Dresden. From a provincial town to the capital of the largest kingdom in Europe
The most magnificent Baroque palace in Europe
Zwinger … The most magnificent Baroque palace in Europe. Although not exactly a palace … It housed the court ceremonies, but also exhibitions.
Above the entrance of the Zwinger, there is a huge crown. Probably the biggest crown in the world, since an entire building lifts it.
Such a crown in a small city like Dresden certainly seems very incongruous.
It is known that until 1871 Germany was divided into many small states. How important could have been the Duchy of Saxony, whose capital was Dresden?
Yet, in its time the size of this crown was proportional to the country it represented.
Because it was the crown of Poland, which was then the largest country in Europe. It was united with Lithuania and spread to nearly all Belarus.
And what business has the crown of Poland in the small capital of the Duchy of Saxony?
Dresden. From a provincial town, the capital of the largest kingdom in Europe
The reason is that in 1697, Augustus, Duke and Elector of Saxony, succeeded by intrigue to be elected king of Poland.
Augustus was not installed in Poland but remained in Dresden. Thus, the small provincial town of Saxony suddenly became the seat of a vast state.
The new king, but also his successors, took care to make Dresden worthy of its new role.
Thus, Dresden became one of the largest art centres in Europe, winning the title of “ Florence of the Elbe”. The Elbe is the river that crosses it.
The highlight of the buildings built by the Saxon electors and kings of Poland is the Zwinger. What we see today is both work of the court architect Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann and the sculptor Balthasar Permoser.
The crown of Poland from inside the Zwinger.
The Zwinger comprises wings surrounding an inner courtyard.
Today the Zwinger houses several museums. Among them is the famous Gallery, one of the most important of the world. Its most famous exhibit is the Madonna Sistina by Raphael. The electors knew what they were buying … They say it’s the only gallery whose paintings are all masterpieces.
The royal residence looks very humble next to the palace of the arts.
The fresco with the kings on the wall of the royal palace.
In Dresden is also the famous Semper Opera, bearing the name of its famous classicist architect.
In the background the famous Semper opera
A cathedral for a few
But the strangest building is the Catholic cathedral. Strange not because of its appearance, but because of its function.
The Catholic cathedral
Because Saxony was the stronghold of German Protestantism and the electors of Saxony had traditionally been the main proponents of Protestantism in Germany.
But as Poland was respectively the bastion of Catholicism, the Polish kings were necessarily Catholic. Thus, the electors of Saxony became Catholics to take the throne.
And the paradox happened that the same people were both defenders of Catholicism in Poland and continued to be in the first defence line of Protestantism in Germany.
It seems that man is capable of everything in order not to lose a seat, whether it’s a throne or not …
Thus, in the stronghold of Protestantism was raised a huge Catholic cathedral just for the kings and the few Catholics of Dresden.
The regenerated symbol
However, nothing could overshadow the city’s symbol: the Lutheran Church of Our Lady, the Frauenkirche.
The Frauenkirche in a painting of Bernardo Bellotto, 1749-1751
It dates from the 18th century, like most of the other monuments of Dresden.
But in February 1945, along with the entire historic centre of the “Florence of the Elbe”, it was destroyed by Allied bombing. Unnecessary, it seems, since Dresden had no military installations.
They say that the aim was symbolic, namely to destroy the largest cultural centre of Germany and thus demoralise the Germans and force them to surrender.
The Frauenkirche after the war. The monument of Martin Luther. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-60015-0002 / Giso Löwe / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons
At all events, the Frauenkirche remained in ruins also for symbolic reasons. But the people of Dresden never accepted the destruction of the symbol of their beloved city. Thus, in 1994, in the unified Germany, began the reconstruction of the church, completed in 2005.
Today Dresden has regained its symbol and looks to the future with optimism having again become worthy of its old title. Moreover, apart from a cultural centre, it’s a very lively city, as you’ll see if you go there.
I stayed there one day and everywhere I saw events in the streets.
Therefore, whenever you get the opportunity, don’t miss the regenerated “Florence of the Elbe”. You’ll not regret it.
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