Pre-1945 Dresden was not only the center of Saxony, a prosperous and developed city of Germany, but arguably also capital of the Protestant Church, a title held by the city thanks to its daring and brilliant architectural masterpiece, the Frauenkirche, a 352-foot-high stone dome, a stunning expression of pure Baroque architecture. King Augustus’s most notable legacy to the city of Dresden in terms of architecture is the great Protestant Frauenkirche, Church of Our Lady.
The church was designed to be placed in the area of Neumarkt (New Market Place), where the lack of a large site became an advantage, as the church’s four towers made up the very same image from any direction one looked, this being a trademark of the construction. Around the Central Market of Dresden, employing even Italian architects, a number of fine baroque palaces and houses were built during the reign of Augustus; unfortunately, none has survived. Augustus’ desire was to transform the river Elbe into a waterway that could stand alongside the likes of the Grand Canal in Venice.
To this aim, he commissioned architect Popplemann to build an elegant bridge that was later replaced because of its impracticability from the perspective of navigation. The church’s construction lasted for seventeen years, from 1726 to 1743. The architect in charge was George Bahr, who created his sketches of the Frauenkirche as a reflection of contemporary Protestant dogma, in the sense that the central space of the church’s interior was very large, allowing the religious services to take place in the center of the church, with worshippers crowding the galleries around.
There were also two other elements which were awarded a great deal of importance when building the Frauenkirche, namely the High Altar for Eucharist, and an impressive organ for the music accompanying the ceremonies. Apart from the fact that the Frauenkirche was an incredibly imposing building, and that it represented a landmark in Dresden, and the Protestant world in general, it was also the embodiment of spiritual unity, expressed especially by its dedication to the Virgin Mary, a quite unusual feature for a Protestant church. (Clayton, Anthony; Russell, Alan, p.
70) The Free State of Saxony (Sachsen) is the most densely populated and industrialized region in Eastern Germany. Germanic Saxon tribes originally occupied large parts of north-western Germany, but in the 10th century they expanded southeastwards into the territory of the pagan Slavs. In the south, Saxony is separated from Czech Bohemia by the Erzgebirge, Eastern Germany’s highest mountain range. The Elbe river cuts northwest from the Czech border through a picturesque area known as “Saxon Switzerland”, towards the capital, Dresden.
Leipzig, a renowned educational and commercial center on the Weisse Elster River, rivals Dresden in historic associations. Quaint little towns, like Gorlitz and Meissen, punctuate this colorful corner of Germany. (Saxony, http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Saxony) Dresden will always be associated with the terrible WWII fire-bombing raid which took place on the night of February 13, 1945 destroying the entire center of the city. At least 35,000 people died at a time when the city was jammed with refugees and the war was almost over.
This horrific attack is the basis for the book Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, who was a prisoner of war in Dresden at the time. Quite a number of Dresden’s great baroque buildings have been restored, including the city’s architectural masterpiece, the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), whose 12-year long reconstruction was very laborious and enormously expensive. Until it was destroyed during the bombings of World War II, Frauenkirche was Germany’s greatest Protestant church.
The German Democratic Republic had declared the ruins a war memorial to remain untouched. Soon after the reunification of Germany, popular opinion was heard and the church was scheduled for reconstruction, a very long process which ended in 2005. The very spot where the church was built holds great significance for the city of Dresden. This was the place where, at the middle of the 11th century, the foundation of the city was laid, when monks founded a Christian missionary center for the conversion of pagan Slavs.
Later on, merchants settled here, at the crossing point over the river Elbe. In 1485, the Saxon part of the Wettin family created the royal city of Dresden, as it would later be known. The most flourishing epoque of Dresden came after the Thirty Years War, with the arrival of the king of Poland, who then became Augustus, Elector of Saxony. The period under Augustus transformed Dresden into a city of over 40,000 people, a major European capital with a court famous in all of Europe for its wealth, progress and splendor.
Wearing elegant clothes decorated with jewels, Augustus would participate in the lavish court festivities dedicated to the Greek gods (Mars, Saturn, Diana, Venus, Neptune, and Jupiter). Artistic manifestations such as ballet, opera and comedy became a trademark of the Saxon court. Over the years, Augustus managed to raise a stunning collection of silver and gold work, porcelain and paintings which later became not only his personal reason of pride, but also that of his state.
Augustus’ contribution to the fame and wealth of his state consisted not only of artistic material, such as paintings and sculpture, but also of technical instruments. With the help of this small collection of tools, Augustus was able to establish what would now seem as a small university, an intellectual institution which lacked the rigors of present-day universities, but gathered architects, artists, cartographers, mathematicians, great minds who were drawn by the Saxon court.
(Clayton, Anthony; Russell, Alan, p. 17) In the 18th century, the Saxon capital Dresden was famous throughout Europe as the “Florence on the Elbe” (Rebuilding Dresden’s Frauenkirche, http://www. expatica. com/actual/article. asp? subchannel_id=56&story_id=24739). During the reigns of Augustus the Strong (r. 1694-1733) and his son, Augustus III (r. 1733-63), Italian artists, musicians, actors and craftsmen, particularly from Venice, flocked to the Dresden court.
The Italian painter Canaletto depicted the rich architecture of the time in many paintings which now hang in Dresden’s Alte Meister Gallery, alongside the countless masterpieces purchased for Augustus III with income from the silver mines of Saxony. A very good example of Canaletto’s works illustrating the city of Dresden and its beautiful Protestant symbol, the Frauenkirche, is a painting entitled Dresden Market with the Frauenkirche. (Dresden Frauenkirche, http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Dresden_Frauenkirche)