Zwinger Palace … one of the most important landmarks of the Baroque era in Germany

Almost everyone who visits Dresden does not have the first destination to visit Zwinger Palace, an architectural masterpiece in every sense of the word. Perhaps the most beautiful architectural masterpieces in Dresden, and one of the most beautiful and largest in Germany and Europe.

The Zwinger Palace was built by the architect Matthaus Daniel Poppelmann (1736-1662) in the Rococo style, which is an extension of the Baroque style, but with a graceful aesthetic.

This palace is located in the northwest of the ‘old town’ which is part of the historic heart of Dresden. It is in the immediate vicinity of other famous sights, such as the Semper Opera, the Royal Palace or Dresden Castle, the City Theater and its square, among other historical sights. It is also no further than two hundred meters from the southern bank of the Elbe River, which cuts the city from east to west.

The name Zwinger is derived from the medieval German term for the fortresses located between the outer and inner defensive walls. Archaeological evidence suggests that the first city wall was built in the last quarter of the twelfth century AD. A historical document dating back to 1216 indicates the existence of the Dresden fortress at that time.

In 1427, during the Hussite wars, work began to strengthen the city’s defenses, for which a second outer wall was built. These improvements started near the gate called “Fieldover Tor”. The old ditch was buried. The area between the two walls was referred to as “Zwinger”, and the area near the castle was used by members of the royal court as gardens. But the location of the palace garden “Zwinger Garten” was not known at that time, except that it was located between the fortresses on the west side of the city.

In the eighteenth century, the defensive function was not taken into account when working on the present palace, but the name remained the same, and it moved to the new building. The southwestern parts of Zwinger Dresden’s Baroque building, including the Kronentor gate, were built on parts of the outer wall that are still visible today, but no trace of the inner wall remains.


The initial development of the city in the Zwinger region

Until the middle of the 16th century, the present Zwinger district was outside the city’s strongholds. Along the Zwinger, part of the river Weisseritz ran at the old castle in the Elbe. In 1569, the redevelopment and construction of new buildings began at the western fortresses of the castle, according to plans drawn up by the Italian architect Rox Quirin, Earl of Linar, who came from Florence. In the spring of 1570, a flood from the Weisseritz River caused severe damage to one of the dams, which hampered the construction of the project for a short period. In 1572 the construction of fortresses stopped temporarily.

In 1689, Prince Frederick Augustus of Saxony, nicknamed “August the Strong”, returned to Dresden from a tour of France and Italy. At that time, King Louis XIV transferred his throne to the Palace of Versailles. On his return to Dresden, after making preparations to be elected King of Poland (1697), Augustus wanted to build for himself a palace similar to Versailles. Architect Matthews Daniel Poppelmann commissioned the design and construction of Zwinger Palace. He built it in phases between 1710 and 1728. The sculptor Balthasar Permoser provided his sculptures. But the Zwinger was officially inaugurated in 1719 on the occasion of the marriage of Prince Frederick Augustus to the daughter of the Habsburg emperor, Archduchess Maria Josepha. At that time, the external structure of the buildings was erected with pavilions and galleries, which formed a shocking backdrop for this event. The interior was not completed before 1728, but it was adequate in terms of galleries, library halls and a place for exhibitions.

The death of King Augustus in 1733 caused construction to stop for financial reasons. And the palace area remained open to the courtyard of the opera house and the river. Thereafter, the schemes were scaled down. In the period between 1847 and 1855, the remaining area was closed by the construction of the gallery wing that separated the Zwinger from the Opera Square. The architect of this building, later called the “Semper Gallery”, was Gottfried Semper, the same person who designed the opera house named after him, the Semper Opera.

During the heavy air bombardment and the mass destruction of the city of Dresden on the 3rd, 4th and 15th of February 1945 by British forces, the building was almost completely destroyed. Fortunately, the art collections were evacuated before the bombing.

Reconstruction of the palace with the support of the administration of the Soviet Army began in 1945, and parts of the restored complex were opened to the public in 1951. In 1963, the Zwinger Palace was restored to its pre-war condition.

