Germany is full of amazing historical sites and the city of Potsdam is loaded with them. Sanssouci Palace, former summer home of Frederick the Great, is one of these architectural masterpieces. Often used as an example of buildings in Germany that rival the Palace of Versailles, this much smaller yet beautiful palace is built in the warmer Rococo style. Designed between 1745 and 1747 by Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff to fulfill King Fredericks need for a private residence where he could relax away from the nearby Berlin court, the palace’s own name, a French phrase, even translates loosely to “carefree”. King Frederick was intimately involved in the palace design, so much so that its style is characterized as “Frederician Rococo”.
The palace was regularly occupied by Frederick until his death in 1786, after that it remained unoccupied and neglected until the mid-19th century when his grand nephew Frederick William IV moved in. During this time the palace was restored and enlarged while the gardens were also improved. All of the main rooms in the palace including the bedrooms are on the ground floor, the secondary wings have upper floors while the main rooms fill the entire space of the structure. The rooms in the palace are also decorated in the Rococo style with beautiful objects and works of art abound. Guests entered through the Entrance Hall into the Marble Hall at the center of the palace which is large enough for the assembly of guests as well as the court. As you travel further away from the main halls the rooms become more and more intimate and private, a traditional Baroque state room design concept. There are five wonderful guest rooms located to the west of the Marble Hall and the King’s apartments are located on the east side.
While the palace is a wonderful sight, the true spectacle of visiting Sanssouci Palace is the amazing gardens on its grounds. Frederick the Great wanted to create a terraced vineyard and ordered that three wide terraces be created on the slope of the hills of Bornstedt. After the bricks were laid, trellised vines brought in from Italy, Portugal, France and nearby Neuruppin were planted along the brickwork to create the stunning vista you see today. Below the hill stand a Baroque ornamental garden which features the Great Fountain and beautiful marble sculptures of Venus, Mercury, Apollo, Jupiter, and many more. After the terraced gardens and palace were completed Frederick decided to landscape the vicinity of the palace and created Sanssouci Park. The park continues the horticultural theme of the terrace gardens with 3,000 fruit trees in the park as well as greenhouses and nurseries that produced oranges, melons and bananas. The park is adorned with a variety of statues and obelisks along with several temples and follies built in the same rococo style as the palace. Frederick even attempted to create a fountain system in the park, popular in other European Baroque gardens, but hydraulics were still in their infancy and the fountains remained silent for about 100 years until the invention of steam power.
During World War II the most valuable works of art were transferred to Rheinsberg and Bernterode im Eichsfeld for safekeeping, thankfully the structure of the palace remained untouched even though there was intense fighting in the area. After the war most of the items moved to Rheinsberg were shipped to the Soviet Union with only a small amount of items returned to the palace in 1958. Surviving in better shape than other similar buildings during nearly fifty years of communist rule, in 1990 the palace and its extensive gardens were also added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
UNESCO’s citation: “The palace and park of Sanssouci, often described as the “Prussian Versailles”, are a synthesis of the artistic movements of the 18th century in the cities and courts of Europe. That ensemble is a unique example of the architectural creations and landscape design against the backdrop of the intellectual background of monarchic ideas of the state.”
Following German reunification in 1990 Frederick’s final wish came true and his body was finally returned to his beloved palace, where it is now, buried in a tomb overlooking the amazing gardens he created. The library of Frederick was returned to Sanssouci Palace in 1992 and thirty six oil paintings were retured in 1993 and 1995. Today, Sanssouci Palace is a unique treasure of European history and it along with the other palaces in Potsdam are visited by over 2 million visitors every year.
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