Monthly Archives: March 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #224: Würzburg Residence with the Court Gardens and Residence Square

Posted by on March 31, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #224: Würzburg Residence with the Court Gardens and Residence Square

UNESCO World Heritage Site #224: Würzburg Residence with the Court Gardens and Residence Square

From the World Heritage inscription:

This magnificent Baroque palace – one of the largest and most beautiful in Germany and surrounded by wonderful gardens – was created under the patronage of the prince-bishops Lothar Franz and Friedrich Carl von Schönborn. It was built and decorated in the 18th century by an international team of architects, painters (including Tiepolo), sculptors and stucco-workers, led by Balthasar Neumann.

Würzburg Palace was created by the prince-bishop of Würzburg as a residence which he believed on a par with his station. It was modeled on the Palace of Versailles. It is very similar to other world heritage sites I’ve visited which were modeled after Versailles: The Palace of Schönbrunn in Vienna and Augustusburg Palace outside of Cologne.

What separates Würzburg Palace from the other similar palaces I’ve mentioned is that Würzburg Palace was almost totally destroyed during World War II. Other than the central reception hall and a few rooms, almost the entire building gutted by allied bombing on March 16, 1945.

Today the palace is in wonderful condition and you would never guess that it had been destroyed. In fact, it looks better than good. It looks almost brand new, at least the in interior.

UNESCO had no problems inscribing Würzburg Palace on the world heritage list. Inscribed in 1981, it not only was it one of the earliest world heritages sites but the committed basically didn’t require much in the way of evidence of its historical value because they felt it was so obvious.

I left Würzburg wondering at what point something reconstructed is still the thing which was replaced. It is like this old riddle: This is my grandfather’s axe. My father replaced the handle and I replaced the head. Is it still my grandfather’s axe?

I am of two minds about the subject and I’m not really sure what the answer is. I think Europeans might have a very different view of this than Americans do. Europe is awash in old buildings (at least old in terms of what Americans would call old). Renovating buildings happens all the time and needs to be done because so much of the building stock in Europe was built hundreds of years ago.

Americans have very little that is old. What we call historic tends to be better preserved simply because its newer. There hasn’t been as much need to reconstruct anything because what we do have was built with better materials and techniques because it was built later.

My reconstruction doubts aside, they did a magnificent job. If you do visit the palace, pay special attention to the room of mirrors. There are some small samples still available of the original mirrors so you can compare how they used to look to the current ones. They did a remarkable job. Also, all the furniture, fixtures and tapestries in the palace are original as they were removed for safekeeping during the war.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #223: Town of Bamberg

Posted by on March 30, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #223: Town of Bamberg

UNESCO World Heritage Site #223: Town of Bamberg

From the World Heritage inscription:

The layout and architecture of medieval and Renaissance Bamberg exerted a strong influence on urban form and evolution in the lands of central Europe from the 11th century onwards. Bamberg is an outstanding and representative example of an early medieval town in central Europe, both in its plan and in its many surviving ecclesiastical and secular buildings.

The Counts of Babenberg had a castle on the hill around which Bamberg developed as early as the late Carolingian period. This became royal property in 906, and then passed to the Dukes of Bavaria. When Henry II, Duke of Bavaria, became King of Germany in 1007 he made Bamberg the seat of a bishopric, intended to become a ‘second Rome’.

It played a significant role as a link with the Slav peoples of Eastern Europe, especially in modern Poland and Pomerania. The town was laid out according to medieval planning rules as a cross, with the churches of St Michael, St Stephen, St Gangolf, and St Jacob at the four cardinal points. With the advent of Bishop Otto I it became the seat of a powerful Prince-Bishopric in the early 12th century. This marked the beginning of a period of great prosperity, as demonstrated by the lavish restoration of the cathedral in the early 13th century.

This prosperity continued into the later Middle Ages, being helped by the fact that it was the starting point for shipping on the Main, as well as a renowned cultural centre. The late 17th and early 18th centuries saw a remarkable cultural flowering, represented by artists such as Dientzenhofer and Balthasar Neumann. This cultural role became even more important in the late 18th century, when Bamberg was the centre of the Enlightenment for southern Germany under Prince-Bishop Franz-Ludwig von Erthal.

