In the heart of Dresden’s city centre lies the Renaissance building of the Residenzschloss. It is home to some of the city’s most beautiful and interesting museums, and here you can visit the world-famous Historic Green Vault.
A little castle history
It was around 1220/30 that Burgrave von Dohna had a castle built on the site of today’s castle courtyard. This formed the foundation stone for the conversion into a princely residence, which was commissioned around 1400 by Margrave Wilhelm the One-Eyed.
From this time onwards, the building history reads as if there had been a large construction site there for many years and numerous artists, craftsmen and architects realised their work. A closed four-wing complex was created with a castle chapel, kitchen area, court room, Frauenzimmern….. From 1548 onwards, the castle courtyard was enlarged to twice its size in a westerly direction and a new castle wing was built, and only a few years later, the stable complex and the stable yard were built to the east.
In 1701, a fire destroyed the Georgenbau, the east wing and the tower. During the reconstruction, the new areas were designed in the Baroque style. For example, the Audience Room and the Porcelain Room were created at this time. From 1723 to 1729, the Green Vault was built in the west wing, an area in which valuable collections have been magnificently displayed to this day.
For the 800th anniversary of the House of Wettin, the palace was rebuilt again. In 1899, a wooden bridge was built that connected the palace with the Catholic Court Church. This bridge is still popularly known as the Bridge of Sighs, in reference to the bridge in Venice.
Between 1904 and 1907, the Procession of the Princes, consisting of 23,000 porcelain tiles, was installed on the outside of the stable courtyard.
In February 1945, Dresden’s Residence Palace burned to the ground during the air raids on the city. The Green Vault was severely damaged and the Hausmannturm lost its spire. What remained was a ruin that shaped the cityscape for many years. In 1985, after the reconstruction of the Semper Opera House, Erich Honecker promised that the exterior of the palace would also be completed by 1990. At the time of German reunification, however, not even the west wing had been completed.
Over the next few years, work continued and the Hausmannturm was opened in 1991, followed by the Art Library, the Museum of Prints and Drawings and the New Green Vault in 2004. In 2006, the Historical Green Vault welcomed visitors again. In the following years, the Princely Gallery, the English Staircase, the Turkish Chamber, the Giant Hall and the Small Ballroom were completed. The work is still not completely finished.
What exhibitions/museums can you discover at the Dresden Residenzschloss?
I must admit I was surprised at how much there is to see in the Dresden Residenzschloss. You should definitely plan a little more time so that you can visit all the areas extensively.
The visit is divided into two areas. With an extra ticket and a time slot, it is possible to visit the Historic Green Vault. For all other exhibitions and museums, you need another ticket. This ticket allows you to visit the New Green Vault, the Princes’ Gallery, the Armoury, the Turkish Chamber, the Numismatic Collection, the Small Ballroom, the Porcelain Cabinet, the Royal Parade Rooms and the Museum of Prints and Drawings.
Historic Green Vault
We first visited the Historic Green Vault. Before visiting, you have to deposit all your belongings (even the smallest bag and mobile phones) in the lockers provided. Photography is forbidden here and is strictly enforced!
Directly behind the ticket control you get a free audio guide. This is offered in various languages. Thanks to a tip from a member of staff, we listened to the tour in Saxon dialect. It was the best audio guide tour I have ever experienced! Funny, easily narrated and, thanks to the inimitable Saxon dialect, simply entertaining. Of course, the facts were not neglected.
Through a security gate you then enter the area of the Historic Green Vault. It is located in the vaulted rooms of the palace, as it was before the Second World War. The halls have been reconstructed in Renaissance and Baroque style.
The Green Vault received its name as early as the 16th century. After his appointment, Elector Moritz had a wing added to the existing palace. Two rooms and a large hall with a tower room were given magnificent ceilings painted malachite green. At that time, precious objects and documents were kept in these vaulted rooms, which were not accessible to the public. Later, Augustus the Strong had a cabinet of curiosities set up in nine rooms. Here he showed art objects and rarities to visitors. Wall openings connected the Green Vault with the newly created rooms. These rooms remained unchanged until the 20th century.
At the beginning of the Second World War, the art treasures were moved to the Königstein Fortress. A good decision, because three of the nine rooms were destroyed during the bombing of the city in February 1945. The art treasures were transported to the Soviet Union after the war and only returned to the GDR in 1958.
The restored Historic Green Vault has been open to visitors again since 2006. As far as possible, an attempt has been made to restore it to the state it was in during the reign of Augustus the Strong.
The rooms are impressive. One after the other, you walk through the halls, each with a different name to indicate the collection on display there.
