Right in the heart of Dresden is what might be the most well-known building of the Baroque period – the Zwinger Palace Dresden. It is a must-see for every visitor and it is pretty in every season.
Where is the Zwinger in Dresden located?
The Zwinger in Dresden is located not far from the Elbe in the old town of Dresden. It is part of the city’s historic centre.
Nearby are the famous sights of the Semper Opera House, the Residence Palace and the Theatre Square.
The Zwinger Palace is located near the Elbe in the inner Old Town of Dresden. It is in close proximity to the Semperoper (Opera), the Residenzschloss (Dresden Castle) and the Theaterplatz (Theatre Square).
It got its name from an old word for a part of a fortress between the inner and the outer fortification wall, a common design in the medieval. Saxonian King August the Strong had it build in the 18th century by an architect called Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann and the sculptor Balthasar Permoser.
The Zwinger Palace is one of the most impressive buildings from this period. It was never meant to be an official residence, it was built for mere representation.
Why is the Baroque building called the Zwinger?
The name goes back to the designation for a part of the fortress between the outer and inner fortification walls, which was common in the Middle Ages.
Documentary references from the year 1216 indicate that Dresden had a closed fortification system. As a result of the Hussite wars, the city’s walls began to be reinforced and an almost complete second city wall was built in front of the existing wall. The resulting space in between is called the Zwinger.
Near the castle, this area was used for gardening. The location of this garden changed over the course of time. Later, too, the Zwinger garden fulfilled its function between the outer and inner fortification walls.
This no longer applied to the Zwinger in the early 18th century. Although the south-western building areas of the Dresden Zwinger stand on the parts of the outer fortress wall that are still visible today, there was no longer an inner fortress wall at this time.
Origin of the Zwinger in Dresden
The reign of Elector Friedrich August I (Augustus the Strong) was marked by intensive structural changes in Dresden. He had seen a great deal on his travels and, influenced by Italian and French experts, had representative stone buildings and spacious gardens built.
In 1701, his ideas began to take on a more concrete form. The old orangery and kennel garden no longer seemed up to date to him. In 1709 the building history of the Baroque Zwinger began. Augustus the Strong commissioned a semicircular fairground to the west of the palace, which was to be surrounded by wooden buildings. These formed the foundation stone of the later Zwinger.
In 1711, construction work began on the arched galleries, the Nymph Baths and the building wing of the later Mathematical-Physical Salon. Augustus the Strong had this building constructed by the architect Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann and the sculptor Balthasar Permoser.
For the wedding of the Elector’s son (1719), part of the construction work had already been completed and the festivities could be held there.
The Zwinger is one of the most impressive buildings of this epoch. It was never intended as a residence, but always served representative purposes. The pavilions and galleries on the wall side were used as orangeries and in summer many of the plants stood in the large inner courtyard, which had been turned into a beautiful green space.
The development of the Zwinger after August the Strong
With the death of Augustus the Strong, the Dresden Zwinger “project” became less and less important. Other tasks and new building projects came to the fore. In 1746, permission was finally granted to erect a wooden playhouse in the Zwinger courtyard. It burnt down after only two years, and the last remains of the foundations were removed during renovation work in 1929/30.
One side of the site remained unfinished until 1847. Gottfried Semper and Karl Moritz Haenel finally completed the building with the erection of the Gemäldegalerie, now known as the Sempergalerie.
After the Semper Gallery was completed, the visual image of the Zwinger was no longer right. The aged long gallery and the overgrown nymph bath did not form a harmonious unit with the new building. Attempts were made to bring them into line by painting them with oil varnish and treating them with Portland cement, but this damaged the fabric of the building to such an extent that the result was rapid decay.
What happened after the First World War?
Attempts were made to stop the deterioration of the building fabric through restoration work. The First World War and the problems that now prevailed increasingly aggravated the situation. Figures fell from their pedestals and there was a danger of large components coming loose. From 1924, with the founding of the Zwingerbauhütte, it was possible to stop the decay and in time it was even possible to reopen the rooms of the porcelain collection.
No sooner had there been hope of preserving the building than the Second World War came and during the bombing raids on Dresden in February 1945 the Zwinger was badly damaged. All the buildings and the roofs burnt out, the Wall Pavilion and the arched gallery on the Elbe side were almost completely destroyed.
Only a few months later, the first talks on reconstruction took place. The Soviet military administration backed the reconstruction plans and released timber. The Saxon state administration also approved funds and the gradual reconstruction of the Zwinger began as early as September 1945. In May 1951, the first visitors were allowed to enter part of the inner courtyard again, and a few years later the Picture Gallery also opened its doors. Since 1963, the exterior of the Dresden Zwinger has been largely restored, and in the meantime renovation work has been carried out again and again.
Tour of the Dresden Zwinger
We entered the Zwinger through an entrance on Sophienstraße. From there you also enter the rooms of the porcelain collection. This area is called the Glockenspiel Pavilion. A carillon made of Meissen porcelain hangs here. It plays an hourly chime every quarter, half, three-quarter and full hour.
If you look at the statues at the carillon pavilion, you will discover many figures from Greek myths and rare gods.
One enters a courtyard with lawns and fountain pools. This is surrounded by 4 rectangular pavilions and the two round wall and carillon pavilions. These are connected with archways and the long gallery.
During our visits so far, we have never seen the Dresden Zwinger without scaffolding. There is always construction going on at one corner or another, restoration work or planting in the garden area.
On our last visit, we could see the Zwinger side, where the Picture Gallery is housed, quite well. The so-called Semper Gallery was built later in the style of the High Renaissance and does not quite match the style of the other buildings visually. At over 127 metres long and almost 24 metres high, the building complex is the largest element of the Zwinger. I find the passageway that opens onto the theatre square particularly successful. You can see the King John monument on the theatre square through the entrance.
On the opposite side is the Long Galleries with the Crown Gate in the middle. Unfortunately, construction work was taking place here. So unfortunately, you couldn’t see the fountains that help shape the façade. But you could walk along the long gallery. Here, vases and putti stand on pillars and you have a beautiful view of the Zwinger courtyard.
The Crown Gate is the best-known entrance to the site, even though there was never a stone bridge here, only a wooden footbridge over the moat. At present, access through this gate is not possible.
The gate building has an octagonal ground plan. An onion-shaped dome rises above the attic with rich ornamentation. Four eagles carry the replica of the Polish royal crown high up on the spire.
If you walk across the long gallery through the crown gate, you will notice that the gate is open on all sides. There are figures everywhere and we had to smile more than once when we took a closer look at them.
The Wall Pavilion is certainly the most impressive area of the Zwinger. It is bordered on one side by the corner pavilion used by the Mathematical-Physical Salon. In front of this is a terrace, which can be reached via a large flight of steps.
Unfortunately, during our visit we could only admire a little of the lavish sculptural decoration, as large areas were being renovated. From the courtyard, a few steps lead to the pavilion. There, a staircase leads up to a platform.
Somewhat hidden behind the French Pavilion is the Nymph Bath, one of the most beautiful Baroque fountains. Drop-shaped ornaments, water-spouting dolphins and nymphs define the image of the fountain. Restoration work has just been carried out here too, so we will probably come back again.
Courtyard (April – November) 5.00 – 22.00
Courtyard (December – March) 6.00 – 20.00
Outdoor area open at all times Museums: learn more about the opening hours here
Courtyard, Nymphenbad, outdoor area: free
Museums: learn more about the admission fees here
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