In Meissen, Albrechtsburg Castle stands high above the city. It is said to be Germany’s first castle building and is now a protected architectural monument.
When you are out and about in Meißen, the view high up to Albrechtsburg Castle and Meißen Cathedral is an ideal orientation aid. Both buildings tower over the city and form the landmark for the region that is visible from afar.
The history of Albrechtsburg Castle
It was in 929 that King Henry I was looking for a site for a new castle. The towering rock between the Elbe, Triebisch and Meisa rivers proved to be the ideal location. The castle of Misni was built, which, according to the chronicler Thietmar von Merseburg, was situated in a wooded hill and its wooden buildings were surrounded by a wooden earthen wall. Meissen became the centre of the border margraviate of Meissen when the castle was built. The margrave resided in the castle, which today is considered the “cradle of Saxony”.
The next centuries are marked by a constant change of power and guards at the castle. Some changes took place peacefully, others were violent, some owners ruled for a little longer and others only very briefly. A time in which Meissen Cathedral was built and the High Chapter of Meissen was founded on the castle hill. Of course, buildings were also constructed during this time, but almost everything was torn down or destroyed.
How the castle becomes a palace
Ernst and Albrecht von Wettin ruled Saxony and Thuringia together from 1464 to 1485. It was they who commissioned the master builder Arnold of Westphalia in 1471 to build the first German castle on the site of the castle.
The castle was planned and built as a residence for both princes, but they never used it. In 1485, the government was abolished and the land divided. Albrecht received the territories of today’s Meissen and the later Thuringian District. It was not until his son George the Bearded that the castle was used as a residence.
The construction on the steep slope of the Elbe was not easy. The master builder had the basement built over two floors. In addition, a ground floor and three upper floors were built.
The palace has two hall-like rooms with two naves on the upper floor. They have window fronts and a vaulted ceiling. The large central hall, which could not be heated, was used as a banqueting hall and communication area between the surrounding rooms. The north hall had a large tiled stove and served as a court room. Here the men of the court met for the main meals.
Around these large halls were independent flats with living and office areas, stove-heated parlours and sleeping chambers.
On the first floor, there was a room with three window fronts for the women to eat their meals. There were other small flats and the Elector’s private rooms with an incredible view of the Elbe. The third floor is almost identical in design; here were the private rooms of the Electress.
An architectural novelty is the cellular vaulting in the rooms and the refined light guidance through curtain arch windows. A masterpiece to this day is the Great Spiral Stone, a staircase with curved steps winding around a spindle.
The castle was not really used over the years. Now and then it was used for receptions or parties, but mostly it stood unused on the castle hill.
In 1676 the castle was named Albrechtsburg after its first lord and builder.
The castle becomes a porcelain manufactory
August the Strong “rediscovered” the castle at the beginning of the 18th century. At that time he urgently needed a location for the first European porcelain manufactory. This location had to be large enough for production and should be well protected from “spies”. In this way, he wanted to preserve the secret of porcelain production. Albrechtsburg Castle offered itself as the ideal location. Its location on the castle hill meant that access to the castle could be easily controlled, and so porcelain production began there in 1710.
Porcelain was produced at Albrechtsburg Castle until the middle of the 19th century. Then they moved to a new factory building in the city. The production facilities were gradually dismantled.
The way back to the castle
Since the castle had been used for many years as a factory and not as a castle, it was not only the furniture that was missing for the design of the rooms after the architectural restoration. The entire rooms had to be restored.
First, it was decided to put elaborate paintings on the walls. These depict the history of Saxony and Meissen. 11 artists from the Dresden Art Academy were involved in the design and if you take a closer look at the individual pictures, you can see this even as a layman.
Later, floors, doors and fireplaces were restored, followed by historically accurate furniture, chandeliers and weapons. At the end of the 19th century, the castle was opened to visitors. Today it belongs to the State Palaces and Gardens of Saxony and is used as a museum.
The way to Albrechtsburg Castle
You can reach the cathedral square with the castle courtyard in many different ways. If you wish, you can use the panorama lift, which is located on the Elbe side of the Burgberg. There is also a bus (line E- Stadtrundfahrt) to the Domplatz.
A wide paved path leads across the hollow way, a path at the Kornhaus and an access at the Amtsgericht (district court) onto the grounds. I particularly liked the path over countless steps along the leafy slope below Albrechtsburg Castle. This is part of a circular path that leads around Albrechtsburg Castle.
