Paradise Gardens - Garden Paradises


The historical parks and gardens in the care of the “Thuringian Castle and Garden Foundation” are more than just prominent witnesses of history: they are high-caliber pieces of art, havens of diversity, and precious oases for all senses. They are living cultural heritage, constantly changing with the rhythm of nature. Preserving them requires continuous professional care – and climate change is now creating additional challenges.

The “Thuringian Castle and Garden Foundation” is dedicated to tending, maintaining and developing our gardens. Complying with the standards of historical garden preservation, we make sure that visitors can experience and enjoy these unique garden paradises – today and tomorrow.

Myths and tales of creation often depict gardens as realms of joy and bliss. The bible describes the earthly paradise as a lush and enticing garden with fruit-bearing trees and life-giving springs. These archetypical notions of paradise have left their traces in the history of horticulture. On the other hand, people have always considered gardens as individual paradises, where visions of an ideal world could come true. This exhibition invites you to dive into the history of fascinating gardens. Enjoy the rich diversity of ideas; marvel at the skillful creativity of the designs; and be inspired by the historical life that took place in them over the centuries.

Molsdorf Palace Park dates back to the first half of the 18th century. Richly decorated with sculptures, it was one of the most eminent Baroque gardens in Thuringia. Count Gustav Adolf von Gotter, a successful diplomat and hedonistic bon vivant, created this secluded idyll for himself and his guests. When the new English style of gardening arrived in Germany, the baroque garden was redesigned and turned into a landscape park from 1788 onwards. Many of the sculptures were sold. The remaining pieces were finely restored. A selection of them can now be admired in the lapidarum garden, which was newly created in 1998.

Building works for the hunting lodge and summer residence of the Dukes of Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach started in 1698 in a choice location at the edge of Thuringia Forest. Its picturesque landscape park was turned into a piece of art in the 1850s by Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau, in cooperation with court gardener Hermann Jäger. In subsequent decades, the horticultural masterpiece was carefully groomed, but after 1941 it was increasingly neglected. When the “Thuringian Castle and Garden Foundation” took over the park in 2009, decades of wild growth, soil fillings and add-ons had rendered the original design unrecognizable. Since then, the Foundation has been striving to recover the lost paradise.

The palace park was redesigned and expanded in the 1830s to serve a double purpose: It was to upgrade the residence of the prince of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen, while also serving as a public garden, offering all citizens an art experience that would “refine their tastes and manners”. The inspiration for the project came from Dr. Tobias Ekart, who had been hired as garden inspector of the newly founded garden administration. The park concept also featured a cultural program with regular concerts by the court chamber orchestra. Since 1801, its musicians had been performing in the park’s Loh Square and later gained significance far beyond the regional scope in the early 19th century.

Around 1800, the hilly ground surrounding Altenstein Palace was mostly bare, with just the occasional tree. The bizarre rocks of the Zechstein Reef rose prominently from the surrounding landscape, reminding of alpine sceneries or Chinese landscape pictures. Count Georg I of Sachsen Meiningen realized that “we have the most magnificent natural scenery at our fingertips and it is up to us to use it”. In the course of the 19th century, several prominent garden architects contributed to turning the rock formations into an ample landscape park: Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau, Carl Eduard Petzold and Peter Joseph Lenné. The transformed rock formations are impressive landmarks that still shape the scenery today.

This summer palace of the older line of the House of Reuß featured a baroque garden that was destroyed by flood water in 1799. Carl Eduard Petzold redesigned it as a landscape garden with biodiverse wooded groves. The design was implemented from 1873 onwards by court gardener Rudolph Reinecken, who spent 50 years of his working life taking care of the park. For maximum visual impact, he selected trees and shrubs in a wide range of colors, structures, leaf shapes, blossoms, and fruit. As a result, the park offers pleasant views throughout the year.

The house garden of the Kirms family in the city of Weimar was a buzzing center of social life, and well known for its lush flowerage and exotic plants. Privy Councillor Franz Kirms often received rare plants as a gift from his principal, Grand Duke Carl August, who brought them back from his travels. Franz Kirms was fascinated by botany and floriculture, a passion he shared with Caroline Krackow, lady-in-waiting of Grand Duchess Maria Pawlowa, who became his wife in 1823. As a result, the garden was more than just a backdrop for social occasions. House guests also came to study rare specimens or admire the first bloom of a plant.

