The golden age of the palace of the Esterházy family at the present-day Fertod was during the time of Duke Miklós Esterházy I, who was also known as ‘Nicholas the Magnificent’.
He succeeded to the title and its estates in 1762 and died in 1790. In 1762, there was only a small country house that had been built by Anton Erhard Martinelli in 1720 and a Baroque garden that had been designed by Anton Zinner. The Duke replaced these with one of Central Europe’s most significant residences. The new ensemble was constructed in several stages, and was mainly to the designs of Nicolaus Jacoby. It holds an important place in the history of architecture and garden design in Central Europe, but the thing that brought it world renown was the long residence of Joseph Haydn, as composer to the Esterházy court.

The park, which is made up of gardens, pleasure grounds and woods, is today some 500 acres (about 200 hectares) in extent. Its layout is determined by a ‘goosefoot’ of 3 vistas that radiate out from the central balcony of the palace. Cutting across the parterre and then the ancient woods (called ‘Lés’ Forest), they take the eye out into the countryside beyond. Zinner´s elaborate parterre was simplified, in about 1775, into one of plain grass compartments decorated with statues, vases, fountains, orange trees and some 60,000 flowers. At the southern end of the parterre, on either side of the central vista, two cascades were constructed in 1784-85. In the ‘Lés’ Forest’, which was incorporated into the Baroque layout by being turned into formal groves (bosquets), there were two pairs of temples; one pair was dedicated to Apollo and Diana; the other to Fortune and Venus. There were also fountains, a rose-garden, a hermitage and the ‘Bagatelle’ which took the form of a Chinese-style pavilion.

Following the death of Duke Miklós Esterházy I, in 1790, the ducal court left the palace and it was then abandoned for the space of a century. The famous opera house, a number of other buildings and a large part of the gardens disappeared. Then around 1900 Duke Miklós Esterházy IV and his Duchess Margit (born as Countess Cziráky) renovated the palace and moved back into it.

It was thanks to the Duchess that between 1902 and 1908, the gardens and grounds were remodelled according to plans of Anton Umlauft, the Director of the Imperial Gardens at Schönbrunn, Vienna. The work on the ground included a new, fan-shaped formal parterre with thousands of flowers and yew-cones (now overgrown). There were also the formal Privy Gardens on both sides of the palace, and a naturalistic area called ‘The English Garden’, full of exotic trees. The alterations were directed by Károly Hulesch, the Chief Gardener to the Duke, who was also responsible for the design of the Northern Park and ‘Paul’s Farm’ (The latter garden housed domestic animals for the ducal children.).
A spectacular rose garden with more than 10,000 roses, long pergolas and a ‘Chinese’ metal
pavilion was created for the duchess in 1908.

The basic structure of the 18th Century Baroque layout (the 3 main radiating vistas of the ‘goosefoot’ and the avenues around the parterre) was kept.
For the most part, this early 20th Century composition, despite the neglect of the last decades, remains more or less intact today.

Behind the rose garden and the stable-block, a large and renowned plant nursery was established. It was famous for its achievements in the improvement of fruit during the early 20th century. Based on these traditions, the last ducal head gardener, Aladár Porpáczy, who himself was a specialist in fruit improvement, helped the whole ensemble to survive the post-war decades by establishing a gardening school and a state fruit improvement station in the palace and the grounds in 1946. Later on, in the 1950s, he lobbied for the foundation of the museum in the empty and dilapidated central part of the palace as well.

Today the major part of the palace, the gardens, and the immediate grounds are managed and maintained by MÁG (The Hungarian National Agency for the Ma-nagement of State-Owned Historic Properties) while the ornamental woods are kept by the local forestry office. MÁG has recently begun a programme of step-by-step conservation work and improvement of the gardens and grounds, based on careful research.