The first room is the Amber Cabinet, where you can admire amber art. In the Ivory Room, sculptures made of ivory stand on wall consoles and tables. The third room is the so-called White Silver Room. Here you can admire figures made of white silver. The next two rooms impressed me the most. In the Silver-gilt Room you can see beautiful goldsmith’s work from the 16th – 18th centuries. In the Pretiosensaal, you stand between impressive mirrored walls and don’t know where to look first. This is followed by the Coat of Arms Room, the Jewel Room, the Bronze Room and the Renaissance Bronze Room.
Almost 3000 exhibits are on display in the Historic Green Vault, but many consoles are empty today. The exhibits that once stood there no longer exist.
I found this tour impressive and the art treasures on display were really worth seeing.
New Green Vault in the Dresden Residence Palace
The New Green Vault is located on the first floor directly above the Historic Green Vault. Here, the rooms are rather plain and there is no sign of the splendour of the historical rooms we had visited before. But the exhibition is no less impressive.
The New Green Vault displays around 1100 exhibits from three centuries in 10 rooms. All objects are arranged in chronological order and the colour of the base of the display case indicates to the visitor which era the exhibit comes from. Thus, exhibits from the Renaissance can be found on blue plinths, exhibits from the Baroque on red plinths and exhibits from the Kunstkammer on green plinths.
The exhibits on display are so diverse and each visitor is sure to be captivated by different pieces. I was thrilled by the micro-cabinet, for example. Here you can see tiny little exhibits, some of which only reveal their beauty through a magnifying glass. True artists have created micro-carvings and turnings in ivory and cherry pits that are so rich in detail and variety that I couldn’t help but be amazed.
Another area that appealed to me is in the area of travelling valuables. As frequent travellers, we are always concerned with the question of how to pack something so that it arrives safely. This was exactly the question that preoccupied people many years ago. In this section of the exhibition, you can discover historical containers that have been adapted exactly to their contents. Really great cases have been created in the process.
I stood in amazement before the work of art “The Throne of the Great Mogul Aureng-Zeb”. The court blacksmith Johann Melchior Dinglinger, without ever having been to the Orient, depicted his idea of the splendour of the palaces. He used travel reports as models, and the result is a miniature view that is so rich in detail that one only discovers the subtleties bit by bit. Actually, I would have needed a chair here to spend hours exploring. I have since read that 137 people and numerous animals are depicted. There are supposed to be 5223 diamonds, 189 rubies, 175 emeralds, one sapphire and 53 pearls.
A tour of the New Green Vault is not to be missed when in Dresden.
The Numismatic Cabinet is located on the first floor of the Dresden Residence Palace, in the former princely living quarters in the Georgenbau. In the four rooms of the exhibition one can see about 3300 exhibits of the collection comprising over 300,000 objects.
George the Bearded is considered the “founder” of the collection. Information from 1518 has been found in a written source that mentions a German medallist as the designer of several medals. The collection expanded under Elector August. He hired medallists who contributed to it with their works.
In the 18th century, the electors developed a passion for collecting coins, which also included antique coins. In addition, private collections, such as the Groschenkabinett with about 9,000 coins, were bought from one collector.
In 1831, the collection of the Numismatic Collection came under state administration. This made it possible to provide even greater financial resources to make further acquisitions. Since 1877, the collection has been housed in the Dresden Residence Palace.
Fortunately, the collection survived the attacks on Dresden during the Second World War unscathed. Only the rooms were completely destroyed. Like almost all the exhibits from the Residenzschloss, the coins were taken to the Soviet Union and not returned to the GDR until 1958/59. However, the books and periodicals belonging to them were not returned.
Initially, the collection could be seen in the Albertinum, but since 2015 it has been housed in the reconstructed rooms in the Dresden Residence Palace.
The four rooms of the exhibition are dedicated to different focal points, such as the topic “Mining and Coinage in Saxony”.
The subject of coins is not one of the most exciting for me, but I was nevertheless impressed by the variety and the different sizes of the objects.
From the Numismatic Cabinet you enter the small ballroom. The hall is 120 m² in size and was once the living quarters of the Saxon Queen Amalie Auguste of Bavaria.
The hall leaves one speechless. Gold leaf, marble and stucco show the finest ornaments, putti and flower children. Everywhere it flashes and glitters and the incident sunlight intensifies the effect even more. Huge chandeliers hang in the room and draw the eye almost magically towards the artistically designed ceiling.
Armoury in the Dresden Residence Palace
The armoury in the Dresden Residence Palace is certainly one of the most impressive exhibitions I have seen so far. I’m not really a fan of the display of weapons of any kind, but the historical weapons on display here were quite impressive. But not only the weapons, but also the clothing and armour are really worth seeing.
The armoury is divided into two different exhibition areas. The Renaissance Wing of the Armoury is located on the first floor and the Armoury in the Giant’s Hall on the first floor. Since 2021, it has also been possible to visit the Long Corridor with the Rifle Gallery on the first floor.
