In Saxony, on the River Elbe, just twenty-odd kilometres from the border with the Czech Republic, is Dresden – “Florence on the Elbe”. A city of wonders that was literally resurrected after WWII, it has over 50 different museums and is filled with contrasts, Baroque styles but also modern architecture, Dresden isn’t only synonymous with culture, but is also a city in which culture is a way of life
The emergence of the city itself, and the settling of today’s Saxony is connected to the 12th century and the Lusatian Serbs/Sorbs, an old West Slavic people who today inhabit the area to the southeast of Berlin towards Poland and the Czech border, all the way to Dresden. The partition of Frankish lands in the ninth century led to the emergence of Germany, the turbulent history of which had a direct impact on events and happenings in Dresden’s history.
The city was ruled from the 12th century by the dynasty of the House of Wettin, the lineage of which saw the Albertine branch come to power. The city was first mentioned in records under the name Dresden in 1206.
A city razed to the ground several times, the devastation of the Seven Years’ War (1756 to 1763) was continued by Napoleon in 1813. The peak of this fiery pyre came with the bombing of 13th and 14th February 1945, three months before the end of World War II. The sad history of the bombing of Dresden by Allied forces destroyed around 80 per cent of buildings, including the most beautiful edifices architecturally, and the point of the bombing remains puzzling to many historians to this day. Demolished or damaged at that time, among other structures, were the city’s most famous buildings, including the Lutheran Frauenkirche – Church of Our Lady, the Hofkirche Catholic Cathedral and the Semperoper opera house. With great efforts and the strong desire of Dresden citizens, the city and all of its key sights were rebuilt or included in the reconstruction process, ensuring that the city rose from the ashes like the mythical Phoenix and today stands proudly on the same foundations.
The story of Dresden is like the fairytale most closely associated with the name of powerful ruler Friederick Augustus I Strong – the king of Saxony, Lithuania and Poland who ruled during the 18th century. Stories and legends about this powerful ruler suggest that he earned the nickname ‘Strong’ on the basis of his physical appearance, while he loved to travel around Italy and France. According to the nature of aesthetics, the king sent artists for further training all around the world, which is evident at almost every turn.
Like many other Dresden buildings, the Church of Our Lady was almost completely demolished during the bombing of 1945. Works on the church’s reconstruction continued for many years after that event, and the restoration wasn’t officially completed until 2006, which symbolically happened to be precisely 800 years after the founding of the city. The citizens had such a strong desire for as many parts of the old church as possible to be preserved that their wishes were listened to and the result is a church resembling a mosaic. The darker parts of this mosaic comprise the remains of the original church, while the brighter parts are new additions, which enables one to see clearly how badly the church was damaged.
A city razed to the ground several times, the devastation of the Seven Years’ War (1756 to 1763) was continued by Napoleon in 1813. The peak of this fiery pyre came with the bombing of 13th and 14th February 1945, three months before the end of World War II. The sad history of the bombing of Dresden by Allied forces destroyed around 80 per cent of buildings, including the most beautiful edifices architecturally
Not far from the church is the famous square of the Theaterplatz, representing a special cultural quarter of the city. Around this square – which is one of the most beautiful in Europe – are art galleries, the Semper Opera House, the Old Town Watchtower designed by famous architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel and Taschenberg Palace, which has since been converted into a luxury Kempinski hotel.
The Zwinger, a palace built between 1710 and 1728, represents the perfect symbiosis of architecture and horticulture, with a park designed for outdoor receptions. It was here that Augustus II The Strong organised a wedding ceremony to mark the marriage of his son to the daughter of the Austrian Emperor. The grand celebration was illuminated by more than 60,000 candles, while it is also interesting that no one was ever resident in that palace.
Dresden’s Old Masters Picture Gallery houses one of the world’s richest collections of paintings of great masters (around 750 displayed works). It boasts works by Raphael, Giorgione, Titian, Bernardo Bellotto and Vermeer, as well as works of great Dutch painters including Rubens, Jordaens, Rembrandt and many others.
Augustus II the Strong was passionate about porcelain, so the gallery of the Dresden Porcelain Collection at the Zwinger includes vessels and figures from the Chinese imperial Song, Ming and Kangxi dynasties, as well as Japanese Imaemon and Kakiemon porcelain. He even opened Europe’s first porcelain factory in 1710, in the small town of Meissen near Dresden. Along the side of the Royal Palace is the Fürstenzug [Procession of Princes] mural, which is 109 metres long and almost 10 metres tall and features all the rulers of the Wettin Dynasty, and which is composed of over 23,000 Meissen porcelain tiles.
Also attracting attention is the Semperoper (Semper Opera), which was named after its creator, architect Gottfried Semper, and was completely destroyed during the bombing of 1945, only for its doors to reopen to the public some 40 years later. Connoisseurs claim that the acoustics and sound in this opera house are better than those of Milan’s famous La Scala.
The famous Lutheran Frauenkirche Church of Our Lady, built from 1726- 1743, is among of the symbolic landmarks of this capital of Saxony. After enduring major devastation during the bombing, it became a symbol of the war, only for its reconstruction – from 1994-2005 – to lead to it becoming a symbol of reconciliation and national unification. One interesting fact is that it was visited regularly by Johann Sebastian Bach, who also personally opened the church in 1726. The church’s interior is so spacious that it can accommodate over 3,000 worshippers.
The famous Brühl’s Terrace, better known as the Balcony of Europe, offers magnificent views of the surrounding parks, but also the New City (Neustadt) located on the opposite side of the river. The most magnificent sculpture in this part of the city is the ‘Golden Rider’ statue of the mighty King August II.
The Dresden fairytale is also reflected in the residential castle of the Royal Palace (Dresden Rezidenzschloss), which was among Germany’s most important Renaissance buildings. Dresden became the home of Saxon kings as of 1485, while the Royal Palace had key architectural significance from 1548-1556 when the court was reconstructed, and as such, it was known for centuries as a significant meeting place for princes and kings, as their place of power. In the decades after World War II, the Royal Palace was forced to defend itself vigorously against demolition plans, until reconstruction finally began in 1986. The Royal Palace is today the greatest cultural gem of this part of Europe.
Dresden became the home of Saxon kings as of 1485… In the decades after WWII, the Royal Palace was forced to defend itself vigorously against demolition plans, until reconstruction finally began in 1986. The Royal Palace is today the greatest cultural gem of this part of Europe
Within the scope of the palace are several museums that preserve the treasure of King August, gifts and the famous, priceless Dresden Green Diamond”. Visitors can enjoy over 380 exhibits, precious stones, jewellery and objects within the exhibition of the Grand Hall (Riesensaal). The Kupferstich-Kabinett (Cabinet of Prints, Drawings and Photographs) is located in the spacious rooms of the castle, while the most attractive rooms include the New Green Vault (Neues Grünes Gewölbe), the Historic Green Vault (Historische Grünes Gewölbe) and the Turkish Chamber (Türkische Cammer), which houses the largest and oldest collection of exhibits from the period of the Ottoman empire.
On Augustus Street (Augustusstraße) is the aforementioned famous Procession of Princes mural that features all of the historical rulers of Saxony and is composed of thousands and thousands of tiny porcelain tiles.
Dresden also has an extremely rich offer when it comes to music. Known for its music for almost 700 years, don’t be surprised to see people carrying instruments on the streets, as most young people in Dresden play some musical instrument or other.
Taking everything into account, it is completely clear why Goethe loved this city, why Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” originated in the heart of Dresden, and why Dresden is synonymous with culture, as a symbol of rebirth and life that many call the “Dresden Fairy-tale”.