Real Tennis history in Europe

In the seventeenth century Vienna was seen as the capital of the world, a city displaying the majesty of the Empire, very much as Rome did in the past. In its heyday the Habsburg territory covered the greater part of the original Holy Roman Empire. Austria was the core of the Habsburg hereditary lands. After the death (1526) of the Jagiello king of both Bohemia and Hungary the Habsburgs also held these elective crowns.

With their diverse territories, the Habsburg dynasty also inherited a multiplicity of residences. Frederick III (1448-1493) resided mainly in Vienna; Maximilian I (1493-1519) preferred Augsburg and Innsbruck. Charles V, who maintained his court in Brussels, in 1526 assigned the government of the hereditary lands to his brother Ferdinand, who became Emperor after Charles’s abdication in 1556. During Ferdinand’s reign Vienna became the customary residence, but the capital of the newly acquired Bohemian lands offered another attractive option, and in 1583 Rudolf II (1576-1612) transferred the court to Prague.

In the seventeenth century Vienna regained its position. Although the court became much more sedentary, it still travelled regularly at the time and Vienna was never its sole residence. The Bohemian and Hungarian capitals Prague and Pressburg (and later Budapest), archducal capitals such as Linz, Graz and Innsbruck and imperial free cities such as Frankfurt or Regensburg, as well as Brussels in the Southern Netherlands, all retained their own importance.


Vienna could pride itself on at least ten tennis courts. Five were associated with the Habsburg court, the rest were public, commercial courts. The first Habsburg tennis court (Ballhaus) was built during the rule of Emperor Ferdinand I, but soon other aristocratic tennis courts followed. A Ballhaus (or Ballenhaus) was virtually automatically incorporated in the lay-out of the major Habsburg residences in Austria and Bohemia. As far as we know now, only the Ballspielhaus of the Neugebäude has retained its original exterior. It proves to be a specimen of a particularly large size and may well originally have incorporated two tennis courts.

  • Hofburg. Emperor Ferdinand’s court was constructed as early as 1525, probably inspired by the tennis courts of Northern Italy, especially the Sala della Balla in Milan’s Castello Sforzesco. The imperial tennis court was erected close to the castle, at a site that was later to become Vienna’s “Ballhausplatz”.
  • Hofburg. This court soon fell victim to a fire in 1526 and in 1534 another court is mentioned, virtually on the same spot.
  • Hofburg. During extensive refurbishments and renovations of the castle a new Pallhaus (sic) was built between 1536-1552, which measured 10.72 x 26.31 metres, with a height of 13 metres, as can be interpreted from a plan of 1640. This is the court that was converted into a theatre, the (Hof)Burgheater, in 1741 by Emperor Leopold, in 1855 also used as tennis court, 1864-1871 museum, 1888 pulled down. Now Kanzleramt
  • New Ballhaus in 1741, by Marie Theresa, at Ballhausplatz
  • Schloss Neugebäude, Ballspielhaus in 1570-1580 by Emperors Maximilian II and Rudolf II, one of the largest examples known: 650 square metres, height 14 metres. Building in dilapidated state, but still standing. In 2000 a Society for the Preservation of the Neugebäude was founded to preserve and revitalise the vast complex of buildings.
Neugebaude Outside
Neugebaude Inside
  • Auersperg, Lerchenfelderstrasse 2. Prince Auersperg had a tennis court built at his palace in the 19th century. Used for tennis until his death in 1872, again from 1881-1914 by British Embassy staff. This former tennis court is now incorporated in a restaurant
  • Jagdschloss Ebersdorf, Ballhaus, by Emperor Maximilian II, c. 1566. Destroyed. Now new Ebersdorf at same site, nearNeugebäude

Vienna also had three commercial courts, one of which became a Theatre, in Teinfaltstrasse.

Schloss Ebersdorf (1566) with tennis court near entrance


  • Hofburg, had three Hofballhäuser in 1612 (according to Ernstiger Raisbuch, see also Merian engraving). One burnt down in 1667.
  • Hofburg, Ballspielhaus by Archduke Ferdinand II in 1582 (architect Giovanni Battita Fontana, including frescoes). Became Italian Comedihaus in 1631 by Claudia de Medici, destroyed in 1944.
  • Ballspielhaus, under Archduke Ferdinand, 1675 converted into university building. Now Congress Centre Leopold-Franzens University.
Ballhaus that served as Comediehaus on the right


  • Ballhaus, built in 1615, burnt down in 1626.
  • New Ballhaus in 1630, at same site. Burnt down in 1682.
  • New Ballhaus in 1697, became Theatre in 1751. Now incorporated in Landestheater (photo).

+ 2 commercial courts, one Grosses Ballhaus, built in 1645, in Klammstrasse 7.

Detail of painting of 1742 with Ballhaus at Linz, second building, with high windows.


  • Ballspielhalle, 1625 under Archbishop Paris Graf Lodron (by architect Santiono Solari), became Hoftheater in 1775 for 12,000 guilders, room for 600-700 spectators. Pulled down in 1895. Now Landestheater.


  • Schloss Ambras, Ballenhaus built in 1572 for Ferdinand II. The imperial court painter Giovanni Battista Fontana embellished the Ballenhaus in 1575. Engraving by Merian of 1649 (see photo, letter B), 1824 plan and cross-section shows tennis court. Ballenhaus pulled down in 1880.


  • Grosses Ballhaus, c. 1620, Theatre in 1738. Pulled down in 1810. At same site now Stadttheater.


  • Grosses Ballhaus, linked to Burgschloss. Pulled down in 1837
  • Kleines Ballhaus, pulled down in 1848, site: the present Ballgasse