Zwinger Museums

The palace now houses three museums: the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, the Porzellansammlung and the Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon.

Exhibition of paintings by ancient teachers
: The “Exhibition of Paintings of the Ancient Teachers” enjoys an international reputation for the inclusion of paintings by world-renowned artists such as “Sistine Madonna” by Italian artist Raphael, “Sleeping Venus” by Giorgione, “The Holy Night” by Correggio, The Altar of Saint Catherine “by Lucas Cranach. Other widely known paintings are by artists such as Eyck, Dürer, Holbein, Rubens, Rembrandt, Poussin, Claude Lorrain, Murillo, Canaletto, Tiepolo, Rayburn and Graf. The collection of the Gallery of Ancient Teachers is a rare treasure.

In his youth, the great poet Johann Wolfgang Goethe visited this museum, and was delighted with his visit. He expressed it by saying, “My surprise was beyond words!” The surprise that struck Goethe still strikes visitors to the exhibition; Year after year, this exhibition attracts art lovers from all over the world.

porcelain sets: Augustus the Strong (1670-1733) had a passion for porcelain. Dresden owes its unique collection to what he called the “white gold” he was obsessed with, and which infected him with what he called “porcelain disease”. The most beautiful pieces of the 20,000 that have been preserved are now on display in the delightful rooms inside Zwinger, against the baroque backdrop of Palace Square. The range of ceramics on display ranges from specimens dating from the Ming Dynasty in China and abundant collectibles from the reign of Emperor Kangxi (1662-1722) to Japanese imare and kakimon wares from the early 17th and 18th centuries. The development of Meissen ceramics from its invention in 1708 to the late eighteenth century is also illustrated by the excellent craftsmanship.

Over the past few years, renowned New York architect Peter Marino has been designing interior designs for galleries and halls. For example, there is a lush wall arrangement with turquoise porcelain against a lilac-purple wall. This ensemble was planned in a larger form for the Porcelain Palace – the Japanese Palace. The Animal Hall features early 18th century leather wall coverings. In the middle of the hall are two Chinese-style kettles with a five-meter-high pavilion in a Chinese design, on top of a pagoda roof with porcelain bells. The gallery also features ceramic birds created by 18th-century fashion designer Maison Kindler.

Physics and Mathematics salon: The Salon of Physics and Mathematics was established during the reign of Augustus the Strong in 1728 and remains to this day one of the world’s most important museums of historical scientific instruments. This is the oldest museum in Zwinger Palace. The showroom has been completely redesigned. It displays a range of instruments and devices used over the centuries to measure the world. Visitors can view and discover polished mirrors, high-end watches, mechanical instruments, large telescopes, astronomical models, globes that represent the Earth and the sky, and even those that represent the moon and Mars throughout history. The pleasure of seeing these models and masterpieces comes not only from their function but also from their beauty. Almost all of them designed for scholarly and research reasons, this vast collection of important art from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries makes the Salon of Mathematics and Physics an unparalleled museum. As a field of research, this salon has played a role for nearly three centuries in strengthening Zwinger’s global reputation. In the late eighteenth century, an astronomical observatory was established inside the salon. Over the course of one hundred and fifty years, Dresden local time has been established here in this place – which brings the Dresden Zwinger Foundation closer to “Greenwich of Saxony”.

The new presentation in the Mathematics and Physics Salon allows the objects on display to be seen up close. Movies and animations also provide insight into the operation and functions of the selected pieces. Here, for example, visitors can use Germany’s oldest mechanical calculator, and take part in exhibitions of historical experiments using finely replicated instruments. In addition to workshops and guided tours, these demonstrations offer exciting insights into the historical context of mathematics, science and technology, according to the motto “The Math and Physics Salon is a place of learning for the curious of all ages.”

Thus, the Zwinger Palace in the German city of Dresden is a school in itself for architecture and the erection of museums, in addition to its aesthetic, historical and cultural function.

(Photos by the author)

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