Schloss Schwetzingen is a palace in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. Schwetzingen was the summer residence of the Electors Palatine Charles III Philip and Charles IV Theodore (of the House of Wittelsbach). It is situated in Schwetzingen, between the electors’ seats at Heidelberg and Mannheim, and is most notable for its spacious and elaborate gardens.
The origins of Schwetzingen Palace date back to 1350, when a small moated castle occupied the site. After an eventful history, Schwetzingen flourished under the Palatine Prince Elector Carl Theodor (1724–1799). The palace owes its current form to the Prince Elector Johann Wilhelm, who commissioned alterations in 1697. The addition of two wings significantly increased its size.
The arts-loving Elector Palatine Carl Theodor extended and transformed his ancestors’ hunting castle into a luxurious summer residence, a ‘mini Versailles’ in the Palatinate. Schwetzingen’s most striking architectural feature – and the only example in Europe – are the Zirkel: a pair of single-story, semi-circular buildings added to the palace on either side.
The northern section of the Zirkel contains a charming, rococo-style, 500-seat theater, built for the Elector as a promoter of the arts. This is one of Germany’s few 18th-century court theaters to have survived in its original state. It is still the venue for operas during the Schwetzingen Festival.
A semi-circle of arbors was added to the Zirkel to form a complete circle and provide a perfect backdrop for glittering events that spill out into the surrounding park. Distinguished architects and landscape designers of the time created a prestigious masterpiece of baroque landscape gardening here. Foremost among them was Nicolas de Pigage, who entered the service of the Elector in 1749. The Frenchman built an orangery, the court theater and all the park’s architectural features. The strictly symmetrical baroque garden with its flowerbeds, geometric clipped hedges, ‘outdoor cabinets’ and various fountains was also designed by him.
In the late 18th century, an English-style landscape park was added to the Baroque garden – the Arborium Theodoricum, as it is called, is one of the earliest of its kind in Germany.
During the second half of the 18th century, when the current Schwetzingen garden was created, the “French” formal garden was gradually being supplanted by the “English” landscape garden as the prevalent style of gardening – the Arborium Theodoricum, as it is called, and it was one of the earliest of its kind in Germany.
The numerous princely estates in the Holy Roman Empire were quick to pick up the change, often remodeling older gardens according to the new taste. The Schwetzingen garden perhaps uniquely reflects this fundamental change in attitude, as its creators actually sought to reconcile the two conflicting styles. Accordingly, while the oldest portions are strictly formal, the newer ones subsequently introduced more “natural” features. However, great care was taken so that the finished work would still form a coherent whole. As a result, Schwetzingen is sometimes described as the principal surviving example of an intermediary style, the “Anglo-chinese” garden, but in its diversity actually transcends the boundaries of that particular – and short-lived – style.
Among the treasures of Schwetzingen Palace are a mosque with Moorish-style domes, a picturesque mock ruin, a bath house in marble and a splendid Apollo temple.
Schwetzingen Palace Gardens are a cultural heritage site of European significance: more than 100 sculptures are scattered throughout this wonderful landscape. An assortment of whimsical buildings add an exotic touch. The Apollotempel (temple of Apollo), a small, round building, houses a statue of the ancient Greek god of light and the arts, playing the lyre. The Badehaus (bath house) is a summerhouse with its own garden, modeled on an Italian villa. And, most spectacularly, in the Türkischer Garten (Turkish gardens), there is a mosque designed by Nicolas de Pigage – the largest structure of its kind in a German garden. Ornamented with oriental details, the late-Baroque building was purely decorative and served no religious purpose.
The palace’s rooms contain furniture from the 18th and early 19th century. The Rokokotheater (Rococo theater) in the north wing is a particular highlight. It was the first theater in Europe with galleries – and it is still used as a venue for performances today.