When we arrive at the Würzburg Residence it is raining cats and dogs. And all the other tourists visiting this cute little town in Northern Bavaria must have had the same idea: to escape the rain by visiting the Würzburg Residence, a huge inner-city palace and UNESCO World Heritage site.
„Temporarily closed due to overcrowding,“ a sign at the entrance informs us, but at least it is possible to buy a ticket for a guided tour in the afternoon. But after some coffee and cake in a nearby café, our one-hour tour starts and together with around 40 other visitors we get shooed through the many rooms and hallways. No photos are allowed inside, which is why there is no picture in this blog of the palace’s interior.
The residence was commissioned by Johann Philipp Franz von Schönborn, Prince-Bishop of Würzburg, in 1720 and completed a little more than 20 years later in 1744.
Stararchitect Balthasar Neumann
The chief architect entrusted with the work was Balthasar Neumann, now famous for his ornate baroque churches such as the „Basilica of the Fourteen Holy Helpers“ and the church of the „Visitation of Mary“ (Wallfahrtskirche Mariaheimsuchung) in Limbach. But back then in 1720, he was still a lowly military construction engineer and neither famous nor particularly experienced – certainly not in palace buildings. He even had to do a compact course to get a better understanding of statics. The Prince-Bishop was clearly taking chances in commissioning such an important project to a promising but unknown architect, but in the end, he was right.
Neumann’s older and more famous rival, Johann Lukas von Hildebrand, who was also involved, criticized that the vaults were not well balanced and appeared prone to collapse. World War II conceded this point to Balthasar Neumann, however: The Würzburg Residence survived the allied bombings of the city. Luckily the better part of the furniture, paintings and decoration had been brought to a safe place before the war, so today visitors can marvel at the original antique interior.
An impressive staircase in the Würzburg residence
The most famous part of the Würzburg Residence is the impressive staircase with a huge ceiling fresco (the world’s largest) by the Italian artist Tiepolo, which he finished (together with his workshop) in less than one year. It shows the personifications of the continents, one on each of the four sides – conveniently for this layout, Australia is missing as it was still unknown to the Western World. Tiepolo had never actually seen some of the exotic animals in the composition, so the elephants and ostriches look quite funny.
As we make our way through the building we hear an elderly lady behind us comment to a friend:
„I wonder how long it took them to finish these large embroidered tapestries. I have once in my life embroidered a small piece, and it took me ages!“
What also stuck in our mind was an elegant toilet chair manufactured for a later Prince-Bishop. It looked like an innocuous chest, but could be opened to enable the prince-bishop to defecate comfortably into a chamber pot, which a servant discreetly disposed of through the back door.
And when we were finished with the guided tour, the rain had stopped and we could do more outdoor sightseeing.