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Maze in the park of Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna

A maze is a design element of garden art . Its lack of clarity deceives the visitor's sense of direction for the benefit of his / her pleasure, its branching paths deliberately tempt you to get lost. Ideally, the facility consists of a close-knit system of overhead high and opaque hedges and has a target area. The maze comes from Italian mannerism .


A maze is always an artificial system. In contrast to a labyrinth , in which only one path leads from the entrance to the center, without branches, a maze allows a real "to go astray" through its network of paths with branches, crossings, dead ends and loops. Regardless of this, a maze is sometimes referred to as a hedge maze or garden maze .

Most mazes have a target place that can offer a view or is adorned by a tree, statue or fountain. This goal must be found; getting back to the exit can be just as difficult.

Mirror labyrinths are a special form , they only show virtual corridors. The maize labyrinths laid out for a summer are also mazes. The Netherlands has mazes with low hedges for young children.


Draft plan of a vortex labyrinth by Dezallier d'Argenville (1709)

According to Dieter Hennebo , the maze can be counted among the archetypal design elements of garden art. Mostly it is a concept of the garden within the garden : the maze is part of a larger garden.

The easiest way to differentiate the hedge mazes according to their shape is into three groups:

  1. Geometric or formal mazes
  2. Mazes with an irregular network of paths
  3. symbolic mazes with super characters.

The most common and best known are the formal systems. They are usually formed from cut hedges, have a square, rectangular or round shape and have a network of linear or (partially) circular paths; Hedges and paths always have a constant width. The irregular shapes are characterized by paths led in swings and arbitrary curves, the path width can also vary and the facility can be loosened up with small squares. The symbolic mazes in their entirety represent oversized, stylized images; they only appear in the second half of the 20th century, at a time when the view from above through airplanes has become commonplace.

A special form of the formal maze is the vortex labyrinth , an invention of Antoine-Joseph Dezallier d'Argenville . It is characterized by the reversed task: the path from the entrance leads quickly to a central square, from which six to eight arms lead away in swirls that lead the visitor astray.

Among the symbolic complexes there is a group of mazes dedicated to a literary or historical subject. These creations are put together from discrete hedge ground plans that form recognizable individual figures that are related to one another in terms of content. These systems usually have a regular external shape, such as a rectangle or an octagon.


The hedge maze is a European creation, the development of which took place independently and independently of the various forms of ornamental labyrinth representation. The development of the hedge maze can be divided into four phases:

The late renaissance

Plan of one of the two destroyed mazes by Johann Peschel in Grüningen (1576)

In the gardens of the Renaissance there existed floral labyrinths, only passed down through illustrations. They were mostly located near the terrace of a villa so that the viewer could easily see the patterns of flowers or low hedges. The labyrinthine path was followed with the eyes, the plantation was not intended to be accessible. Branches in the network of mostly narrow paths did not occur or only occasionally. Only with the late Renaissance in Italy, Mannerism , did a fundamental change take place; the purely visual became a kinaesthetic function. No longer the mere eye movement, but the accessibility and thus the movement of one's own body between high hedges, which could no longer be climbed, became an experience. In turning away from the labyrinth of the late Middle Ages without branches and turning to facilities with branches and dead ends, a spiritual change was also reflected, which reflected the self-responsible decision of the individual who was no longer unconditionally guided by divine providence.

An early plan of a “real” maze is documented for the Palazzo del Te around 1530 in Mantua. The design, which was never realized, may come from Giulio Romano , who made it for Federico II Gonzaga . The early mazes often did not consist of topiary hedges, but of trellis hedges . Here, wooden trellises were provided with climbing plants. In Thuringia it was pastor Johann Peschel who created mazes for various clients, the first probably in Grüningen in 1576 for Caspar von Kutzleben . None of these systems have survived. The idea of ​​the maze with high (also overhead) hedges quickly spread over large parts of Europe.

The baroque

In the large, magnificent gardens of the Baroque era , the desire for representation and amusement of court society was in the foreground. The maze with overhead high, massive hedge walls was one of the popular design elements of the Fürstengarten - and a secret meeting place. At the beginning of the 17th century the idea of ​​the maze also reached England, where the famous maze of Hampton Court , which still exists today and is replanted again and again , is probably created by Henry Wise . In the rest of Europe, too, numerous mazes emerged in the gardens of princes and aristocrats; most of them no longer exist.

