Residence of the House of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, irregular three-wing palace with prestigious Baroque corps de logis and outstanding state rooms, residential wings, stables, interior riding arena and palace gardens
“You will like this area, I found yesterday that it had a comforting effect on my soul which did me good” – with these words Charlotte von Lengefeld persuaded her future husband Friedrich Schiller to spend the summer in Rudolstadt. He came, stayed in the suburb of Volkstedt, and a few days after his arrival he wrote to a friend that from his apartment he had a very charming view of the town, “which winds around the foot of a mountain, and from afar is being announced to its advantage by the princely palace situated on the peak of a rock.”
To this day this inviting view of the palace complex, towering 60 metres above the town by the river Saale, is unobstructed. Apart from Schiller and Goethe there are other important names connected to this town, for example the Humboldt brothers, Arthur Schopenhauer and the musicians and composers Nicolo Paganini, Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. They assisted the Rudolstadt court’s ambition to be a “Little Weimar”.
From the second half of the 17th century the residence of Rudolstadt prospered remarkably in many areas. Under the artistic Prince Johann Friedrich who reigned from 1744-67 sciences, fine arts and especially music were generously supported. Furthermore, the schools and churches, the Waldglas and decorative glass trades as well as the faience and porcelain manufacture were certain of the Regent’s favour. While – in spite of protests from the Ernestiners – Emperor Leopold I had already elevated two lines of the counts of Schwarzburg to the status of Reichsfürsten (Princes of the Holy Roman Empire) in 1697, the House of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt was granted this upgrading in June 1710. At that time the Heidecksburg was not yet a residential palace that befitted the new status of the family.
Of the castle built by the counts of Orlamünde in the 13th century and purchased by the Schwarzburgers in 1334 only vaults and remains of the walls in the castle’s cellar and the enclosing wall of the lower garden terrace (former castle gardens) have survived. This castle and at least another earlier castle that is documented were largely destroyed by fires. The last huge fire on the castle hill in 1735 also had a devastating effect. Prince Friedrich Anton, who ruled at the time and whose bust decorates the middle axis in the courtyard of the west wing, took the opportunity to build a palace which, through the skilful inclusion of buildings already there, was to satisfy the generally developed demand for a prestigious edifice.
He entrusted the Saxon Oberlandbaumeister Johann Christoph Knöffel (1686-1752) with this task. Particularly Knöffel’s new building of the west wing made a lasting impression.
The facades and the arrangement of the rooms/apartments which could be entered independently of one another show that Knöffel was inspired by French examples. Financial problems and considerable damages already during the construction of the building led to Knöffel’s replacement. In his place the architect Gottfried Heinrich Krohne (1703-56), who worked in nearby Weimar, was appointed “the Prince’s Building Director” in May 1743.
The baroque palace tower measuring 40 metres became a “trademark” of his work which was visible over a long distance.
Inside designs for the decoration of many official rooms, most of all the cheerful 12-metre-high rococo hall which is greatly admired to this day as a brilliant achievement, show what a master this architect from Weimar was. Thanks to Krohne’s designs for an originally rectangular hall taking up two storeys one of the most remarkable rococo halls in Germany was built. Due to its exquisite decorations carried out by renowned stucco artists, sculptors and painters the hall is a synthesis of the arts unique among the Thuringian palaces. All elements – from the floor to the stucco, from the paintings to the mirrors and the wrought-iron work at the balcony for the court musicians – are in perfect harmony with each other and look as if they were made especially for this room.
During a tour of the palace the mirror chamber, various apartments and small halls appear no less splendid. Visitors can reach the terraces by crossing the courtyard with its historic pavement and walking past the horses’ watering place, the “beautiful fountain” and the riding hall. On the middle terrace is the former cannon house (today a café). At first the lower terrace was a baroque garden (which is still indicated by the so-called Schallhaus [house of sound]) before it was transformed into a landscape park at the end of the 18th century. Some trees from this time have survived.
The Thuringian State Museum Heidecksburg and its collections, the Thuringian State Archive and the administration of the Palace, Castle and Gardens Trust of Thuringia can all be found inside Heidecksburg Palace.