Situated on the banks of the Elbe, Pillnitz Castle (Pillnitz Palace) was the former summer residence of the Saxon royal court. The palace complex consists of three main buildings, the New Palace, the Hillside Palace, and the Riverside Palace. On both sides of the Neoclassical New Palace (Neues Palais) are the Hillside Palace and the Riverside Palace on the east side. The buildings enclose a Baroque garden and are surrounded by a large public park. Pillnitz Castle’s 28-hectare park contains botanical attractions from all over the world, for example, the English garden, Chinese garden, and a more than 250-year-old camellia tree from Japan.
The Elbe River flood caused significant damage in history. One of the recent floods was in August 2002. After a few years of restoration, in June 2006, the Palace Museum in the New Palace was reopened. And, reopening of the reconstructed Palm House followed in 2009. Now, when the sun shines, the castle is as splendid as it was in the past. Locals like to take the steamer boat tour from the old town centre of Dresden to the Pillnitz Castle and spend a relaxing day there.
Related post: Medieval Castles in Dresden and the City’s Surroundings
Background of the Pillnitz Castle
In the 14th century, a simple residential fortress existed on today’s castle premise. The extension took place between the 16th and 17th centuries. Elector John George IV of Saxony bought it as a present for his mistress. But both died soon afterward. So in 1706, John George’s brother Augustus II the Strong gave the facilities to one of his numerous mistresses, Anna Constantia of Brockdorff. In 1715, the château was converted into an oriental summer palace for riverside festivals.
A serials constructions and extensions began in 1720. Construction continued until 1725, with a focus on the Chinese style, including a Chinese pavilion and a Chinese garden. In 1765, Elector Frederick Augustus I of Saxony, a great-grandson of Augustus the Strong, made Pillnitz his summer residence.
The suggested walking route
It takes time to walk through the Saxony’s most beautiful gardens. To walk around the in the Pillnitz Castle park is easy for all ages. The first site next to the main entrance is the New Palace. In front of it is the symmetric Baroque garden with splashing fountain. On the left side of the New Palace, it is the Riverside Palace with the monumental staircase extending to the Elbe river. The Hillside Palace is on the right side of the New Palace. Both places connect to the rectangular hedged parterres. The long Chestnut Allée starts from the end of the Baroque garden and goes straight through the parterres.
Strolled among the hedged parterres, I came across the royal gondola. Then, the paved way led me to the English Pavilion. With my park map at hand, I was able to turn back and find the 250-year old camellia tree without detour. Not far from the camellia tree is the Orangery and the Palm House. Right next to the Orangery is the Chinese garden. From the Chinese garden, I could shot cut to the Hillside Palace. Thus, I finished Pillnitz Castle round walk.
Within several hours, I admired the palaces, walked through the gardens, smelling the scents of the flowers and herbs, experienced views of the bank of the Elbe rivers, and leaned exotic plants. To my surprise, the park extends further to the northeast and there are other small sites as well.
The New Palace
The Neoclassical New Palace
The New Palace was built on its current premise after 1818 when the old Renaissance Palace had been destroyed by a fire. The permanent exhibition at the New Palace illustrates history.
The New Palace includes mainly the Domed Hall (ballroom and dining room), the Royal Court Kitchen, and the Catholic Chapel. The domed hall has wide access to the pleasant garden. Murals from Carl Christian Vogel von Vogelstein present the views in Rome. Six free-standing Corinthian columns on each side of the square room support the dome.
Royal Court Kitchen
One of the main features of the New Palace is its Royal Court Kitchen. The furniture and original copper pots and pans on display are replicas in historical settings. Most of the kitchen parts got lost in the fire of the old Renaissance castle in 1818. Later, the Royal Kitchen had new equipment. However, after the abdication of the Royals in 1918, the kitchen was used for other purposes. The room structure and almost all of the inventory had been either damaged or gone missing. The reconstruction started in 2000. Now, the Royal Kitchen revives again.
The Royal Court Kitchen was organized according to tasks to be done. It has areas such as Tasting, Frying, Baking, Stuffing Chamber, Meat Vault. Besides, each kitchen area had a responsible “chef de cuisine”, such as baking chef or frying chef. All personnel, coordinated by the head chef, worked together to cater to the royal family and all servants.
The Catholic chapel
The Chapel is inside the New Palace. Between 1823 and 1829, the new single-nave Catholic court chapel was placed in the north wing of the New Palace. Despite its rather usual outer appearance, this court chapel has rich interior decoration such as the murals by Carl Christian Vogel von Vogelstein. Together with students of the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts, Carl Christian Vogel von Vogelstein also created the Mariological cycle al fresco. Today, the Catholic Church is still using the chapel.
