Dresden Castle

Old town Dresden is where we discovered a wonderful old Renaissance Castle, the Dresden Royal Palace.

Dresden Castle (Residenzschloss)

Dresden Castle or Royal Palace was used by electors and kings for nearly 400 years – from 1547 until the monarchy was abolished in 1918. Prince-electors or electors were an exclusive group of German princes that had privileges not shared with other princes of the Empire. An elector was a member of the electoral college that elected the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and was considered to be second only to a king or emperor. In addition to being named ‘elector’, the princes also held their original titles.

Dresden Castle

The original Dresden Castle, built around 1200, was more a keep or fortified tower, than a castle, but over time it was continually expanded to meet the needs of the electors.  After a devastating fire in 1701, Augustus II rebuilt most of the castle in the Baroque style. The museum rooms we visited were created at that time.  In 1914 in-floor heating and electric lights were added to the Castle. In February 1945, just 3 months before Germany surrendered in World War II, the now controversial bombing destruction of Dresden occurred. Dresden was neither important to German wartime production nor a major industrial center and prior to the massive air raid, the city had not suffered a major Allied attack. The February 800-bomber raid dropped 2,700 tons of explosives, decimating the city, nearly destroying the entire castle and killing more than 25,000 civilians.

After the end of World War II, Dresden became a part of East Germany under the yoke of Russian control. In 1946 a temporary roof was installed to protect the ruins but it was another 15 years before, in 1960, restoration work would slowly begin. The castle’s restoration is reported as still ongoing today.

Although the Dresden Castle skyline is striking, the inner courtyard has a special appeal. Contrasting against the dark exterior walls of most of the castle, the large interior courtyard is light, white and bright.

Dresden Castle Inner Courtyard

Sgraffito is a technique of wall decor that is created by applying layers of plaster tinted in contrasting colours onto a moistened surface, then ‘scratching’ so as to reveal parts of the underlying layer. Sgraffito was generously used during the Italian Renaissance. In the 16th century the technique was brought to Germany and used by the master builders.

Procession of Princes

Speaking of sgraffito…….on the left of the palace’s main gate is a large courtyard called the Stallhof (Stall Courtyard) where knightly games and tournaments once took place in the Middle Ages. 

In 1589 in celebration of the 800th anniversary of the House of Wettin, a 335 foot long (102 m) sgrafitti mural was created and named the “Procession of Princes”. After 300 years however, the weather had taken its toll and the patterns had greatly deteriorated. In order to preserve the magnificent wall of detailed artwork, between 1904 and 1907, more than 24,000 porcelain tiles were created in nearby Meissen. The same patterns and designs the original artist had used were painstakingly copied onto porcelain tiles, including 35 princes, kings and aristocrats as well as 59 scientists, artisans, craftsmen and farmers. The magnificent timeline of centuries of faces of the Wettin Dynasty, mounted on their noble steeds is truly beautiful and we are thankful the original sgraffito wall of Procession of Princes has been preserved in porcelain.

Luckily not one single tile was lost or fell from the wall during the 1945 bombing of Dresden.

Konrad von Wettin (1127-1156)

Inside the residence of the Castle was an outstanding coin collection dating back to 1000-1156 from the Margraves of Meissen. The Margrave was a medieval title, originally assigned to the military commander of a border province of the Holy Roman Empire. The title of margrave evolved; it was higher than Graf (count), but lower than Herzog (duke) and Fürst (prince). The unusual shape and colors make these coins of the Margraves of Meissen precious.

Dresden Castle – Rüstkammer

The Dresden Armory displays both tournaments contested on horseback and on foot. We witnessed life-like scenes, very near to where they actually would have taken place. Armories can be entertaining to peruse and this valuable collection of weapons and armor included approximately 10,000 objects, including ceremonial clothes, daggers, helmets, maces, pistols, sabres, shields, swords, rapiers, riding equipment and rifles.

