The prominent location on the hilltop was already occupied in the middle ages. The Knights of Schellenberg built their castle here. Later the grounds became property of the Dukes and Electors of Saxony. The medieval castle Schellenburg burnt down in two fires in the early 16th century.
In 1567 Elector August of Saxony decided to build a new palace which was to serve as hunting lodge. The ruins of the castle were torn down. Court architects designed a complex of four wings around a square courtyard and four tower-like "houses" on the corners. A second courtyard surrounded by stables and other economy buildings was attached to the Southern side. The palace was surrounded by fortifications with bulwarks around the corners.
As supervizer and organizer, Elector August hired Hieronymus Lotter, Mayor of Leipzig. In Spring 1568 the consturction works started. The first corner house, Sommerhaus, was completed already in the first year. In the following year 1569 the three others and the palace chapel were erected. Completion of the wings between them took another year. August was disappointed about the slow progress of the works. He wanted all corner houses to be ready and inhabitable by the end of the year. Painter Heinrich Göding began the frescoes in some rooms and halls.
However, in 1571 the works were still unfinished and the costs had risens notably. August was upset and fired Lotter. Other architects were in charge of the rest. On January 30, 1572 the new palace was inaugurated. There was still some work to do inside, and the bell tower was still missing, but these were done soon after. All in all the construction of this large palace took no more than four years, which is not very long for a building this size, compared to others.
In 1614 some refurbishments took place. The big Saxon crest and the inscrioptions on the Southern wall of the courtyard give testimony of these. One inscription contains a chronogram with the date 1614 in Roman numbers (which takes some imagination to decipher, though).
... that's what Augsutusburg is nicknamed. The palace is located on a ridge which rises notably higher than the surrounding hilly landscape. Palace and town overlook a wide area and can be seen from far away. With some imagination the white palace with its towers, chimneys and roofs looks indeed like a crown placed on top of the highest hill.
There is some political purpose behind this symbolic location. The owners, the Albertine line of the House of Saxony, had just achieved two decisive victories against their relatives from the other, the Ernestine line, first in the War of Schmalkalden in 1547, then in the Grumbach Feuds of 1566/67. Duke August, the reepresentant of the Albertine line, secured the position as Elector, thus the leading role in Saxony and one of the seven most influential political positions in the Empire. Right after the victory against Duke Johann Friedrich, his opponent from the Ernestine line, August decided to build his new hunting lodge in the shape of a big palace here on the hilltop.
The photo is a snapshot from a train on the railway line between Freiberg and Chemnitz. In the open land Augustusburg is a prominent landmark and can be spotted from far away.
Hunting was an important activity in court life, hence a topic suitable for a palace museum like this. The museum in Hasenhaus begins with an exhibition of historcial arms and hunting trophies like stag antlers and such, but it soon changes towards topics of ecology and zoology. Various specieses of huntable wild animals are presented in dioramas.
Before you admire my skills in animal photography, allow me to mention that these animals are not alive any more, they are stuffed - no problem to catch them in photogenic poses and closeups...
A visit to Augustusburg can easily fill most of a day. The palace complex contains several museums and other attractions. I am describing them in separate tips, so this here is an overview of what there is to do with links to the individual tips:
# A guided tour of the palace takes you into the historical rooms of Lindenhaus, into the renaissance palace chapel and into the well house. These three cannot be visited individually.
# Carriage museum in the former stables
# Motorbike museum in Küchenhaus
# The dungeons in the cellar contain an exhibition about torture and punishment
# In the Hasenhaus you can see the Venus hall, the Hunting Museum and the Hall of the Hares with its funny frescoes.
# There is a viewpoint on the rooftop, but we did not climb up there because there was no view to be enjoyed on that rainy day.
You can buy separate tickets for each museum but if you plan to visit several, best thing to do is buy the Saver Ticket which includes them all, unless you hold an ErzgebirgsCard which is valid here.
Please check the website for up-to-date information about entrance fees and opening hours.
The exhibition in the cellars is rather scary but it meets the taste of many tourists, it seems. In the former prison cells instruments for torture and punishment are presented. Even more than the middle ages, the 16th and early 17th century were infamous for the use of these horrible devices. It is incredible what humans can do to each other.
Hasenhaus, the House of the Hares, is the Southwestern corner of the palace complex. It has been named after the topic of the frescoes that once filled all rooms on the three floors: the war of the hares and the hunters, which the hares win at first, and finally the hunters' revenge which sets the world right again. Only parts of the series are preserved. On the middle floor, the main hall depicts the celebrations of the hares after their victory. They dance and feast, dress up in elegant costumes, do all kinds of games and genrally everything that would happen in a rural festival.
The individual scenes are really cute. Have a look at the many funny details. I can show but a few here in the photos.
The large hall in the upper storey of Hasenhaus is a unique example of 16th century illusionistic painting. It has been turned into the interior of the mountain of Venus by night. The light is dim and the eyes have to get accustomed do the darkness first. The large room is like the entrance hall to a cave. On one side the cave seems to open and some buildings appear, a guarding soldier, and high up on a painted balcony you can spot a self-portrait of the painter at work. His tools are depicted in a painted niche below. The paintings on the ceiling show allegories of the five senses.
The adjacent rooms contain an exhibition about court life in the 16th and 17th century, with some furniture, household items and costumes.
The motorbike museum was founded around 1960 by initiative of the motorbike factory in Zschopau. It occupies the Küchenhaus, the southeastern corner, and the adjacent side wing towards the economy courtyard. The rooms on two floors offer enough space to present the history and technical development, beginning with the invention of the bicycle by Karl von Drais, then the first motorized bicycles, and so on. A focus is on the Saxon motornbike factories but other regions and nationalities are also given room. It is a museum for motorcycle freaks and lovers, which I am not, so I can only give you a brief summary. We visited the motorbike museum last during our lengthy tour of the palaca and all its attractions, so we were too tired to do it justice. If you are interested in the topic, better start here and see this part first.
The Carriage Museum shows a collection carriages, sleighs and other horse-drawn vehicles from the 18th and 19th century that were (or may have been) used by the Saxon court and its servants. The most splendid pieces are thwo "berlines", one with the Saxon crest on the doors, for noble court members or even the electoral family.
Don't miss this exhibition. The museum is located in the former stables on the western side of the economy courtyard. The big wooden door does not look inviting, so this may easily be missed.
A sufficient supply of water is essential for a castle or palace. First plans were pumping water up from a spring on the hillside but soon the planners decided to install a well. The old well of the former castle was not of use, hence a new one had to be dug. The new well was to be placed in the middle of the economy courtyard. Digging the well was very hard work. Elector August decided to make imprisoned game thieves do the work as punishment. They did not do their job too well, understandably. Miners from Freiberg, who knew how to break the rock with the help of fire, took over. Still the work proceeded slowly. After 10 years, in 1577, they finally found fresh water.
The water was pulled up with a capstan pulled by two horses or oxen. (Poor animals.) The machinery and the house around it were renewed and improved a couple of times. The present well house dates from 1833.
The well house is accessible with guided tours only.
The palace chapel is of significance to art historians who are dealing with early protestant church architecture but I am sparing you the details... It is located in the eastern side wing and accessible only with guided tours. It was designed by Erhard von der Mehr in 1568 during the planning process of the palace, and completed until 1572.
The rectangular hall is surrounded by galleries on three sides. The styyle of the interior is renaissance - in those times the newest, modern style that had just been imported from Italy and the Netherlands.
The altarpiece by Lucas Cranach the Younger depicts the founder of the palace, Elector August of Saxony, with his wife Anna and children, kneeling under the cross and praying for eternal salvation. All those children who wear a cross as pendant had already died - most of them, in fact. The landscape in the background is the scenery of the Zschopau valley with seevral castles. Smaller scenes show Christ praying in Gethsemane and the Resurrection. Death and Resurrection of Christ happen right here, in Saxony, with the Electoral family present.
The gallery opposite the altar served as box for the Elector and his family. Higher-ranking members of the court occupied the side galleries, the servants assembled on the ground floor.
The organ is placed high up above the altar. The present instrument dates from the 18th century, it substituted an older and smaller one. During the guided tour they let you listen to some organ music, but not live, it's a CD they are playing.
Guided tours of the palace include three locations which are not accessible on your own: Lindenhaus, the palace chapel and Brunnenhaus (well house). The tour begins in Lindenhaus, the northwestern corner of the four-winged complex.
Inside Lindenhaus, some rooms have preserved their original frescoes, although faded in time, and the open fireplaces. The most interesting room is Affenstube, the "Monkey Room". The murals depict monkeys in various carnicalistic entertainments. The monkey represents the jester. Monkeys are playing in a band or playing chess. Another room has pictures of foxes, another depicts chamois.
In the first hall they have a model of the entire palace complex that gives you an idea of the ground plan and the functions of the different buildings.