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Magical Dresden on the Elbe

Magical Dresden on the Elbe

                                       Magical Dresden on the Elbe 

 The first time I visited Dresden was many years ago while it was still behind the Iron Curtain. We were visiting my mother's relatives who lived in Erla in the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge). Our cousin had driven us to Dresden in his very tiny little car.  My most vivid memory of that day was visiting the Green Vault Museum (Grüne Gewölbe) housing the many treasures of the Saxon kings. During the day we wandered through the historical Old (Ault) City. Many of the buildings were still showing the destruction from World War II, it was a sad sight. However, our cousin was so proud to show us the Fürstenzug, the long wall of the Royal Mews, covered in beautiful Meissen Porcelain depicting the "Procession of Princes", the Saxon sovereigns. It had been lovingly restored to its original glory. I love this picture of my mother, sister and our cousin in front of the Fürstenzug.  The three of us women traveling alone through Communist East Germany is a harrowing story, best left for a later time. 

Today, Dresden's glory shines in the architectural and artistic brilliance that today's visitor can just marvel at.  Dresden ranks as a world-class city of art and culture, and is the Capital of Saxony. It sits majestically on a graceful bend of the Elbe River protected by mighty fortifications, some built long ago by the Saxons. Viewed from the river the Renaissance, Baroque and 19th century architecture stands steadily at the river's edge.

With magnificent buildings like the Semper Opera House, the Zwinger, The Royal Palace and the Cathedral St. Trinitatis (Hofkriche), the Castle Pillnitz and the Frauenkirche you can see why it is often called "The Florence on the Elbe".  While visiting be sure to take a city walking tour to enjoy the grandeur of these architectural beauties.

To see the Church of our Lady's (Frauenkirche) magnificent baroque dome, which dominates the city center, fills my heart with gladness, as this magnificent edifice is completely reconstructed.  World War II brought devastation but the city has persevered and regained its beauty and standing in the world. 

Dresden is home to at least 40 diverse museums and many fine galleries.  From Augustus I and then Augustus II the Strong, and his successors they filled the Grünes Gewölbe (Green Vault) and Türckische Cammer (Turkish Chamber) with magnificent treasures from around the world.  They collected paintings and porcelain and were also patrons of the great composers.  This collection was so abundant that when the Grünes Gewölbe (Green Vault) was rebuilt it was divided into two sections.  The Neues Grünes Gewölbe (New Green Vault)  reopened in 2004 with over 1,000 items in the new modern rooms including Johann Melchior Dinglinger's "Court of the Grand Mogul". Then in 2006 the Historisches Grünes Gewölbe (Historical Green Vault) was reopened. This magnificent treasure chamber was reconstructed in a baroque style just like the old Green Vault.  The opulent treasures in both sections are wondrous, many covered with sparkling jewels and glittering gold.

The  Zwinger Museum is also not to be missed.  Here you may enjoy wonderful Old Masters from the 15th to 18th centuries in the old Masters Picture Gallery (Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister) in the Semper Gallery, located in the gallery wing of the Zwinger.  This collection includes major Italian Renaissance works as well as Dutch, Flemish and outstanding works by German, French and Spanish painters of this period.   It's Porcelain collection features numerous specimens of Chinese, Japanese and early Meissen porcelain, which are amoung the most significat in the world.

I found the history of the collection of these art pieces very fascinating.  I have borrowed this history from Wikipedia to share with you.

When the Kunstkammer (Art Chamber) of the Electors of Saxony in Dresden was founded by Augustus,  Elector of Saxony in 1560, paintings were subordinate to collectors' pieces from science, other art works and  curiosities.  It was not until the beginning of the 18th century that Augustus II the Strong and his son  Frederick Augustus II started to collect paintings systematically. Over a period of less than 60 years, these two  art-loving Electors of Saxony, who were also Kings of Poland, expanded the collections significantly. In 1745,  the 100 best pieces of the collection belonging to the Duke of Modena (Francesco III) were purchased, arriving  in Dresden the following year.

As the fast growing painting collection soon required more space for storage and presentation, it was moved  from Dresden Castle to the adjacent Stallgebäude (the Electors’ Stables Building) in 1747. In the meantime the  collection had achieved European fame. Paintings from all over Europe, especially from Italy, Paris,  Amsterdam and Prague, were acquired and sent to Dresden. The purchasing activities of the Electors were  crowned by the acquisition of Raphael’s Sistine Madonna in 1754. 

 In 1838, the architect Gottfried Semper was invited by a gallery commission working for King Frederick  Augustus II, to design an appropriate architectural setting for the collection. The new gallery wing of the  Zwinger was consequently built from 1847 to 1854. On 25 September 1855, the Neues Königliches Museum  (New Royal Museum) opened in the Semper Gallery where it is still located today. Due to shortage of space,  the Modern Department of the museum with paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries moved into a separate  building on Brühl's Terrace, laying the foundations for what is now known as the New Masters Gallery.

 When World War II was imminent in 1938, the museum was closed. The artworks were mostly safely stored  away when the gallery building itself was severely damaged in the bombing of Dresden on 13 February 1945.  At the end of the war in 1945, most of the paintings were confiscated by the Red Army and transported to  Moscow and Kiev. On their return to Dresden in 1956, part of the collection was displayed on the ground floor  of the still partly destroyed Semper Gallery. The Old Masters Gallery re-opened in 1960 after the reconstruction  of the gallery building was completed. While the most important paintings survived this period, the losses were  significant. Records from 1963 state that 206 paintings had been destroyed and 507 were missing.  Of these,  some 450 are still missing today. 

If you are wishing to visit the Museum of Saxon Folk Art, it is located in the historic Jägerhof.  My grandmother was raised in Germany and Switzerland and was a lace maker along with all the girls in her family.  So the bobbinlace display brought back memories of her little cushion with all the little bobbins I saw as a child.  The museum also has many other folk displays of art, wood carving, and Indigo printing.  If you are interest in arts and crafts this is a great stop.

But Dresden is not just museums, and galleries, there is wonderful shopping and The New Town offers you some preserved Baroque buildings and turn-of-the century looks at Dresden.  The river Elbe winds its way through the city with the Elbe Cycle Path running directly along its banks.  After visiting the majestic buildings filled with history, a walk along the Elbe on a summer's day is refreshing. Dresden is a very green city with parks and meadows in which to spend a sunny afternoon relaxing.

There are so many spectacular day trips from Dresden it is hard to choose.  The danger is not, "What are you going to do", "But how can I fit it all in".  Enjoy this magnificent city!


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