Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Wörlitz

Categories: Sightseeing, Cultural and History

Felseninsel Stein und Villa Hamilton
Felseninsel Stein und Villa Hamilton

[ source: Wikipedia]

Although Saxony-Anhalt does not appear on the travel itineraries of many American tourists, this state should be included for one reason alone - the Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Woerlitz. This spectacular park is listed on UNESCO's World Heritage List because it is "an outstanding example of the application of the philosophical principles of the Age of Enlightenment to the design of a landscape that integrates art, education and economy in a harmonious whole." Work on the Woerlitz Park, located on the Elbe River, began in 1765, after Duke Leopold III of Anhalt-Dessau returned from a Grand Tour of England, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, and Italy. Leopold made this trip with a friend, Friedrich Wilhelm von Erdmannsdorff, an architect, who would eventually design many of the architectural elements in the Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Woerlitz. By the time the park was completed, it was the first and largest English landscape park in continental Europe, covering 55 square miles.

Together Leopold and Erdmannsdorff wanted to replace the formality of the Baroque landscape with the more naturalistic approach they had encountered in England and France. Leopold meant for the park to be open to the public from the beginning and to function as an educational institution in agriculture, architecture, and gardening. The gardens themselves were laid out between 1769 and 1773 by Johann Friedrich Eyserbeck. The park is full of curiosities, including an island in the middle of the Woerlitz Lake which held a model of Mt. Vesuvious.

The architectural features in the Garden Kingdom are numerous and innovative. Built between 1769 and 1773, the Woerlitz Palace was the first Neoclassical structure built in Germany. Like the park, the palace was made accessible to the public. On the edge of the park garden, Leopold had a synagogue constructed to symbolize his religious tolerance. Many years later, the custodian of the park saved the synagogue from destruction in the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom. Completed in 1774, the Gothic House started the Gothic Revival craze in Europe. The Garden Kingdom also sports a Chinese garden that was based on the theories of the English architect William Chambers. By the time that Leopold died in 1817, the entire area of Woerlitz had been transformed into a unified garden plan. Although Dessau (Dessau vacation rentals | Dessau travel guide) sustained damage in World War II, the Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Woerlitz was spared.

Besides the park itself, there is much to see in the various buildings scattered around the large park. The Georgium Castle houses a notable art collection, including works by Cranch and Duerer. The Mosigkau Castle administers a collection of Flemish Baroque artworks from Rubens, van Dyck, and others. In addition to the exhibits located in the buildings, visitors can also avail themselves of an array of offerings: special tours, garden tours, lake-side concerts in the summer, palace chamber concerts, and lectures. Furthermore, for those seeking a grand context, various spaces in the park are available to rent for special events.

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About this Article

Rachel Hildebrandt

This travel guide has been written by Rachel Hildebrandt.

Starting with her first trip to Germany at the age of 16, Rachel has traveled, worked, and studied in Germany extensively. Although her first encounter with German culture was in Lower Saxony, since that time the focus of her subsequent work as a freelance historian and translator has shifted eastward. Building on her graduate studies in Dresden, Rachel has worked for a variety of German foundations as a historian and translator, and is currently pursuing research pertaining to the Sorbs in Lusatia (eastern Saxony).

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Location: Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Wörlitz Wörlitz, Germany

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