A Baroque Pleasure Palace in the “Florence of the Elbe”
Built during the city’s 18th-century glory period, destroyed—like 80 percent of the city—in 1945 by one of WW IPs most savage air raids, meticulously recreated in the late 1950s, and barely escaping the ravaging floods of the summer of 2002, the Zwinger remains Dresden’s—and one of Germany’s— most famous Baroque buildings.
The fabulous artwork that hangs in the museums found within the Zwinger Palace’s complex of buildings was removed for safekeeping at the beginning of the war, hidden in the Soviet Union, and eventually returned to Dresden when still under Communist rule.
The aptly named August the Strong (1694-1733), elector-king of Saxony, borrowed from brimming coffers to create this voluptuous pleasure palace and then filled it with such a remarkable art collection of old masters that art historians compare 18th-century Dresden to Florence or Venice, and even today it is considered one of Europe’s most important art scenes.
The Zwinger’s showpiece museum is its Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister, awash with old masters: Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus, and Titian’s Tribute Money are just a few. The Zwinger’s Rustkammer (arms room) is a stunning collection of ornamental armor and weaponry, while the famous Porzellansammlung is the world’s most significant porcelain collection.
Before August the Strong began to collect great artwork, he collected women, and is known for his bevy of some 300 concubines. Perhaps the most famous was Cosel, and the august ruler commissioned E. M. Poppelman, daring architect of the Zwinger, to build her the Taschenbergpalais.
This great Baroque love nest (that could easily have accommodated his 299 former love interests as well) was also demolished by the saturation firebombing of 1945, although its smoldering shell was left standing. Countless deutschemarks later, the phoenixlike Kempinski Hotel Tasehenbergpalais has risen on the spot, surely the most romantic and luxe hostelry in the area.