Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin

With 500 ha of parks and 150 buildings constructed between 1730 and 1916, Potsdam's complex of palaces and parks forms an artistic whole, whose eclectic nature reinforces its sense of uniqueness. It extends into the district of Berlin-Zehlendorf, with the palaces and parks lining the banks of the River Havel and Lake Glienicke. Voltaire stayed at the Sans-Souci Palace, built under Frederick II between 1745 and 1747.

The ensemble of the chateaux and parks of Potsdam is an exceptional artistic achievement whose eclectic and evolutionary features reinforce its uniqueness: from Knobelsdorff to Schinkel and from Eyserbeck to Lenné, a series of architectural and landscaping masterpieces were built within a single space, illustrating opposing and reputedly irreconcilable styles without detracting from the harmony of a general composition, designed progressively over time.

Potsdam, mentioned first in the 10th century, acquired some importance when the Great Elector of Brandenburg, Frederick William (1620-88) established his residence there. Potsdam housed a small garrison from 1640 onwards; the site's military function was strengthened by the young Prussian monarchy.

Under Frederick II the Great (1712-86) Potsdam was radically changed. The new king wished to establish next to the garrison town and settlement colony of the 'Sergeant King' a 'Prussian Versailles', which was to be his main residence. In 1744 Frederick II ordered a vineyard to be planted on six terraces on the southern side of a hill, Bald Mountain. Sanssouci, a name which reflects the king's desire for intimacy and simplicity, translates the theme of a rustic villa into the marble, mirrors and gold of a Rococo-style palace.

Postdam-Sanssouci is the crystallization of a great number of influences from Italy, England, Flanders, Paris and Dresden. A synthesis of art trends in European cities and courts in the 18th century, the castle and the park offer new models that greatly influenced the development of the monumental arts and the organization of space east of the Oder. The one-storey palace included a rotunda with a projected axis and, on either side, a suite of five rooms. The east suite was the royal apartment; the west suite, guest rooms. The architect Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff, for whom the king was both friend and patron, owed to Frederick II his training in Rome, Venice, Florence, Dresden and Paris. The iconographic programme evokes a winegrower's house; the southern facade was punctuated with 36 bacchantes by the sculptor Christian Glume. They are arranged as caryatids which support the cornice under the roofs of the wings and the cupola of the axial rotunda.

The 290 ha park was laid out around several buildings. Symmetrically flanking the castle to the east and west there were, first, the picture gallery and the old orangery, which was redesigned as a guest house in 1771-74. During this first stage a number of constructions were built, the most remarkable of which are Neptune Grotto, the last work by Knobelsdorff, which was begun during his lifetime but completed after his death, and the Chinese Tea House, built under the supervision of the architect Bering.

After the Seven Years War (1756-63) Frederick the Great ordered the construction of the New Palace, a huge Rococo-style construction with over 200 rooms, including the famous Shell Room. Other buildings were constructed in the park, including the Antique Temple, the Friendship Temple, Belvedere and the Dragon Pavilion. Frederick William IV (1795-1861) devoted himself to enlarging the park of Sanssouci; as Crown Prince he bought a domain to the south. He commissioned Karl-Friedrich Schinkel to build the small neoclassical Chateau of Charlottenhof and Peter Josef Lenné to design a romantic park. Lenné also designed the Sicilian Garden and the Nordic Garden, north of the Hauptallee. New constructions continued to be built until 1860. The orangery transposes the elevation of the Villa Medicis in Rome and the Friedenskirche that of the San Clemente Basilica.

The World Heritage site covers two other ensembles that include parks, chateaux and buildings, in the middle of which stands the Marble Palace, the king's summer residence built by C. von Gontard and fitted out by K. G. Langhaus. At the northern end of the park, the Chateau of Cecilienhof, a pastiche of an English cottage, was chosen in August 1945 as the site of the signing of the Potsdam Agreements.

The Sacrow estate includes the 18th century seigneurial residence (converted from a 14th century castle), the Church of St Saviour, built to the designs of the architect Ludwig Persius in 1841-44, and the park, created for Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia by Persius and the gardener Peter Joseph Lenne. This was integrated into the overall landscape of chateaux and gardens of Potsdam and Babelsberg, most of which survives relatively intact.

The estate stood until recently on the boundary between the former German Democratic Republic and the territory of West Berlin and was in consequence seriously neglected. Access to the church was prohibited and the building was abandoned. It was only following the intervention of the West Berlin authorities, strongly supported by the press, who demanded that restoration work be carried out and supplied the necessary funding, that work began to put at least the roof of the church into repair in 1981-82. Work is continuing in the interior of the church, the chateau and the gardens, under the management of the Berlin- Potsdam chateaux and parks administration.                


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