Bamberg was one of the highlights on my tour of German world heritage sites. It is a wonderful small town in Bavaria which is untouched by bombing in WWII. (WWII destruction, or the lack thereof, was a common theme for all the world heritage sites I’ve visited in Germany.)

In addition to the half-timber houses and medieval cathedral, Bamberg has one of the best town halls (rathaus) I’ve seen in all of Germany. It is situated on a small island in the river Main and is covered with murals.

Bamberg is one of the biggest beer brewing cities in Germany with 9 full time breweries. The local specialty is a smoked beer made from smoked malt. It has a distinct scent of fried bacon.

Bamberg’s historic buildings has made it a prime movie filming location. The image shown above was seen in the movie “The Three Musketeers”.

If you want to visit a German city that has storybook Bavarian charm, Bamberg is one of your best bets. Everyone I’ve spoken to who has visited Bamberg has agreed that it is one of their favorite cities in Germany. It is also one of mine.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #222: Margravial Opera House Bayreuth

Posted by on March 29, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #222: Margravial Opera House Bayreuth

UNESCO World Heritage Site #222: Margravial Opera House Bayreuth


From the World Heritage inscription:

The 18th century Margravial Opera House in Bayreuth is a masterwork of Baroque theatre architecture, commissioned by Margravine Wilhelmine of Brandenburg as a venue for opera seria over which the princely couple ceremonially presided. The bell-shaped auditorium of tiered loges built of wood and lined with decoratively painted canvas was designed by the then leading European theatre architect Giuseppe Galli Bibiena.

The sandstone façade designed by court architect Joseph Saint Pierre provides a focal point within the urban public space that was particularly planned for the building. As an independent court opera house rather than part of a palace complex, it marks a key point in opera house design, foreshadowing the large public theatres of the 19th century. Today it survives as the only entirely preserved example of court opera house architecture where Baroque court opera culture and acoustics can be authentically experienced. The attributes carrying Outstanding Universal Value are its location in the original 18th century public urban space; the 18th century Baroque façade; the original 18th century roof structure spanning 25 metres; the internal layout and design of the ceremonial foyer, tiered loge theatre and stage area including all existing original materials and decoration.

During my March 2013 tour of German World Heritage Sites I had two major disappointments, both of which were due to renovations. The first was the Abbey of Lorsch and the second was the Opera House in Bayreuth.

What makes the opera house special is its interior…and that was closed in October and wont be open until May. That means the only thing I was able to see was the exterior. The opera house is going up on my list of sites to revisit and it is probably on the top of that list right now.

If you are in Bayreuth, make sure to also visit the palace of Wilhelmine, the patron of the opera house, which is within easy walking distance. You might also be interested in visting the home of Richard Wagner and his concert hall which he created for his operas.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #221: Old town of Regensburg with Stadtamhof

Posted by on March 28, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #221: Old town of Regensburg with Stadtamhof

UNESCO World Heritage Site #221: Old town of Regensburg with Stadtamhof

From the World Heritage inscription:

The history of Regensburg is complex ranging from the Roman Empire to the modern times. The following are the main periods:

• Antiquity: from AD 179, the site became a strong military base (Castra Regina), built in stone. It developed into a considerable trading post with workshops and also had a large temple. The fort had to resist continuous attacks from 230 until the fall of the Roman period in 476, when it finally passed to the hands of the Teutonic tribes.

• Early Middle Ages: the Roman buildings were not demolished, but continued being used and gradually adapted to evolving needs. It became the main centre for the Bavarians. From the 6th century, it was governed by the Agilolfinger dukes, whose palace was in the north-east corner of the Roman fort (Alter Kornmarkt). In 739, Regensburg was made the permanent seat of one of the four old Bavarian bishoprics. The last Carolingian king, Louis the Child, held the last Imperial Diet in the city in 901.

