Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Swept up in history

Swept up in history

With three centuries' worth of magnificent rooms, gardens and artworks, southern Germany's Ludwigsburg Palace is truly fit for a king - and tourists, of course

Published on November 17, 2007

Swept up in history

Ludwigsburg Palace from the south.

My recent journey through southern Germany was rewarding on so many levels. Particularly splendid was a stop at the country's largest Baroque palace in Ludwigsburg. Ushered through the entrance we found ourselves on a stroll through history.

Ludwigsburg is a small city in the state of Baden-W?rttemberg, about 12 kilometres north of Stuttgart, the state's capital. Counted among the 87,000 who call it their hometown is Germany's president, Horst Kohler.

Just a 10-minute walk from the city centre, the palace is located on the other side of an eight-lane highway. I glance down at the guidebook map of Ludwigsburg Palace to discover a complex of buildings with flourishing gardens surrounding a 55,000-square-metre compound, which includes a 10,000-square-metre courtyard.

A local English-speaking tour guide greeted the visiting Thais at a square in the middle of the complex before leading us through the gargantuan building's sections. The word "fabulous" was probably what came to mind most often on our route through the magnificent rooms.

The stroll gives visitors a taste of three great eras - Baroque, Rococo and Empire. Each hall and chapel is overflowing with wall paintings, portraits, motifs, sculptures and marbles.

The sumptuous surroundings grew up around the Duke of W?rttemberg Eberhard Ludwig's plans to build a new hunting lodge to replace the one destroyed in the War of Palatinate Succession in 1692. He laid the foundation stone in May 1704.

Down the years, however, additions were made to the building and it eventually became the ducal seat. The duke established the city of Ludwigsburg next to his residential palace in August 1709.

Our first actual step into history comes at the King's Staircase. Climbing the steps, it's easy to slip momentarily into the role of a royal guest being received by the Duke and Duchess.

Originally, the staircase formed the entranceway to Duke Eberhard Ludwig's private suite of rooms. But it was named the King's Staircase in 1798 by the incumbent King Friedrich of W?rttemburg.

The wing we enter at the top of the staircase extends over three floors with three stairways. The walls are scalloped with niches containing larger-than-life figures, the bronzes depicting tragic love affairs. Pointed out by the guide are Marc Antony and Cleopatra, Samson and Delilah, and Sophonisba and Massinissa.

The short stroll through to the Order Hall takes visitors back into the history of W?rttemberg as the constitution of the kingdom was announced here in 1819.

In 1806, King Friedrich turned the Order Hall into a throne room - the throne, ceiling paintings and crystal chandeliers have awed visitors ever since.

On a second-floor corridor is the Gallery of Ancestral Portraits, reckoned one of the most impressive rooms in the palace. More than 20 life-size portraits of members of the W?rttemberg dynasty are displayed along with wall paintings and stucco marble.

Ludwigsburg Palace was left unscathed by the battles of World War II and a renovation project began in the 1950s. Reopened in 1953, the centuries-old garden is now host to the year-round "Flourishing Baroque" display that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

To commemorate the 300th anniversary of the palace in 2004, most of the buildings underwent extensive renovation work. The palace and its surrounding gardens appear today much as they would have done to a visitor in 1800, and there are bonuses like the palace theatre and its stage machinery from 1758, which are still functioning.

Incorporated alongside the preserved rooms in the palace are three museums. The Baroque Gallery displays a collection of paintings from the era; on show at the Porcelain Museum are pieces that belong to the W?rttemberg State Museum Stuttgart; and the Baroque Fashion Museum presents the trends in clothes from 1750 to 1820.

A visit to the two smaller buildings in the palace compound, the Favourite hunting lodge and the Monrepos lakeside villa, is an excellent way to finish off a tour of the wonderful Ludwigsburg.

The writer travelled to Ludwigsburg as a guest of the German-Thai Chamber of Commerce and LTU International Airlines on a promotional outing for the exhibition "Germany: Lifestyle & Travel 2008" taking place in November 2008 at Bangkok's CentralWorld Convention Centre.

Weerayut Chokchaimadon

The Nation


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