The Dresden Armory

Dresden Castle – Master Drawings

It was interesting to get a glimpse of the amount of work an artist would do before they even thought about picking up the paintbrush. From a lacework of lines to a fully finished design – drawings take many forms. Sometimes the artist sketches a first vague idea. Sometimes they would try out variations of a figure, study the human form or the folds of a drape – often done on the smallest pieces of paper. 

The Venetian artist Battista Franco spent a large part of his life in Rome and Florence, where he was particularly fascinated by works by Michelangelo.  This next photo is Franco’s sketch, made with a brown pen over black chalk, copying an ideal portrait  that Michelangelo had created.  In the center is the head of a youth with a couple of other head drawings around it.

Drawing done in the late 1530’s / early 1540’s by Baptist Franco, (1510-1561)

The collection holds drawings and prints by the old masters like Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt and Michelangelo as well as later artists like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Pablo Picasso.  There is also a collection of drawings and graphic art by Käthe Kollwitz – the artist we discovered in Cologne and highlighted in our ‘Culture in Cologne’ blog.

Dresden Castle – Neues Grünes Gewölbe 

The New Green Vault in Dresden Castle is filled with eye-popping treasures in gold, silver, enamel, gemstones, mother-of-pearl, ivory and more. Each one of the 10 rooms we visited was more spectacular than the one previous. Perhaps one of the most outstanding museums we have visited to date.

The exhibition contains more than a 1000 priceless objects dating back 3 centuries.

This goblet, made by a Nuremberg artist in 1603 was used in popular drinking games during weddings. The bride had to drink and empty the top smaller vessel while the groom had to turn the goblet over and drink the entire larger bell-shaped dress. 

Wedding goblet, made in 1603

We saw ‘The Dresden Green’, a stunning tear-drop shaped green diamond and at 41 carats, it is the largest naturally green diamond known in the world.

Frederick Augustus II purchased the gem from a Dutch merchant in 1765. In 1768, the gem was re-worked as a hat-pin flanked by two white diamonds and a number of smaller ones. For the past 254 years, the green diamond has remained in this stunning, regal setting. The Dresden Green is said to be one of the world’s rarest and most flawless jewels.

In November 2019 the Historic Green Vault in Dresden Castle was robbed and the estimated total value of stolen items was more than one billion dollars. To date the stolen jewelry has not been traced. Luckily at the time of the heist, the Dresden Green diamond was on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. This photo does not do it justice.

The Dresden Green diamond

There is another Green Vault called the Historic Green Vault that was created in 1723 – 1730 by August the Strong to house his treasures. It is a unique combination of sumptuous architecture and 2500 exquisite works of art. No photos were allowed in the Historic Green Vault but the pieces were even more amazing that those we admired in the New Green Vault rooms.  We visited the Amber Cabinet, the Ivory Room, the White Silver Room, the Silver Gilt Room, the Jewel Room and the Hall of Precious Objects. Our cultural cups were unquestionably overflowing after spending our day with this exceptional collection.

Dresden Castle – Türckische Cammer

The Turkish Chamber houses one of the oldest and most magnificent collections of Ottoman art outside of Turkey. The Electors of Saxony, between the 16th and 19th centuries gathered a wealth of turquerie treasures. The Elector of Saxony frequently dressed up as the Sultan in court festivals and used imported camels and Arabian horses. The largest object in the collection is the 3 masted tent made with supreme craftsmanship in gold and silk and it was a rare treat to be able to see up close.

Ottoman tent (65′ long x 26′ wide x 20′ tall)

Dresden castle also houses a Renaissance Wing, a Münzkabinett or Coin Cabinet, a Copper Cabinet, the  Mathematics-Physics Salon and the Royal State Apartments, not to mention the unique panoramic view of Dresden from the 330 foot tall (100 m) Hausmann Tower.

There are so many attractions in Dresden Castle, we highly recommend a visit.

Prost from these Dresdnerin,

Ted + Julia

Dresden Castle – Armory photo album here

Dresden Castle – Decorative Arts photo album here

Dresden Castle – Master Drawings photo album here

Dresden Castle – Turkish Chamber photo album here

Dresden Castle and Residences photo album here

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