Facts about Zwinger

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Dresden’s most famous monument

The Zwinger is a palace complex with gardens, located in Dresden, Germany. It is one of the most important Baroque buildings in Germany and Dresden’s most famous monument. It was built in the early 18th century at the initiative of the Elector of Saxony and King of Poland of the Saxon Wettin dynasty, Augustus II the Strong. The architectural intent of the famous German architect Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann made the complex a visible showcase of the ruler’s splendor, reflecting his love of art and architecture, of which he was a generous patron. The Zwinger is not only an impressive architectural monument but also an important cultural center. The palace’s interiors are adorned with rich decoration and contain numerous galleries, museums, and exhibitions. A particularly prized collection is the Old Masters Painting Gallery, which contains works by such masters as Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt, and Rubens.

It is also one of the most important tourist attractions in Dresden, visited by thousands of tourists every year. With its beauty and historical significance, the Zwinger is an important part of Germany’s cultural heritage and remains a symbol of the architectural craftsmanship of the Baroque era.

The Zwinger is located in the historic center of Dresden, about 200 meters from the terraced banks of the Elbe River.

It is located close to other famous monuments, including Dresden Castle-Residenzschloss, the residence of the Dukes of Saxony, a building with an 800-year, and the Semperoper-the Saxon State Opera House.

The Zwinger was built in what is known as the inter-museum.

It was built on an area located between the outer and inner defensive walls of Dresden (the so-called “outer circle”). Such spaces were customarily called “Zwinger” and were used by the Dresden court for garden purposes (Zwingergarten) near the castle.

Since the palace garden complex was built in such an area, it took its name from it.

The complex was built in several stages from 1709 to 1732, on land outside the perimeter of Dresden’s medieval inner fortifications.

Augustus II the Strong was fascinated by King Louis XIV of France and his architectural doings. Upon his return from a trip to France, when he became king of Poland, he wanted to create palaces in Dresden and Warsaw on the scale of Versailles.

The king’s court architect was Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann, who designed both the Zwinger in Dresden and the Saxon Palace in Warsaw.

The formal inauguration of the Zwinger took place in 1719.

The pretext was the wedding of Prince Elector Frederick Augustus II (Augustus III of Poland) to the daughter of the Habsburg Emperor, Archduchess Maria Joseph. At that time, the Zwinger already had buildings with unfinished interiors, and the garden pavilions and their arcaded galleries provided a striking backdrop for the ceremony.

The interiors of the buildings were not finished until 728, and by then they could already serve as exhibition galleries and library rooms.

Initially, the Zwinger functioned as an orangery and garden, as well as a representative area.

It featured richly decorated pavilions, emporiums with balustrades, statues and vases, and arcaded galleries. The original concept of Augustus II was that the Zwinger was to be the courtyard of the new castle, which included the area between it and the Elbe River, so it was not built up on the riverside, only enclosed by a makeshift wall.

With the death of Augustus II, the construction of a new castle was abandoned and the Zwinger lost some of its importance.

The largest building in the Zwinger complex is the Semper Gallery - the Old Masters Picture Gallery.

The building borders the Zwinger from the northeast towards the Elbe River. The gallery was built between 1847 and 1854 by architect Gottfried Semper. The Semper Gallery is a three-story building 127.35 meters long and 23.77 meters high, built in the Italian Renaissance style.

Its exterior façade features 120 sandstone sculptures, including 12 statues, 16 bas-reliefs, 20 medallions, and 72 figures hanging over windows and arches. More than 160 figures from different eras can be seen there, from Zeus to Moses and Michelangelo to Goethe.

At the time of its construction, the Semper Gallery was considered “the most magnificent and ornate museum building of recent times.”

The Old Masters Picture Gallery houses a sizable collection of European paintings of the 15th-18th centuries.

The origins of the collection are connected with the person of Prince Augustus Wettin, who often bought works of art and craftsmanship, but his attention was mainly focused on applied art and armaments. This changed during the reigns of Augustus II the Strong and his son, Augustus III of Poland, who, with large financial resources and connections at European courts, purchased paintings by European masters on a large scale. Their collections were exhibited in various buildings, eventually ending up on permanent display in Zwinger, the Semper Gallery.

During World War II, the paintings were hidden outside the Sempergalerie, where they survived Allied air raids. Later they were taken to the Soviet Union. In the 1950s, most of the collection was returned, although several hundred works are still missing.

The Sempergalerie’s most magnificent work is Rafael Santi’s “Sistine Madonna.”

The painting was commissioned by the monks of the Benedictine monastery of San Sisto in Piacenza as part of an altar set. In the 1750s Augustus III of Poland bought it and in 1754 the painting was placed in the Dresden Gallery.

An important part of Semper Gallery’s collection is Italian Renaissance painting.

It is represented by such masters as Giorgione, Titan, Corregio, Mantegna, Botticelli, and Parmigianino. The are also works by Dutch and Flemish painters from the 17th century - many works by Rembrandt and his pupils. There are many works of German and Old Dutch painting (van Eyck, Dürer, Cranach, and Holbein), as well as Spanish and French from the 17th century.

In addition to the Old Masters’ Picture Gallery, the Zwinger houses and exhibits valuable museum collections.

There is a rich collection of historical porcelain wares (the largest in Europe), both German from Meissen, as well as Chinese, Japanese or Korean. There is a collection of ancient mathematical, physical, astronomical, geodetic, and meteorological instruments, as well as an armory and an orangery, which contains many exotic plant species imported by Augustus II the Strong.

In the Zwinger, the armory (Rüstkammer) houses the insignia of Augustus II the Strong-his private regalia made in 1697 by goldsmith Johann Friedrich Klemm. The complex also contains numerous Polish and Saxon symbols related to Augustus II the Strong.

The Zwinger was not residential, but only of a representative nature, and served as a gallery for storing valuable royal collections and for holding lavish court ceremonies.

The complex contains six stored pavilions (Clock, German, Porcelain, Embankment, French, Mathematical, and Physical), connected by one-story galleries. The pavilions are situated around a large rectangular courtyard.

The complex is accessed by an entrance gate built in 1714-1718, called Kronentor. It is modeled on works of the late Italian Baroque. It is decorated with sculptures alluding to the myth of Hercules. The gate’s finial features the coat of arms of the Republic and four eagles supporting the Polish royal crown.

In 2012-2016, the Kronentor underwent a restoration at €650.000.

During the bombing of 1945, the Zwinger was almost destroyed.

Its reconstruction began later that year and lasted until 1963.

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