• Later Middle Ages: There followed a period of power struggle, but the importance of Regensburg continued growing. From the 10th to the 13th century, it often hosted royal sojourns, including the christening of Duke Miesko I of Poland, in 966, thus marking the beginning of Polish history. In the 11th century, Bavaria remained royal property, and from 1096 it was again ruled by dukes; the Welf dynasty. In 1139, Duke Leopold IV took over the Bavarian duchy, but he failed to get the support of the Regensburg citizens, who were increasingly involved in decision making.

• Imperial Free City: throughout the 12th century Regensburg was administered by outside rulers, marked also by the struggle between the Bishop and the Duke. With the help of King Philip of Swabia (1198-1208), the citizens of Regensburg finally established a stronger position as an urban commune. In 1245, Emperor Frederick II laid the legal foundation for the establishment of the municipal rule, the election of the Council, Mayor, and the municipal officers. At the crossroads of important trade routes, Regensburg played a leading role in trading with eastern Central Europe and the Balkans. It then developed its contacts especially to Northern Italy and especially Venice. In the 15th century, Regensburg fell behind in comparison to growing cities such as Nuremberg, Augsburg and Ulm.

• 15th century: After long negotiations, a royal governor was appointed by the Emperor to rule Regensburg, in 1499. The first governor prepared the Imperial Government Regulations to guide all important administrative issues. In 1514, in keeping with the city’s constitution, an inner and an outer council were established. With some modifications, the constitution remained legally binding until 1802.

• 16th to 18th centuries: Protestantism began officially in Regensburg, with a sermon in the Dominican church, 14-15 October 1542. Rapidly the citizens took over the new faith even though the city council was trying to counteract the trend. During the Thirty Year War, Regensburg was made into a garrison city. There was a bitter conflict between Regensburg and Bavaria, and the city suffered of plundering. In 1633, it was under the siege by the Swedes, but was saved from the worst. However, its economy suffered seriously. After the war, in 1663, Regensburg hosted the Imperial Diet, with some interruptions, until the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, in 1806.

• 19th century: during the Napoleonic wars, Regensburg suffered some bombardment. After the peace treaty between France and Austria, in 1809, Bavaria was able to push its claim to Regensburg, which was handed over to Bavaria in 1810 becoming a provincial city. The destroyed buildings were now rebuilt. After the inauguration of Walhalla in 1842, it was decided to convert the Cathedral, which had baroque interiors, back into its Gothic form, and complete its western towers with Gothic spires. The city started expanding and, by 1878, most of its medieval walls had been demolished.

• 20th century: in the 1930s, some industry was introduced to the city, but outside the medieval city. During the Second World War the town was also subject to bombing, but the Old City remained the only intact historic city in Germany. The population had grown from 29,000 in 1871 to 53,000 in 1914. After the Second World War, due to a flood of immigration, the population grew to 147,000. In the 1950s, the city was subject to restoration and improvement works. The protection of the historic area was integrated into city planning legislation in 1973-75.

Of the several world heritage sites in Germany which can be classified under “old towns” Regensburg is by far the largest. Like other “old towns” the historical part of Regensburg was relatively unharmed by the bombing in World War II. One of the features which differentiates Regensburg from other towns are the towers that were built by wealthy families. The towers can be seen throughout the old city and are reminiscent of the towers that can be seen in San Gimignano, Italy.

Other highlights in the city include the stone bridge (which reminds me of a stripped down Charles Bridge in Prague)

Regensburg is also located on the Danube river and has become a popular stop for river cruising. Many cruises which go from Rotterdam to the Black Sea pass through Regensburg.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #220: Pilgrimage Church of Wies

Posted by on March 27, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #220: Pilgrimage Church of Wies

UNESCO World Heritage Site #220: Pilgrimage Church of Wies

From the World Heritage inscription:

The sanctuary of Wies, a pilgrimage church miraculously preserved in the beautiful setting of an Alpine valley, is a perfect masterpiece of Rococo art and a masterpiece of creative genius, as well as an exceptional testimony to a civilization that has disappeared.

