WORLD TRAVEL NEWS ARTICLE
It was thanks to the endeavours of Augustus the Strong that Dresden was for centuries considered to be the most beautiful city in Germany: the painter Canaletto, who spent a lot of time painting it, actually described it as Florence on the Elbe.
Dresden from the River Elbe
Augustus (officially Augustus II) Elector of Saxony was in 1697 also made King of Poland. To celebrate his position he set about making Dresden worthy of its royal position by building splendid palaces. His work was continued by his son, Augustus III, a patron of the arts who not only founded the state opera and orchestra but also filled the palaces with a magnificent collection of art.
And so it remained until the night of 13 - 14 February 1945 when it was raised to the ground by incendiary bombs.
But today, should Canaletto return, apart from the occasional building site he would hardly notice the damage done to the historic city centre. Even the restored buildings built from the local sandstone which, because of its high iron content rapidly oxidise to black, look as if they have stood there for centuries.
One of the city's most iconic buildings is the domed Frauenkirche (the Church of Our Lady). Following the incendiary bombing it was reduced to a pile of rubble but in 1991 the decision was made to rebuild it, work started two years later and on 30 October 2005 the bells of the restored church rang out once again over the city. It is a lovely church. Outside, its (for the moment) creamy exterior is dotted with fire-black blocks whilst inside it is a tapestry of wood, marble and gilt. Beside a door stands a twisted, battered and charred crucifix – the original crucifix salvaged from the rubble. Poignantly the cross of this new church was created by a British silversmith whose father had flown on one of the bombing raids.
Not far away and next to the cathedral is the restored Residenzschloss with its two Green Vaults stuffed with riches, extravagancies and treasures beyond comprehension. Buy a timed ticket or get there early and out of season.
Inside one of the Green Vaults
Don't miss the Procession of the Princes on the outside of the Stallhof on the Schlossplatz Square. Made from over 25,000 Meissen porcelain tiles it measures some 140' and represents the history of the Wettins, Saxony's ruling family.
Something else not to be missed is the Zwinger, which houses an amazing art collection. Even if you don't go into the Galleries the fanciful courtyard with its ceremonial gateways and Glockenspielpavillon with 40 Meissen bells is a delight. It was originally intended to be an outdoor ballroom for Augustus the Strong and his court.
Visitors to Dresden should try and catch performance by the Kreuzchor, the world famous choir whose home is the Kreuzkirche. If you are there at Christmas – and Christmas in Dresden with its lively Christmas markets is a great time to visit – try and attend one of the special Christmas performances by the choir. However, to be sure of a seat you have to be in the queue for at least an hour before the performance starts – the church is so packed even the stairs are put into use.
It is worth crossing over to the other side of the river Elbe to spend some time in the Neustadt (the New Town) too. Whilst it also was badly damaged in the 1945 bombing and rebuilt, it chiefly dates back to the 18th century, though records show that it existed in the 15th century. Luckily some of the old buildings have been preserved. It is noted for its quaint, linking courtyards, its restaurants and bars as well as numerous little boutiques, craft and antique shops. It is also home to the Japanese Palace with its collection of Meissen tableware; the Museum of Saxon Arts and Crafts and the delightful Pfunds Molkerei on Bautzner Strasse – this cheese shop isn't known as the most beautiful dairy in the world for nothing!
But then neither too was Dresden known as Florence on the Elbe and the most beautiful city in Germany for nothing.
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