Another form of maze was the bosket maze . It was a bosket in which the inaccessible areas between the paths bounded by hedges formed open spaces or areas planted with bushes or trees. These systems, often vortex labyrinths, took up a considerably larger area (one to two hectares) and were characterized by wider paths, which sometimes also included open spaces with arbors. They were typical of large Rococo gardens .

The Enlightenment

Glendurgan at Falmouth , Cornwall

With the emerging landscape gardens in the English style in the 18th century, first in England and later in other regions of Europe, the vast majority of the baroque gardens were destroyed or remodeled. With this change almost all old mazes were lost. Since in many places labyrinthine meandering paths, which give a garden a mysterious character, should not be dispensed with, areas with maze-like functions were created with freely growing hedges and trees, also with artificial rocks or paths that led into underground grottos. They should give the impression that nature itself created these mismanagements by chance ( La Bagatelle , Wörlitz ). The artificiality of such plantings could usually not be masked, so that in many places they were overgrown or removed.

In the 19th century, in response to the now ubiquitous landscape gardening style, the desire for mazes in what Stephen Switzer called it, ancient manner ("in the traditional way") arose . Thus, first in England, numerous new mazes of the formal style with trimmed hedges and geometrical path systems arose. It was among others the English landscape architect William Andrews Nesfield , who created a number of ornate structures (Somerleyton Hall, Royal Horticultural Society in Kensington). This development was continued on the continent ( Schönbusch near Aschaffenburg ).

The postmodern

Frederiksoord, De Koloniehof (1992), copy of the
Arley Hall maze
Maze in Hemer (2010) made of hornbeam

With the two world wars, the interest in mazes largely died out. In the 1950s, they were considered relics of earlier times. The high investment requirements for new plantings, the maintenance costs and the effort involved in carefully cutting the hedge all contributed to this assessment.

The revival of the idea of ​​the maze as a design element in garden art began in the second half of the 20th century and can be assigned to postmodernism . After the spectacular commissioned work by the British artist Michael Ayrton (1921–1975), who in 1969 created a maze of high brick walls sunk into lawn and provided with sculptural decoration for an American multimillionaire, classic hedge mazes emerged again in Europe, and just as completely new shapes in a symbolic way, the first being the outline of an oversized human foot in Lechlade (Great Britain) by Randoll Coate . To be perceived as land art from the plane , other large forms have been created to this day, mostly with commercial interests. The British maze designer Adrian Fisher created a large number of systems around the world and thus initiated a development that in some places expresses itself in kitsch and arbitrariness.

After the Second World War, decorative mazes were only occasionally created ( Chatsworth House , 1962). At the end of the 20th century, a change occurred with the restoration of damaged or destroyed facilities. For example, the large laurel labyrinth in the garden of Alameda de Osuna (Madrid) was reconstructed by Carmen Añon . In Germany, the Altjeßnitz maze and the surrounding manor garden were carefully restored (2004–2008), and the maze in Schönbusch Park near Aschaffenburg was renewed (2006). New creations by landscape architects can be found in Berlin-Marzahn with the reinterpretation of the Hampton Court pattern by Thomas Michael Bauermeister (2007) and in Hemer with the creation of a system by Christof Geskes and Kristina Hack , which are different from the old hornbeam maze in Egeskov, Denmark get inspired (2010).

Overseas mazes

Wàn Huā Zhèn or Huáng Huā Zhèn ( Hua Yuan )

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, mazes emerged both in the United States and in the mostly English colonies . The "export" of this idea of ​​garden art was started by a group of Jesuits around Giuseppe Castiglione , who from 1747 laid out a garden in a Sino-European mixed style, the Xiyang Lou ("Western Garden"), for Emperor Qianlong north of Beijing what counted was a maze that covered half an acre and had brick barriers. It contained groups of trees, a pavilion and a central lookout point.

Many of the overseas systems mimicked the layout of the famous Hampton Court Maze (Melbourne around 1890, Cedar Hill 1896, Pembroke in the Bermuda Islands at the beginning of the 19th century). These hedge mazes were comparable to the European models in size and design. One innovation was to provide the viewing platforms with roofs to protect them from rain and tropical sun. With a few exceptions, the colonial mazes were destroyed or neglected in the first half of the 20th century.

It was not until the end of the 20th century that, as part of the postmodern revival of the labyrinthine idea, modern hedge mazes emerged in many countries of the world for wealthy private clients, as elements in botanical gardens or as individual objects for a general public.