The hamlet of Wies, near Steingaden in Bavaria, was the setting of a miracle in 1738: a simple wooden image of Christ mounted on a column, which was no longer venerated by the Premonstratensians, appeared to some of the faithful to be in tears. A wooden chapel constructed in the fields housed the miraculous statue for some time. However, pilgrims from Germany, Austria, Bohemia, and even Italy became so numerous that the Abbot of the Premonstratensians of Steingaden decided to construct a splendid sanctuary. Accordingly, work began in 1745 under the direction of the celebrated architect, Dominikus Zimmermann, who was to construct in this pastoral setting in the foothills of the Alps one of the most polished creations of Bavarian Rococo. The choir was consecrated in 1749 and the remainder of the church finished by 1754. That year Dominikus Zimmermann left the city of Landsberg where he lived to settle in Wies near his masterpiece, in a new house where he died in 1766.

The church, which is oval in plan, is preceded to the west by a semi-circular narthex. Inside, twin columns placed in front of the walls support the capriciously cut-out cornice and the wooden vaulting with its flattened profile; this defines a second interior volume where the light from the windows and the oculi is cleverly diffused both directly and indirectly. To the east, a long deep choir is surrounded by an upper and a lower gallery.

The Pilgrimage Church of Wies (aka Wieskirche in German) is a small church located in the village of Wies outside of Steingaden.

From the outside, the church is not impressive. It is just a normal country church like you could see in any village. Inside, it is like someone detonated a Baroque bomb. Color, ornaments and stylings cover every wall and ceiling.

The church is one of the smallest world heritage sites I have visited. Perhaps second only to the Rietveld Schröder House in the Netherlands. It will probably only take you 15-30 minutes to explore the church. Once you are inside and can see the artwork, that’s all there is.

During my short time at the church, there were two buses of tourists which came through. Wies is only a 15-20 minute drive from the popular destination of Neuschwanstein Castle. If you are going to vist Neuschwanstein it is worth it to take a few more minutes to visit Weis.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #219: Prehistoric Pile dwellings around the Alps

Posted by on March 26, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #219: Prehistoric Pile dwellings around the Alps

UNESCO World Heritage Site #219: Prehistoric Pile dwellings around the Alps

From the World Heritage inscription:

The series of 111 out of the 937 known archaeological pile-dwelling sites in six countries around the Alpine and sub-alpine regions of Europe is composed of the remains of prehistoric settlements dating from 5,000 to 500 BC which are situated under water, on lake shores, along rivers or in wetlands. The exceptional conservation conditions for organic materials provided by the waterlogged sites, combined with extensive under-water archaeological investigations and research in many fields of natural science, such as archaeobotany and archaeozoology, over the past decades, has combined to present an outstanding detailed perception of the world of early agrarian societies in Europe. The precise information on their agriculture, animal husbandry, development of metallurgy, over a period of more than four millennia, coincides with one of the most important phases of recent human history: the dawn of modern societies.

In view of the possibilities for the exact dating of wooden architectural elements by dendrochronology, the sites have provided exceptional archaeological sources that allow an understanding of entire prehistoric villages and their detailed construction techniques and spatial development over very long time periods. They also reveal details of trade routes for flint, shells, gold, amber, and pottery across the Alps and within the plains, transport evidence from dugout canoes and wooden wheels, some complete with axles for two wheeled carts dating from around 3,400BC, some of the earliest preserved in the world, and the oldest textiles in Europe dating to 3,000 BC. This cumulative evidence has provided a unique insight into the domestic lives and settlements of some thirty different cultural groups in the Alpine lacustrine landscape that allowed the pile dwellings to flourish.

This is a massive, serial world heritage site with 111 locations scattered across six different countries. The site I visited was the Federsee location in the town of Bad Buchau.

As with all archeology sites, you have to temper your expectations for what you are going to see. This world heritage site is devoted to bronze age people around the Alps. Needless to say, there isn’t a whole lot remaining from their time. Almost everything made out of organic matter (cloth and wood for example) have long since disappeared.

