Residence of the House of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen, palace complex with several wings, partly remodelled in the Neo-classical style, park belonging to the palace and remarkable Baroque octagonal house (former carousel)
For 562 years Sondershausen, residential seat as well as town of music and miners, belonged to the counts of Schwarzburg. Under Count Günther who ruled from 1526 until 1552, the Schwarzburgers consolidated their position in the Holy Roman Empire and converted the medieval castle of Honstein situated on a hill into a prestigious Renaissance palace. In the course of time the counts and later princes of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen extended their main residence, always attaching the utmost importance to a grand interior.
Thus the irregular four-wing complex marked by only one dynasty gradually became the architecturally and artistically most important palace complex in North Thuringia today. This grand ensemble which dominates the town is held in high esteem, especially due to the addition and mixture of building fabric from various centuries. In contrast to Gotha where Grimmenstein Castle was completely replaced by Friedenstein Palace Sondershausen Palace owes its present general appearance to several building phases.
The central point of this development was the castle tower which goes back to a keep erected around 1300. Whenever there were building works on the castle hill, the tower was always included in these measures for reasons of use. The vaulted room on the first floor of the circular stair-tower, lavishly decorated with stucco, is unique in this oldest part of the palace. As the room shows allegorical and mythological scenes, it is likely that it was formerly used as a study. Other highlights during a tour of the entire complex mostly used for museum purposes are: the Giants’ Hall, erected as of 1695 with 16 larger-than-life sculptures of antique gods and more than 20 ceiling paintings showing mythological scenes; the Blue Hall also used as a banqueting hall and welcoming visitors in the State colours blue and white; the palace chapel with gallery, pulpit and prince’s chair; and finally the connoisseur’s theatre, installed in 1835 in the former dining hall.
Only a few years ago it was possible to include two more remarkable state rooms in the tour of the museum, the restored “stone room” and the “Roman room”. The stone room, ennobled as the “Thuringian amber room”, owes its name to small tiles of limestone from the region that – cut and polished by hand – receive a noble and shiny surface, now to be admired once again. The Roman or perspective room derives its name from wall paintings showing supposedly Roman town views. The distant vanishing point leads to an illusionistic expansion of this room which is finished off at the top by a painted pseudo-cupola with balustrade. Among the princely buildings in the immediate vicinity of the four-wing castle complex the octagonal house erected in 1709/10 near the impressive stables is particularly noteworthy. Closed in 1999 due to acute danger of collapse, the 23-metre-high half-timbered building appears once again in- and outside as its princely building sponsor wished it to be: as a magnificent temple of the Muses.
The interior of the building is characterised by two galleries, eight Corinthian columns and a fresco at the ceiling framed by stucco work. Although the painting, showing the Triumph of Venus and originally by Lazaro Maria Sanguinetti, has only survived as a copy which became necessary in the mid-20th century, it nonetheless gives visitors an opportunity to see all the gods on Mount Olympus. Since its renovation the octagonal house has proved to be an ideal place for cultivating the local musical tradition. As early as the 16th century the Sondershausen court employed musicians and singers. A frequent guest was Franz Liszt who came to listen to successful interpretations of his works, at that time considered to be unusual and difficult. Enthusiastic about the orchestra of the Sondershausen court, he called it “a great wonder trapped in a small town”. The most famous conductor of the Loh Orchestra, the successor of this court orchestra, was Max Bruch.
From the bird’s-eye view the octagonal house marks the end of a parterre which starts at the west wing of the palace and has a fountain in the middle. This area is roughly identical with the position of the former pleasure garden. Quite nearby there were also greenhouses and the orangery destroyed in 1945. The court of Sondershausen was famous for successfully growing pineapples so that these exotic fruits became attractive small presents at princely gatherings. At the foot of the castle hill the former princely parks consisting of the Lohplatz and the Lohpark cover an area of about 300 hectares. With the appearance of Garteninspektor Dr. Tobias Ekart in 1836 the alteration of the existing grounds began; he changed them into a park for everybody by using “all types of ornaments of landscape gardening”.
Rigours of weather which destroyed the half-finished work more than once and forced up expenses eventually led to disagreements with the major-domo’s office and the early retirement of Tobias Ekart.
Although suggestions were made to ask the famous royal gardener Peter Joseph Lenné for new plans, it was the court gardener Carl Eduard Petzold from Weimar who was finally given the task. The design he presented in 1851 was approved and shortly afterwards work on its implementation began. Since the Palace, Castle and Gardens Trust took over the palace and park of Sondershausen in 1994, it has also made it its duty to restore the park which was badly damaged in the Second World War by following Petzold’s designs.