Historical mazes

Maze in the park of the Villa Pisani , view from the observation tower to the southeast
Barcelona, Villa de Horta , view from the north-eastern round temple onto the target area surrounded by eight hedge arches
Plan of the maze of the Villa de Horta
Destroyed plants
  • Labyrinthe de Versailles (Versailles), a garden labyrinth without a target area, with 39 fountains and sculptures (started in 1664, removed in 1774)
  • Zorgvliet ( The Hague ): round complex in a square, ten whorls, the four innermost on a hill (1690)
  • Villa Altieri ( Rome ): round complex, eleven passageways, path patterns derived from the Christian labyrinth (1670 to 1860)
  • Irrhain (Kraftshof, near Nuremberg ), a forest with irregular paths (1676, 1796 simplified, 1878 erratic paths destroyed)
  • Schönbrunn ( Vienna ): large rectangular, four-part complex, reduced in size in parts (around 1740 to 1892)
  • Zámecka zahrada ( Krumau on the Vltava ): rectangular complex (1752 to 1843), observation pavilion preserved
  • Belton House ( Grantham ): round complex (around 1850 to 1939)
  • Royal Horticultural Society ’s Gardens ( South Kensington ): rectangular-semicircular complex (around 1862 to 1888)
  • Arley Hall ( Cheshire ): hexagonal complex, forerunner of a modern-formal style (1870 to around 1940)
  • Hotel Del Monte ( Monterey , California): complex with a linear system of paths, hedges with extensive topiary decoration (around 1889 to after 1940)
  • Cedar Hill ( Waltham , Massachusetts): Path pattern like Hampton Court, in the finish a Japanese-style pond (1896)
  • Bel Air Park ( Adelaide ): circular facility with five walkways (1886)
Existing systems (older than 100 years)
  • Altjeßnitz maze (Saxony-Anhalt): largest of the historical German hedge mazes, without dead ends (after 1737, before 1750)
  • Mosigkau Castle (Saxony-Anhalt): maze with an irregular network of paths (1756/1757, changed in 1860, restored in 1990)
  • Park Schönbusch (Bavaria): round maze with a tree in the target (1829, 1948 enlarged new planting)
  • Weimar-Belvedere (Thuringia): rectangular, very small complex in the "Russian Garden" (1843)
  • Hampton Court Palace (London): one of the most famous mazes, path patterns copied in many places (1691)
  • Woburn Abbey (Bedfordshire): round complex (around 1830)
  • Glendurgan near Falmouth (Cornwall): small complex with an irregular network of paths (1833)
  • Hatfield House (Hertfordshire): rectangular complex, two entrances, only dead ends (1841)
  • Somerleyton Hall (Suffolk): semicircular complex, with a hill at the finish (1846)
  • Valsanzíbio (Véneto): large square complex in the garden of Villa Barbarigo (around 1688)
  • Strà (Véneto): trapezoidal complex with an inscribed circle in the garden of Villa Pisani (1720/1721, present form since 1809)
  • Palacio Real La Granja de San Ildefonso ( Castilla y León ): rectangular vortex labyrinth (1725, restored 1985–1993)
  • Barcelona ( Catalunya ): almost square complex in the center of the Parc del Laberint d'Horta (1794)
  • El Capricho de la Alameda de Osuna ( Madrid ): parallelogram-shaped complex (1840, destroyed 1936–1939, restored from 1986)
  • Wàn Huā Zhèn ( Beijing ): complex with stone walls (1756–1759, destroyed in 1860, restored after 1990)

The maze as popular amusement

Independent of the large and artistic gardens of the princes and the private civic gardens of wealthy social elites, simple mazes for a general public existed early on. One of the first facilities of this type was the Oude Doolhof ("old maze") between Prinsengracht and Looiersgracht in Amsterdam . It was created around 1620 and existed until 1862. Most of this type of mazes underwent frequent changes or disappeared after a few years.

With the development of modern tourism in the 19th century, the idea was taken up again. Well-organized amusement parks emerged in the prosperous industrialized countries, and in the second half of the 20th century large amusement parks , which often feature a maze as an attraction, and occasionally a mirror maze. These systems are enjoying increasing popularity in the present.

Most amusement park mazes have a limited lifespan; if economic success does not materialize within a few years, they are cleared, at the latest when a complete renewal of the planting is required. The current trend is characterized by the competition for ever larger systems.

Planning and construction

Path system

Path system of the Hampton Court maze
Scheme of two types of paths: only dead ends (left) or network of paths

The system of paths in a maze can consist of a destination path with many branching off dead ends, which in turn can branch out further, or of a network that enables a large number of destination paths. Most systems have a combination of the two principles. Simple junctions or crossings can be planned, the higher the number, the more difficult the solution seems. In reality, however, clever deceptions play at least as important a role.

