Schwetzingen: Beautiful Romantic Castle Gardens!

The Parterre of Boules

Carl Theodor had a dream: To make Schwetzingen gardens the most beautiful castle gardens in the world. And he did it: the castle gardens are certainly worth seeing!

The castle itself is much older than the gardens surrounding it: the first mention of a fortified castle in Schwetzingen date from 1350. It was a strong massive building with a mote around it. Nothing too fancy: the castles then were not made with beauty in mind but to protect their inhabitants.

Schwetzingen Caslte Honor Courtyard

By 1541 the castle had been enlarged and new parts had been added to it. Then, between 1635 (during the Thirty Years' War) and 1689 (Palatine succession war), Schwetzingen castle was destroyed and rebuilt many times, principally by the Prince Elector Carl Ludwig.

After the War of the Palatine Succession, it was once again enlarged from 1698 to 1720, a new part was added to the west, including an orangery and waterworks, and it became the hunting lodge and the summer residence of the Prince Elector Carl Philipp.

Golden Statue of the central parterre of Schwetzingen Palace

But the main work, on Schwetzingen castle and the surrounding gardens, was made by the Prince Elector Carl Theodor between 1743 and 1778. And this is what he did:

He started by appointing a well known court gardener, Johann Ludwig Petri, to Schwetzingen palace. Petri was himself the son of the court gardener Johann Nikolaus Petri of Eisenach and as such he joined in a long family tradition of court gardeners.

Swetzingen Palace Garden with fountains

The first thing Petri did was to draw up plans for the gardens around the palace and to integrate the two quarter-circle buildings at the side of the castle into his plan. He created a strikingly different shape of parterre than what was the norm at the time, i.e. he made a circular parterre. The parterre in a French garden is comprised of flower beds and borders and broderies (see picture - ornamental lines and curves of low boxwood in coloured gravel) placed in a geometrical arrangement with squares, rectangles, triangular and diamond shapes. As the senior court gardener, he was responsible for directing and implementing his own plans until 1758 when he asked to be released from services.

He must have had a relatively good life because he died at the ripe old age of 80 years old! This is quite something for a man who lived in the 18th century!

Schwetzingen Palace New Orangery

After Petri, the Prince Elector Carl Theodor appointed the French architect and gardener Nicolas de Pigage. De Pigage had studied at the Académie Royale d’Achitecture de Paris and was thus, well versed in the creation of French gardens. He worked for a time in France, England, Netherlands and Italy before being appointed as the administrator of the gardens and waterworks at Schwetzingen.

It is to him, as director of the gardens and buildings from 1762 to 1796, that we owed the implementation and creation of most of the gardens and many of the buildings that we see today.

Schwetzingen Apollo Temple

He used most of the plans that Petri had designed but did not finish, with a few additions of his own, and in doing so made a remarkable palace garden. Under his supervision, a new orangery and its garden were built, as were the temple of Apollo, the open-air theatre, the temple of Minerva and the bathhouse and its garden.

Schwetzingen Cherubin Fountain

Also, because of the many fountains and ponds, the first waterworks that has been built around 1718 was no longer sufficient. A new waterworks, called the lower waterworks, had to be built and integrated with the old one. It is incredible to think that, although they do use electric pumps now, these waterworks still work perfectly fine today. Just think about it, in the 18th century they had no electricity for their pumps, everything had to be run by the power of water alone. All the water goes from one fountain to the next and on to the many ponds, then back to the small Leimbach stream, using no other energy than the power of the water itself.

Schwetzingen Roman Ruins But de Pigage was not finished yet. In 1776, he met in England a young German gardener named Friedrich Ludwig von Sckell who was also the son of a court gardener at Schwetzingen.

The young man had been visiting France and England as a student sponsored by the Prince Elector himself, and was therefore one of the few continental European gardeners to know anything about English gardens.

Schwetzingen Roman Meadows

So, when de Pigage and von Sckell came back to Schwetzingen, they started working together on the design of an English part of the castle gardens. Together they created and built the Arborium Theodoricum, the temple of botany, the Roman water fort, the layout of the Turkish garden, the mosque and the temple of Mercury.

And when de Pigage died in 1796, at the age of 73 years old, it was von Sckell who took up his position as director of all construction and gardening matters. He somehow succeeded in integrating English style landscapes and gardens with an already very French well-structured garden. And the result is magnificent!

Schwetzingen Mosque He is also probably the first ever gardener to write a pamphlet on his recommendations for maintaining the beauty and integrity of a castle garden; the “Protocollum commissionale”. Over two hundred years later, his recommendations are still used as the basic guidelines to look after Schwetzingen gardens. Von Sckell moved to Munich in 1804 to be the director of the Bavarian court gardens. He died in 1823 at the age of 73 years old.

The last gardener to take on the charge of director of construction and gardens in Schwetzingen was the botanist and garden designer Johann Michael Zeyher.

Schwetzingen Rhine God

As a botanist, he created a collection of forest trees and shrubs and he is particularly well known for the multitude of alpine plants that he included in his arboretum. It is believed that at one point the collection had more than 800 species of plants from around the world. Zeyher is also responsible for changing the rectangular shape pool at the western end of the gardens to a more natural looking pond.

Schwetzingen Sphinx But the garden is still more than that: it is an enchanting place where one minute you think that you are in the courtyard of a French fantasy palace, and the next you find yourself in the gardens of an English countryside mansion. And all of this in only a short distance from each other.

The integration of these two very distinct styles, the French geometrically structured garden with parterres and trellis and the more natural looking English landscape, into one castle garden is truly remarkable and is probably unique in the whole of Europe. Look for yourself!

Schwetzingen castle clock

We will start with the castle honor courtyard. The first thing that you might notice is that the time showed on the castle tour’s clock is not the good one. Ah! But it is! You see the Prince Elector loved to hunt in his garden but he fund that he could never see correctly the small hand to tell the time. So, he asked that the long hand be used for the hours and the small one for the minutes! Quite clever!

Schwetzingen Palace Broderi Once you pass the guardhouse and the tunnel like doors of the castle, you find yourself in a delightful romantic French garden of the 18th century. The circular parterre with its flour beds, its fountains and its sculptures, is simply magnificent!

And it had not changed much since it was first built by Petri almost three hundred years ago!

Schwetzingen Caslte South Wing

On both side of the castle, surrounding half the parterre, are two quarter-circle pavilions. The south one was used to entertain guests and was left as two big open ornate halls where nobles could talk and dance, while the north one, less ornate, was first used as an orangery and then as a place for storing theatrical scenery. Nowadays, the North wing contains a small gallery, a café and the passageway to the theatre which is attached to it.

The Rokoko theatre is itself quite a sight: it was built about the same time as the two wings by de Pigage in 1752-53 and has an auditorium in the shape of a horseshoe with two overhanging balconies and stalls. It is in the baroque style of the epoch and probably one of the last ones left intact in Germany. The fact that, in the Rokoko, the audience was seated in stalls and that there were no separate boxes for the nobles, is in itself rather remarkable and egalitarian for its time. It is the earliest example of such an arrangement left in the whole of Europe. Some see the sign of freemasonry in this design.

Schwetzingen caslte Cafe

The café at the end of the north quarter-circle wing is a very nice place to get a light meal and a drink while waiting for a concert in the Rokoko theatre.

We once went for a Mozart concert in it and it was excellent! The acoustics were perfect!

Actually, Mozart gave a concert or two with Nannerl, his older sister, in this theatre as a child in 1763.

To continue on the tour of the gardens, click on Schwetzingen Bathhouse!


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