The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

April 4, 2014

Uncovering the Garden Kingdom

By Mike Kearney Special to the Herald
The Clinton Herald

---- — The third UNESCO World Heritage Site that I visited in September was the Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Wörlitz.

When a Clintonian thinks of a Garden Kingdom, the thought of the Bickelhaupt Arboretum comes to mind. Wörlitz is different in several ways. It is quite a bit older since it predates the American Revolution and also incorporates significant buildings and covers a very large area — 35,830 acres — large, even by American standards.

It is a product of the age of enlightenment. It was created by Prince Leopold III Friedrich Franz von Anhalt-Dessau (1740–1817) who wanted to incorporate landscape design, public education and encouragement of the arts into his overall scheme with a focus on English garden design and neoclassical architecture. The prince traveled extensively and he wanted to be reminded of what he had seen when he had this property designed and built.

In 1683, Countess Henriette Catherine of Nassau, a scion of the House of Orange-Nassau (Dutch: Oranje-Nassau) and princess consort of the then ruling Prince John George II of Anhalt-Dessau, started construction of Oranienbaum Palace according to plans by the Dutch architect Cornelis Ryckwaert. The connection with the Dutch Royal Family remains today and is currently undergoing renovation. Oranienbaum Palace and Gardens are today incorporated in the Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Wörlitz.

In 1769 Prince Leopold III started construction of the Wörlitz Castle as a summer residence which was finished in March 1773. This was the first neoclassical building in Germany. Today the Castle and its interiors are remarkably intact with classical sculpture, Italian and Dutch paintings including Rubens, among others, English porcelain from Wedgewood and wall paintings. The Gothic House (1774) established a vogue for Gothic Revival buildings all across Europe.

It is interesting for an American to think of what was going on in Boston and Philadelphia at that time when visiting here.

The island “Stein” in Lake Wörlitz has the only artificial volcano in Europe as well as Villa Hamilton, the most delightful classical building in Germany. It was built as a monument to the friendship with the British diplomat Sir William Hamilton who hosted the Prince in Naples on his Grand Tour in 1766.

The property has extensive paths for walking and bike riding with beautiful views at every turn. Any visit should include walking these paths to appreciate the landscaping and buildings designed to appeal to the eye and imagination.