Plants used

Only a few plants are suitable for the hedge walls. They must form dense green masses, be robust and durable and be able to tolerate regular cutting ( topiary ). Evergreen plants have the advantage of keeping a maze attractive to visitors even in winter. The yew tree (since the 18th century) is ideal , as is the boxwood . The hornbeam is used very often, field maple and privet are also possible. In southern countries where there is no risk of frost, myrtle and bay tree are also used. A medium-sized hedge maze requires between 1,500 and 3,000 plants, a large system like Longleat consists of over 15,000 yew trees.

Jewelry and decoration

Viewing platforms or turrets at the finish line have only existed since the baroque era. Many historical mazes have sculptural decorations, for example the turret in the maze of Villa Pisani has a statue of Minerva , a symbol of wisdom.

In the center of the labyrinth of Horta in Barcelona is a statue of Eros , which is connected to the statues in the round temples of the viewing terrace by visual axes . A grotto was also occasionally used as an additional surprise.

Analysis and solution of wrong path systems

Path diagram of the maze of the Villa Horta
Path network of the maze of Villa Horta as a straight-line diagram

William Henry Matthews (1882–1948) was the first to analyze the path networks of the mazes at Hampton Court and Hatfield House using a schematic representation that he called a straight line diagram . Regardless of the metric distances, the destination route is shown as the shortest line after all "junctions" (junctions and crossings) have been identified; all other paths are entered in the correct position to the right and left of this main line. Such a drawing can also be used to determine the number of destination routes.

The right-hand rule (also called the wall follower method ) is a simple method. The term has its cultural-historical explanation in the preference for the right hand . In addition, in mazes, destination paths with branches on the right seem to predominate; In most of Johann Peschel's designs , the constant branching to the right leads straight to the goal. Of course, you can also proceed with consistent use of the left hand. The length of the two destination routes can differ considerably.

When entering the maze, the visitor touches the wall of the hedge with the outstretched right arm and follows all the branches without thinking. When the end of a cul-de-sac is reached, the hiker turns and continues with his hand outstretched to the right, back along the same path to the confluence and branches off to the right again.

Although the rule is easy to remember and can also be used from the destination to search for the exit, it only works in systems whose destination is connected to the outside hedge. If the destination is in an island position (path loop), the method always fails. From the entrance the hiker never reaches the destination, he rather returns to the starting point; from the target place he also goes “in a circle” and remains trapped forever. Only the more difficult Trémaux method always leads to a solution.

Even the largest mazes (San Ildefonso: 2504 m, Longleat: 2950 m path length) pose no real danger. To test the patience of the visitor is part of the pleasure of going astray.


  • William Henry Matthews: Mazes and labyrinths. A General Account of Their History and Developments. London 1922.
  • Josef Hempelmann: Labyrinths and aberrations through the centuries. In: The garden art. Volume 39, Issue 4, 1926, pp. 54-58.
  • Adrian Fisher , Georg Gerster : The Art of the Maze. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London 1990, ISBN 0-297-83027-9 .
  • Philosophy of the dead end. Labyrinths [...] are experiencing a worldwide renaissance. In: Der Spiegel. Volume 45, Issue 13, 1991, pp. 266–269.
  • Hermann Kern: Labyrinths. Appearances and interpretations. Prestel, Munich 1982, pp. 359-389.
  • Maria Luisa Reviglio della Veneria: Il laberinto. La paura del Minotauro e il piacere del giardino. Polistampa, Florence 1998, ISBN 88-85977-59-6 .
  • Robert Field: Mazes. Ancient and Modern. Tarquin Publications, Stradbroke 1999, ISBN 1-899618-29-5 .
  • Jeff Saward: Labyrinths and mazes. The definitive guide to ancient and modern traditions. Gaia, London 2003, ISBN 1-85675-183-X .
  • Jacques Vergely: Labyrinthes et jardins. In: Labyrinthes, you mythe au virtuel. Paris 2003, ISBN 2-87900-776-3 (exhibition in La Bagatelle from June 4 to September 14, 2003).
  • Fons Schaefers, Anne Mieke Backer: Doolhoven en labyrinten in Nederland. De Hef, Rotterdam 2007, ISBN 978-90-6906-039-2 .
  • Franco Maria Ricci (Ed.): Labyrinths: The Art of the Maze. Rizzoli, New York 2013, ISBN 978-0-8478-4164-6 .

Web links

Commons : mazes  - collection of images, videos, and audio files
Wiktionary: Maze  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations