CONTRIBUTED BY SARAH FORTE
Imagine being rich and powerful enough to say, “I really like the looks of those Mosques. I think I’ll have one built in my garden!” And then you build this:
Elector Carl Theodor, like many Europeans in the 1700s, was swept away on a magic carpet. The book 1001 Arabian Nights was first published in France in 1704 and quickly gained popularity. Trends seemed to last a little longer in those days, soin the late 1700’s when the Elector wanted to be seen as a tolerant ruler he had his garden architect design and build a mosque in the gardens of Schwetzingen Schloss.
The mosque was never intended to be a place of worship. The Elector had no intentions of converting to Islam. The mosque was more of a showpiece. In some ways it reminded me of those paintings of elephants or other exotic animals painted by artists who had never actually seen an elephant; It’s recognizable, but a few details are off. The Schwetzingen mosque features Arabic calligraphy, but it was produced by artists who had no Arabic knowledge. They tried their best to copy the supplied text, but each of them has a mistake recognizable to Arabic readers. But for good measure, the script is also translated into German so there is no mistake about the meaning.
A pink mosque in a German palace garden! If that’s not enough to intrigue you, let me tell you more!
Schwetzingen Schloss started as a small fortification located about halfway between Mannheim and Heidelberg. The original fortification dates back to 1350 (I still think it’s amazing to grasp the length of Europe’s written history)! Later it was a fishing grounds; a place for the royals to get away and fish in the same way Versailles or Linderhof were once hunting lodges.
The first fortifications were destroyed in war and then slowly rebuilt into the more refined palace in throughout the 1500 – 1700’s. When Prince Elector Carl Theodor came into power, he put his energy into the gardens. His goal was to make the palace gardens into the most beautiful gardens in the world. Today the gardens are definitely worth seeing and it’s been suggested that the site be named the Schwetzingen Gardens and Palace instead of the other way around.
When we visited in April 2015, the palace museum was closed for renovations so we only saw the gardens. The palace (Schloss) is intended to be under renovation and closed until Easter 2016. But we enjoyed a full, beautiful spring day in the gardens and didn’t feel too sad that we missed the Schloss on this visit.
The gardens spread out over 180 acres of ground and are broken into formal & informal, French, English and even Turkish designed spaces. Just beyond the Schloss you will find a enormous French formal circular garden. The middle of the circle is covered by a fountain, then spokes of the wheel reach out to the covered arbors. Semi-circular arms of the palace reach out and hug the lower part of the circular garden. The wings were originally the orangeries (like a greenhouse or conservatory), but now are filled with galleries and a restaurant.
There are English gardens, less rigid with meandering streams, paths, and foot bridges on either side of the French center garden. In these gardens we enjoyed the small temples to Apollo, Mercury, Minerva and Demeter. Each temple has it’s own style and setting. The designers also built a Roman water fort, complete with aqueduct “ruins.”
Between the Apollo Temple and the Roman water fort is a small exquisite bathhouse (Badhaus). During the garden’s open hours you can enter the bathhouse and look around. First, be sure don the giant slippers supplied at the door. They go over your shoes to protect the floors inside. The building is “H” shaped and has a fanciful ceiling painting in the center room. There is a Asian tea room, a writing room, a bedroom with “port-potty” and the bath. The bath has wonderful snake-shaped faucets that supplied both hot and cold water to the sunken tub. The room is crystal-crusted.
It’s easy to imagine escaping the Schloss and strolling out to the bathhouse to spend a day relaxing while slightly removed from the bustle of palace life. In fact, while some of the garden was accessible to the public as early as 1787, the bathhouse and the surrounding gardens were still private. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the bathhouse.
Just behind the bathhouse is a fun garden with a bird theme. From the bathhouse, we looked down a neat perspective – a hallway of green looking out at a dramatic landscape in the distance. It turns out the landscape was a pretty good “trompe-l’oeil” or “Trick of the Eye” and is painted onto a curved wall at the back of the garden. In the middle is a very unique fountain with birds perched in a circle overhead each spitting out a stream of water into the middle pool. Around the pool are sitting areas interspersed with bird cages – a perfect getaway after relaxing in the bathhouse.
So from mosques to Greek temples, faux Roman ruins to “trompe-l’oeil” landscapes, giant French formal gardens to rolling English gardens, the Schwetingen Schloss Gardens are pretty amazing and a fun day-trip!
Tips for Your Trip:
Note: The Schloss is currently undergoing renovations and you cannot enter the palace building. The current estimated completion date is Easter of 2016. The gardens are very much still open during this time.
Summer hours (End of March – End of October): Daily 0900-2000
Winter hours (End of October – End of March): Daily 0900-1700
The last entrance is half an hour before the gardens close.
Summer garden entrance:
Winter garden entrance:
Note that in the winter many of the statues are covered.
Schwetzingen Schloss Gardens
Schloßstraße 2, 68723 Schwetzingen, Germany