The historical circular route begins at the Stone Bridge (13th century) and leads along the slope to the Second Castle Gate in the gatehouse. From there it goes below the Kornhaus , the gallery building and Albrechtsburg Castle to the Amtsgericht. There you reach the square around the cathedral and castle. The tour is worthwhile, the view is really great in some places!
The view from a roundabout below the castle is particularly beautiful.
Visit to the museum
The entrance area to the museum is on the ground floor of Albrechtsburg Castle. From there, a staircase (there is also a lift) leads to the individual floors with the different exhibition areas. When opening the doors, you should take a look at the beautiful door handles.
I was quite excited to visit the museum in Albrechtsburg Meissen. Here you can still discover 43 of the former 51 large murals and 18 smaller paintings. You practically walk through a “picture book” of history. Right in the first room, you can admire the first depictions in the window niches.
I was impressed by the view into a small room behind a grille. What an artistic design of the walls and especially the ceiling.
To enter the next room, we had to slip our shoes into felt slippers. I continued to skate across the beautiful parquet floor and discovered more wonderful details of the interior design in Albrechtsburg Castle.
It may be too much for some, but it thrilled me. The optical impressions are impressive and you can spend so much time in front of a painting, you always discover new details. I was also surprised that even as a layman you can see that different painters were involved in the design. Some pictures had a completely different painting style. I also found the colour design of the columns in the great hall very artistic.
On the second and third floors of the castle, you can learn a lot about the porcelain manufactory and the castle itself. Here you will find information boxes and the rooms also appear less ostentatious. The murals here also depict the history of the workshops.
The exhibition area is surprisingly modern for a historical castle exhibition. Pictures are presented on large glass panels, steel bands show the history of Albrechtsburg Castle with the support of video sequences on screens, and on small panels you can compare stylistic elements from different regions, for example. Some of the exhibits are so “modern” that it takes a while to recognise their function.
We discovered a screen hanging from the ceiling on a tube. It reminded us a bit of the sighting tube of a submarine. If you turned the screen back and forth, you could see the roof construction of the castle.
We didn’t really agree on whether we liked the exhibition. This does not mean the design of the content. We were completely convinced by it. It “bothered” us a little that the beautiful rooms were sometimes overshadowed by shiny metallic tables and consoles. The gaze was always on the exhibits and the visual appearance was simply in stark contrast to the room design. However, such a break in style also makes a thing interesting again. As I said, we constantly vacillated between “oh how great” and “what a pity, I would have liked to see more of the room here”.
Nevertheless, I would like to emphasise that we enjoyed the tour very much and that the use of media in Albrechtsburg Castle clearly contributed to this.
Tour with the HistoPad in Albrechtsburg Castle
When you buy your entrance ticket, you are not offered the usual audio guide at Albrechtsburg Castle, but instead receive a tablet. The so-called HistoPad is an interactive guide through the castle and, to be honest, I had a lot of fun discovering the rooms in a completely different way.
In the castle museum you will find grey boxes in some rooms, the so-called time gates. Here you hold the pad over a code that is automatically scanned. Now time runs backwards and you are taken back to the 15th century on the HistoPad. The room in which you are standing now appears on the pad as it should have looked in the 15th century. If you walk through the room and hold the pad to one side of the room, for example, people, furniture and scenes are shown that could have been there at that time.
If you prefer to go back in time, you can “jump” to the era of the porcelain manufactory, for example. Here, too, 3D productions and high-resolution images are offered, which gave me as a visitor an unforgettable impression.
In addition to the pictorial presentation, users also have the option of retrieving text information on the murals, museum exhibits, etc. (offered in 10 languages). For fun, there is the possibility to take a historical selfie and have it sent to you by email.
I found this kind of tour exciting and varied. With an audio guide, it is often tiring to listen to the voice after a while. The HistoPad was a really great change for a tour of the castle.
1.11. – 28.2. Monday – Sunday: 10 am – 5 pm
1.3. – 31.10. Monday – Sunday: 10 am – 6 pm
1 January: 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
24/25 December: closed
Adults: 10,- €
Photo permit: 2,- €
Discounts are offered.
Many thanks to the Staatliche Schlösser, Burgen und Gärten Sachsen gGmbH (Albrechtsburg) for granting permission to photograph our report.