Fries family - designed by Ferdinand von Hetzendorf, he of the Gloriette and the parks of Schönbrunn Palace. Palais Pallavicini is considered Hetzendorf′s most important piece of work. From the beginning, one side of the building was designed to serve as an apartment building with rental flats. Originally, the fašade was neo-Classicist and must have matched well with the wings of the Hofburg that it faced. The Viennese aristocracy with its keen desire for pomposity was nevertheless unsatisfied with it and Palais Pallavicini was seriously criticised for its looks.

As a result, the landlord hired another architect called Franz Anton Zauner to add a massive gate in a Baroque tradition. In its original shape, Palais Pallavicini had been the first purely neo-Classicist fašade of Vienna - for other palais in this style, note Palais Grassalkovics, Palais Rasumofsky and Palais Clam-Gallas.

Today: Concerts in Palais Pallavicini & Third Man Nostalgia

The two sons of Johann von Fries, Josef and Moritz, were keen art collectors. More than 300 paintings, 100,000 etchings and an extensive collection of sculpture was kept at the palais - alongside with a library of 16,000 volumes. In the early 19th century, Palais Pallavicini became well-known for its balls, receptions and concerts. In 1828, it was sold to Sir Georg Simon von Siena and sold again in 1842, this time to Alphons Marchese Pallavicini - thus the current name.

Palais Pallavicini is still owned by the Pallavicini family, who uses parts of the building. It was Pallavicinis who got rid of the neo-Classicist interiors in 1873, and replaced it with the then fashionable historicist ugliness that you can still see today. Appropriately, the representative rooms of Palais Pallavicini are rented out to host tacky concerts held for tourists at exorbitant rates.

Standing in front of Palais Pallavicini, note the still rather plain fašade. Even though the gate has been adapted to later preferences (or rather even earlier ones), the plainness of neo-Classicism can still be anticipated. The original designs by Hetzendorf placed four representative vases along the front-side of the building, which was a clear break with the Baroque tradition that had one, dominant focus instead of several small ones. This would match well with the 11 axes of the fašade. Instead, as a response to the fierce criticism of the architecture, the Count of Fries left the vases away and today, the four vases can be found in the park of Schloss Vöslau palace.

Attractions nearby are numerous - don′t forget that you are at the very core of Vienna. Within a two-minute walking distance, you will find the Dorotheerkirche, the Hofburg (the closest sub-attractions are Stallburg, National Library and Augustinerkirche), the Albertina, Film Museum, the Theatermuseum in Palais Lobkowitz, the Jewish Museum and Dorotheum, the Michaelerplatz with Looshaus and Michaelerkirche.

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Further Reading

Palais Pallavicini on Wikipedia

Pictures of Palais Pallavicini

Tanzschule Elmayer

On "The Third Man"