The Federsee museum has a surprisingly good collection of artifacts found from the area, including pottery and metal items. Because the Federsee was a bog, many things which fell into the waters were preserved by the lack of oxygen.

In addition to the museum there is also a small reconstructed village which give you an idea of what life was like there 5,000 years ago.

The Federsee Museum in Bad Buchau is one of the better locations to vist this site just because there is a museum and interpretative center available. From the reports I’ve read from other travelers, some of the other locations consist of nothing more than a sign with little or nothing available to see.

As I travel through other countries in the region, I’m going to keep my eyes open to visit more of the locations listed under this world heritage site.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #218: Monastic Island of Reichenau

Posted by on March 25, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #218: Monastic Island of Reichenau

UNESCO World Heritage Site #218: Monastic Island of Reichenau

From the World Heritage inscription:

The remains of the Reichenau foundation bear outstanding witness to the religious and cultural role of a great Benedictine monastery in the early Middle Ages. The Monastery of Reichenau was a highly significant artistic centre of great significance to the history of art in Europe in the 10th and 11th centuries, as is superbly illustrated by its monumental wall paintings and its illuminations. The churches retain remarkable elements of several stages of construction and thus offer outstanding examples of monastic architecture in Central Europe from the 9th to the 11th centuries.

For over 1,000 years the history of the island of Reichenau, which lies in the northern reaches of Lake Constance, was closely intertwined with that of the monastery. The first Abbot, Pirmin, was given the task of building a monastery in honour of the Virgin Mary and Saints Peter and Paul. He oversaw the building of the first abbey, a wooden building, at Mittelzell on the northern shore of the island, as well as a three-winged cloister against the north side of the church. The whole building was gradually rebuilt in stone by 746. The monastery received generous endowments of land, and the island, an integral part of the abbey lands, was given over to agriculture. The monastery became a famous centre for teaching and creativity in literature, science, and the arts. The church was consecrated in 1048, in the presence of Emperor Henry III.

At the western end of the island of Reichenau, Egino, a former Bishop of Verona, built the first church of St Peter at Niederzell, consecrated in 799. The church was twice rebuilt and slightly altered in the 9th-10th centuries. The monastery buildings lay to the north, near the lake. In the late 11th and early 12th centuries the church was rebuilt and its two east towers were completed in the 15th century. Now dedicated to St Peter and St Paul, it became a parish church and was decorated in Rococo style in the 18th century. Abbot Heito III built the church of St George at Oberzell in the eastern part of the island in honour of the relic of the saint’s head, which he brought back from a voyage to Rome in 896, the year of the church’s consecration

If there was no history on the island of Reichenau and if it was never list as a world heritage site, it would still probably be worth visiting.

Reichenau is a charming island located in Lake Constance in Southern Germany, near the border of Switzerland. The island was formerly home to over 30 churches, but only 3 remain today: St. Mary’s, St. Peter and Paul’s, and St. George’s. Each church is of romanesque design and dates back to the 9th and 11th centuries.

Because of its location on an island bordering Switzerland the churches survived WWII without any damage. Perhaps the finest piece of artwork is in the church of St. George where the original 10th century wall paintings can still be seen.

I’d like to return to Reichenau again, not to visit the churches necessarily (although that is a high point of the island) but just to spend more time on the island and to experience Lake Constance.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #217: Maulbronn Monastery Complex

Posted by on March 24, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #217: Maulbronn Monastery Complex

UNESCO World Heritage Site #217: Maulbronn Monastery Complex

From the World Heritage inscription:

The Cistercian Maulbronn Monastery is considered the most complete and best preserved medieval monastic complex north of the Alps. The monastery’s church, mainly in Transitional Gothic style, had a major influence on the spread of Gothic architecture over much of northern and central Europe. The water-management system at Maulbronn, with its elaborate network of drains, irrigation canals, and reservoirs, is of exceptional interest.

