When the monarchy in Germany ended about a century ago, there wasn't just a German Emperor but about two dozen states making up that Empire all with their own, oftentimes royal or noble rulers. One of the most obscure of those states, at least to yours truly, was the Principality of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt. But even though it was a tiny state nestled away in the Thuringian woods, it did have a very impressive castle to boast: Schloss Heidecksburg - or simply "the Heidecksburg" (because Burg = castle).
Originally, this Castleholic stumbled over this beauty of a palace in a stunning German coffee-table book called "Pracht und Idylle" and I simply knew I one day had to visit. Little did I realise at the time, that my visit would come sooner than expected. When I planned my castle hunting adventure to Coburg earlier this year, I noticed that Rudolstadt wasn't actually too far off my route to the much more famous and castle-rich Coburg. And I wasn't disappointed with the little detour!
Towering above the town of Rudolstadt, the Counts of Schwarzburg acquired a previous castle located on the same hill as Schloss Heidecksburg from the Counts of Orlamünde in 1334. Only about a decade later, said castle was destroyed during Thuringian Counts' War in March of 1345. During the second half of the 14th century, a new castle was erected on the same hill. The course of the following century brought about the division of the Counts of Schwarzburg and thus their assets into two lines. While one branch of the family took Sondershausen as their residence, the other made Rudolstadt their permanent home.
To represent the town's new status as a residence, Count Albrecht VII of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt commissioned Flemmish architect Georg Robin to draw up plans for an extension of the castle. After large parts of the existing castle burned down during a fire on March 25, 1573, Count Albrecht VII used the opportunity to start anew and create a three-winged Renaissance-style castle. Christoph Junghans and even later Nikol Schleizer took over as architects from Robin.
While the 17th century brought about little changes to the structure of Schloss Heidecksburg, the 18th century saw the Schloss being given its current appearance. When, in 1735, a fire destroyed both the northern and western wings, Prince Friedrich Anton decided to rebuild his family's residence according to the tastes of the time. He wished to employ Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann, the mastermind behind Dresden's Zwinger, to build his palace but Pöppelmann passed away in 1736.
So Friedrich Anton decided to commission Johann Christoph Knöffel to draw up plans for a Baroque palace befitting his status. Knöffel drew inspirations from Dresden, the German pearl of Baroque, as well as French palatial architecture. Both Friedrich Anton and his son Johann Friedrich were heavily involved in the design process especially of the western wing as both were great connoisseurs of architecture.
Knöffel was later replaced as architect by Gottfried Heinrich Krohne as the Princes of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt considered Knöffel as not working fast enough. Even though works on Schloss Heidecksburg weren't yet finished when Krohne passed away in 1756, he left behind detailed plans for the interior furnishings that were carried out during the following two decades. The construction of Schloss Heidecksburg was finally officially finished in 1786.
The star of the show of two architects, two architecture-loving princes and about five decades of hard work? The Festive Hall whose detailed beauty is is terribly hard to capture in photos. The most curious thing about it? The gigantic ceiling fresco depicting the council of the Olympian gods was created by Giovanni Battista Pedrozzi in the course of only four (!) weeks in 1744. Another extremely curious thing is the music room, seen above on the left, that actually creates in echo due to its concave floors and ceiling.
Inofficially works on the southern wing of Schloss Heidecksburg continued well into the beginning of the 19th century. While Thuringia used to consist of many small and smaller states with lots of castles and palaces, few surpass the beauty, splendour and size of Schloss Heidecksburg. It is no wonder that its construction brought the Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt into financial difficulties on a number of occasions during the course of the 18th century.
When Schloss Heidecksburg finally blossomed in all its Baroque splendour, the tastes of the time had already changed in favour of a more Classicist approach. Thus, only a decade or two after construction finished, a new period of remodelling started giving several rooms a makeover in Classicist style. Among others the master builders Ferdinand and Wilhelm Adam Thierry delivered numerous sketches for it. Especially the living quarters of the Princes and their family were given several new appearances over the following decades.
After the last Prince of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, Günther Victor, abdicated and the monarchy was abolished in 1918, Schloss Heidecksburg became home to several museums. It appears that even during the years of the German Democratic Republic, a time usually hard on castles and palaces located in Eastern Germany, the museums remained open and its main rooms were used for little else than to be admired. (You can find a bunch of postcards from those days here.)
And a place to admire it is! While you can visit one part of Schloss Heidecksburg during a guided tour, another part you can discover all in your own time. It's perhaps the longest castle tour I have ever been on considering I omitted about or dozen rooms or more in the pictures of this post. And last but not least, there is a very special curiosity to be found at Schloss Heidecksburg: "Rococo en miniature - The palaces of the praised island".