The palace buildings and gardens of Heidecksburg Castle are arranged on three mighty terraces whose retaining walls were erected in the 16th century. The flower and kitchen gardens were redesigned in baroque style in the 18th century. The center of the palace garden is the Schallhaus (Sound House), situated on the lower terrace. It is both a garden house and a concert building featuring special surround sound effects. Prince Ludwig Friedrich II integrated it into his design when he reshaped the gardens and surrounding area in the landscape style as of 1796. The gardens and the Sound House continue to be used for social events, concerts, brunches and dinners.

In 1640, Ernst I chose Gotha to be the residential town for the newly founded Duchy Sachsen-Gotha. Soon a new castle was built, kitchen and pleasure gardens were created, and the foundation for a plant collection was laid. In 1747, works started to create the grand orangery garden with representative glass houses for the plant collection that had grown to almost 3,000 specimens. The English garden was designed from 1769 onwards in the style of the famous master of garden design Lancelot Brown. It is one of the earliest landscape gardens on the continent. Even though the park was expanded and redesigned in later years, these two gardens were practically left untouched. Today, they are among the absolute highlights of the park.

The southern slope of Wilhelmsburg castle features one of the first terraced gardens in Germany. The “Princely pleasure/kitchen/herbal/tree gardens” were originally created from 1602 onwards. In the late 17th century, they were richly enhanced and decorated with flowering plants. The simple design of the central water axis was replaced by a representative, lavishly decorated water art stairway on the East side of the garden. In later periods, the garden fell into decay. When it was restored from 2000 to 2015, the terrace complex was reconstructed along the design principles and plant range of the renaissance era.

Built on a mountain spur overlooking the Schwarza valley, this impressive castle was the ancestral home of the Schwarzburgs, one of the most powerful aristocratic families in Thuringia. From 1699 onwards, their claim to power was reflected in the design of the Kaisersaalgebäude (Imperial Hall Building), which also housed the precious orangery plants. In 1710, the Schwarzburgs were finally made Princes of the Roman Empire. More than two centuries later, the location became the birthplace of democracy in Germany, when Friedrich Ebert, the first democratic president of Germany, signed the Weimar Constitution, while vacationing in picturesque Schwarzburg.

Built in different times in history, the three Dornburg castles and their gardens differ in style and function. In 1824, Court gardener Carl August Sckell started to merge them into a single unit without sacrificing their individual uniqueness. All features interact to form a harmonious piece of art in its own right: from the terraced gardens with fragrant roses, to the landscaped sections and sunny vineyards, to the promenades offering spectacular views of the castles and the Saale valley. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the famous German poet, loved this place, and so did Grand Duke Carl August and his grandson Carl Alexander for whom Dornburg castle was both a piece of art and a site to commemorate their ancestors.

When it was built, the pillar basilica with its three naves was one of the most innovative buildings of its time, renowned for its high-quality masonry. It was erected from 1103 to 1147, stacking horizontal layers of precision-cut blocks of stone. Construction works for the “paradise” (the antechurch) and the four towers continued through the first half of the 13th century. Today it still shows the impact of war damage and brutish conversion works: In the first quarter of the 19th century, the St. Peter and Paul monastery church was turned into a storage depot of the Prussian army. Despite its enormous structural loss, the basilica is still the most monumental example of Romanic sacral architecture preserved in Thuringia today. Now that the facades are restored and the wooden floors of the former army depot were removed from the central nave, the impressive Roman building has regained some its former dignity and grandeur.

The monastery complex on Peter’s hill served as a Benedictine abbey for over seven centuries. In all these years, a series of different gardens allowed the monks to be self-sufficient, a rule that Saint Benedict of Nursia had laid down in his treatise on monastic life. They cultivated gardens featuring fruit trees and shrubs (Pomarium), vegetables (Hortus), and medicinal plants (Herbularius). In addition they managed vineyards (Vinetum) and other arable land outside the monastery’s premises. The cloister garden was the place for spiritual meditation and silent prayer. Manual work in the fruit and vegetable gardens was seen as another ascetic contribution towards spiritual perfection. Living in the monastery and cultivating their gardens, the monks returned to the idea of a biblical paradise.