After their lack of success in building a new monastery at Eckenweiher, land in the Salzach valley belonging to the Bishop of Speyer was donated to a small community of twelve monks led by Abbot Dieter from the Cistercian abbey of Neubourg (Alsace). Here in 1147 they began building their monastery of Maulbronn, under the protection of the Holy See. Nine years later it was taken under the direct protection of the Holy Roman Empire by the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. The church was completed in 1178 and consecrated by Arnold, Bishop of Speyer.

Over the next century the temporary wooden buildings of the community were progressively rebuilt in stone. The Reformation was a time of great turmoil, not least for the Monastery of Maulbronn. It was seized in 1504 by Ulrich, Duke of Württemberg, who reformed and secularized it 30 years later, after it had twice been plundered during periods of unrest. The Emperor Charles V returned it to the Cistercians in 1547, only for it to be reformed again in 1556 by Christoph, Duke of Württemberg, who established a Protestant monastery school there and allowed private owners to acquire some of the buildings. During the Thirty Years’ War it was once again handed back to the Cistercians by the Emperor Maximilian in 1630, but they were to stay only three years, and it finally became a Protestant establishment with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.The entire church property was secularized by King Friedrich I of Württemberg in 1806 and in the following year it became a Protestant theological seminary, which it has remained to the present day.

The Maulbronn Monastery is a picturesque monastery located about an hour from Speyer.

A former Cistercian monastery I found it highly reminiscent of the Poblet Monastery outside of Barcelona, which is also a Cistercian monastery. The layout of the cloister in both sites is highly similar.

In addition to the monastery grounds itself, there are many buildings surrounding the cloister which were also part of the monastery complex and were used by lay members of the order. Today they are used at the town hall, a pharmacy and a restaurant among other things.

During my visit in March 2013 the main church was undergoing renovations, but they expected it to be done by the end of the year.

Since the reformation the facility has been used as a Lutheran seminary. One of its most famous students was the astronomer Johannes Kepler.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #216: Speyer Cathedral

Posted by on March 23, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #216: Speyer Cathedral

UNESCO World Heritage Site #216: Speyer Cathedral

From the World Heritage inscription:

Speyer Cathedral exerted a considerable influence not only on the development of Romanesque architecture in the 11th and 12th centuries, but also on the evolution of the principles of restoration in Germany, in Europe, and in the world from the 18th century to the present.

The cathedral, along with those of Worms and Mainz, is a major monument of Romanesque art. It is, by virtue of its proportions, the largest, and, by virtue of the history to which it is linked (the Salic emperors made it their place of burial), the most important.

The cathedral, dedicated to St Mary and St Stephen, was founded by Conrad II and was built essentially between 1030 and 1106. It incorporates the general layout of St Michael of Hildesheim and brings to perfection a type of plan that was adopted generally in the Rhineland. This plan is characterized by the equilibrium of the eastern and western blocks and by the symmetrical and singular placement of the towers which frame the mass formed by the nave and the transept. Under Henry IV renovations and extensions were undertaken.

Speyer Cathedral is the first known structure to be built with a gallery that encircles the whole building. The system of arcades added during these renovations was also a first in architectural history.

Speyer Cathedral is the largest romanesque cathedral in the world and is the burial site for eight different German emperors and kings.

Despite its romanesque origins, there are many additions to the cathedral which have changed its original design, including 18th and 19th century extensions to the facade and towers.

The interior of the cathedral is shockingly bare with most of the original artwork and paintings gone. Renovations have cleaned the interior stone to such a degree that the it almost looks new, despite some of it being almost 1,000 years old.

One unique tradition you’ll find at Speyer is the large bowl (domnapf) in the front of the building near the plaza. That used to mark the boundary line between the church’s property and the city. When a new bishop was installed, the bowl was filled with wine and everyone in the city could drink freely. The tradition remains today, except you now have to purchase a cup to get access to the free wine.

The original design of the building was based on St. Michael’s Church in Hildesheim, which is also a world heritage site.

Speyer Cathedral is located in close driving distance to the Messel Fossil Pit and Abbey of Lorsch world heritage sites.