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.