Monday July 16, 2018

Dresden: Splendor in Baroque

“WHERE are we?” I mused, speaking almost to myself.

In Dresden, capital of the German state of Saxony, a huge, manicured lawn and fountains were before me, sandstone arches all around, a giant crown fashioned in regal black and gold rising majestically above one of them.

“Zwinger,” our tour director, Viktor, replied.

Up front was the Zwinger Crown Gate. Decked with the figures of gods from Greek mythology, it was highly Instagrammable, even if your mobile phone takes bad pictures like mine.

Built in Baroque style in the 1700s, the Zwinger Palace retains the feel of that era when Augustus the Strong, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony, had this space outside the city walls repurposed as an orangery and an area for tournaments, festivals and exhibitions—from its former utility as a killing field for enemies attempting to breach the city walls.

Dresden was the residence of the Saxon kings and electors, who would put our Philippine political dynasties to shame, for the House of Wettin, from which the Saxon rulers came, had a firm grip on power not just for decades, but centuries.

Augustus the Strong himself was not called strong for nothing. He is said to have fathered as many as 300 children.

Dresden by the Elbe River is a blast from a glorious past, disgorging scenes like the Zwinger and the Dresden Castle, built also by Augustus the Strong to show off his wealth; just a ramble away from the Church of our Lady, Germany’s largest Protestant church, and the Catholic court church in a convenient arrangement for a Protestant city whose rulers were Catholic.

It was a court of pleasure. Marvelous is the Stallhof (stables courtyard), part of the Royal Palace complex used for medieval riding tournaments and hunts. And outside the Stallhof, the Procession of Princes, a 100-meter-long mural depicting 35 rulers of Saxony in a mounted procession, stuns not only for its status as the largest porcelain artwork in the world, but also as a reminder of the Wettin Dynasty’s 800-year rule—longevity today’s business empires and political clans can only dream about.

Throw in the Semper Opera House and the Grand Hotel Taschenbergpalais, originally built in the 1700s as a palace for a countess, and it’s an escapade one can sink one’s teeth into for two and a half hours—which was the total length of time we spent in Dresden, as we were just passing through the city from Prague on our way to Berlin.