The Riverside Palace and the Hillside Palace
The Riverside Palace and the Hillside Palace host the Arts and Crafts Museum. The museum exhibits furniture, ceramics and household objects from the 13th to the 20th century, including the original throne of Augustus II.
The palace buildings were originally constructed in stone. But in the second construction phase, the wooden side wings of the palaces were replaced by stone buildings, designed by Christian Friedrich Exner and Christian Traugott Weinlig, who was also responsible for the interior design of the castle.
On the one side in the Riverside Palace, the focus is on Saxon and European arts, and crafts of the 17th and 18th centuries. The monumental staircase in front of the Riverside Palace was in place in 1725.
On the other side in the Hillside Palace, visitors see the presentation of the lifestyle of Dresden around the 19th century is presented in a visual way. Both palaces have historical rooms opening to the public, for example, the Yellow Tearoom dating from around 1900 in Chinese style. Outside the palace, there are orange coloured themes about old Chinese lifestyles. The Asian-inspired Baroque theme seemed to be trendy among the Saxon rulers at that time.
You can join a costumed tour to roam through Pillnitz Castle with Countess von Brühl. On this 1.5-hour tour with costumed guides, you’ll enjoy a champagne reception upon arrival and discover the saucy details of the festivities at the palace.
In the centre of the Baroque flower garden is a pond with a large fountain. From there, an approximately 500 metre-long Chestnut Allée runs parallel to the river bank, flanked by small and tightly hedged parterres. The hedged parterres consist of plant beds, such as flowers and herbs.
In one rectangular hedged area is a Gondola on display. Augustus visited Venice, Italy several times. He had a strong impression of the gondola in Venice. Therefore, he traveled between the city of Dresden and the palace by this gondola.
The English pavilion, built in 1780, is a copy of Donato Bramante’s Tempietto in Rome. It is located next to a pond in the English garden. In the middle of the pond, on the small island, there is a statue with the head of Juno Ludovisi, a replica from the Roman marble head of the 1st century A.D.
The camellia tree
Originating from Asia, the camellia tree come to Europe as a pot plant in 1776 and the court gardener Terscheckwas planted in its current location. Over the next two centuries, the European botanists were not sufficiently aware of how to care for these sensitive trees. The gardeners had to cover the tree with straw, blankets, and mats to protect the tree during the harsh winter in Dresden. Then, they erected a wooden house, which could be dismantled, to protect the plant against frost.
Finally, in 1992, a heated, mobile glasshouse over 13 meters tall was constructed to shelter the tree from October to May. The massive glass and steel building rolls on a set of railway tracks to completely enclose the tree. Inside the building, a computer-aided air conditioning adjusts the temperature, regulates ventilation, and controls air humidity of the precious plant’s winter home. Each year from February to April is the blossoming season. Some 35,000 pink flowers cover the historic camellia. And, the tree is still growing.
Built between 1859 and 1861 as a modern cast steel construction, the palm house covers 660 square metres with a total length of 93.70 meters. It was the largest greenhouse in Germany in the 19th century. After extensive restoration completed in 2009, it now contains plants from Australia and South Africa in rooms with various temperatures.
The main feature of the Chinese garden is the small authentic Chinese pavilion. On the inside walls, there are eight Chinese landscape paintings on the walls. The Pavilion consists only one room and is closed to the public. I could only see the part of the paintings through the windows.
Apart from the pavilion, the pond in the Chinese garden functioned as a cistern for the castle’s water supply because it was artificially built higher than the ground.
How to get there
The most enjoyable way to reach Pillnitz Castle from Dresden is by Elbe river cruise, a vintage paddle wheel steamer. The steamer starts at Terrassenufer in the old city centre. Along the route, it passes the three famous castles, Albrechtsberg, Eckberg, and Lingner Castle, and the 5 famous Elbe bridges.
Alternatively, you can take a bus or tram and connect to a local ferry, or you can cycle from Dresden on an Elbe riverfront path. But if you drive there, there is a large parking area just in the near.
Schloss Hotel Dresden Pillnitz
Schloss Hotel Dresden Pillnitz is located within the grounds of Pillnitz Castle, this privately run hotel enjoys a beautiful setting by the river Elbe, surrounded by picturesque vineyards and fruit orchards. Just 150 m away, you can also take a ferry trip down the Elbe to the romantic Sächsische Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland) region or the cathedral town of Meissen. Alternatively, you can use one of the hotel bicycles and explore the area following the nearby Elbe cycle path.
From April to October, the beer garden opens. You can enjoy beer, taste Saxon dishes with a nice view of the castle. But when the weather turns cold, you can enjoy the cozy restaurant with its open fireplace and dine on delicious Mediterranean cuisine.