Albrecht the Brave, after receiving his own duchy in 1485, founded the Ducal Armoury, which is now considered to be the origin of the armoury in the Dresden Residence Palace. The oldest total inventory is dated 1567 and lists over 1500 weapons. August of Saxony had begun to expand the collection specifically at this time and even employed platers, armourers, gunsmiths, goldsmiths and cutlers to create new armour.
Over the next centuries, almost every ruler expanded the collection, even under August the Strong, who actually showed little interest in it, new pieces were added. He moved some of the richly decorated and magnificent swords from the collection of the armoury to his newly created treasure chamber “Green Vault”.
From 1831, the armoury was under state administration. It was renamed the Royal Historical Museum. In order to finance the move to the Zwinger, many objects from the collection were sold. During the Second World War, the collection was stored in order to protect it from destruction. Like many other art treasures, the collection was sent to Leningrad and only returned to Dresden in 1958. Until the opening of the exhibition in the Dresden Residence Palace, it could be seen in the east wing of the Sempergalerie.
First, we were drawn to the Renaissance wing of the armoury on the first floor. Here you can see three permanent exhibitions:
- “World View and Knowledge around 1600”
- “On the Way to Electoral Power”
- “Electoral Wardrobe”
Part of the exhibition is now presented in the former private rooms of the Elector and shows works of art from the Dresden Kunstkammer of the Saxon Elector August. The impressive silver armoury is also located here.
I found the exhibition area on the Electoral Garb particularly interesting. Here you can admire 13 precious robes of various electors and their wives from different style periods. I am always amazed that the body size in those days was much smaller than today.
During our visit, the Rifle Gallery in the Long Corridor in the Dresden Residence Palace was completely new. Elector Christian I had this 100-metre-long corridor built in 1588/90 as a connection from the palace to the newly constructed stable building. Originally, the corridor served as an ancestral gallery for the Wettin dynasty and it was not until 1733 that part of the firearms collection of the armoury was exhibited there.
Today, a wide variety of rifles can be seen in large display cases on the side walls in the corridor.
On the first floor is the armoury in the giant hall. What an impressive exhibition hall. Tournament and ceremonial weapons, armour and costumes are displayed here. The presentation of the more than 380 exhibits was the most impressive thing for me. Armour sits on horses, tournament battle scenes are re-enacted and the three main types of tournament (sharpshooting, palli jousting, foot tournament) are shown. While watching the impressive scenes, one almost overlooks the fact that one is in the largest hall of the Residence Palace.
Also on the first floor of the building is the Türckische Cammer. It is a specially assembled section of the armoury and displays the Ottoman objects in the collection.
The first objects in the exhibition arrived in Dresden in the 16th century and since 1591 this part has been presented as its own exhibition. Many of the exhibits were gifts from high-ranking personalities or were acquired in the course of the electors’ passion for collecting. By 1677, the collection already numbered 385 objects.
Today, the collection numbers about 1000 exhibits, including, for example, full-size horses carved out of wood and an Ottoman three-mast tent. This is the largest object in the collection – 20 metres long, 8 metres wide and 6 metres high. It is made of silk and gold and when you walk under the dome of the tent, you feel like you are in a fairy tale from 1000 and 1 Nights.
Parade Rooms in the Dresden Residence Palace
Our visit concluded with a tour of the royal parade rooms, which reopened in 2019. These are located on the first floor of the palace. These rooms have been reconstructed according to old models and furnished with the furniture that was removed during the Second World War and thus preserved.
In a video I learned something about the topic of parade rooms and why they were set up in the first place.
The parade rooms include the rooms:
- Corner parade hall
- 1st and 2nd antechamber
- Audience chamber
- Parade bedroom
- 1st and 2nd Retirade with royal wardrobe
- Small and Large Picture Cabinet with the Coronation Regalia of August the Strong
The audience chamber is a large room with a throne at the end. Precious wall hangings and expensive mirrors were supposed to show the visitor at that time how powerful their host was. To the side, two doors lead into the parade bedroom, where no one ever slept. The imposing bed standing there actually only had the purpose of giving the room a more intimate and private atmosphere. This is where one held the conversations that were not meant to be heard by everyone.
Entrance via Sophienstraße, Taschenberg und Schloßstraße
Opening hours Historic Green Vault:
Wednesday – Monday: 10-17 h
Opening hours Residence Palace
Wednesday – Monday: 10-17 h
Historic Green Vault (time window tickets)
Adults: € 14
Adults: 14,- €
A combination ticket is offered. In addition, discounts are granted for certain visitor groups.
The visit to the Historic Green Vault and the Residence Palace was made possible by the Dresden State Art Collection, which also granted us permission to take photographs.