Touring the Residenz in Bavaria’s capital…
Standing at the site of the infamous fatal gun battle site of historic Odeonsplatz in Munich, you would never imagine that 71 allied bombings had razed this whole city to the ground. There are no traces of the tragedy left. German history lives on through its impeccably restored monuments. And that is one of the many good reasons to not skip Munich or treat it as a pitstop for the castles tour down the Romantic Road. Another good reason is the Residenz. Germany’s largest inner city castle and one of the most important castle museums in Europe, gives you the chance to gawk at some of the most mind-boggling treasures of the Bavarian empire. Recommended for fans of extravagance and history buffs alike.
First, get the royal juices flowing with the Hofgarten. The elaborate and expansive court gardens, once reserved for the sovereigns, are a green sanctuary for the residents of the city. Today you can arrive on foot or on a modest two-wheel drive, instead of a horse-drawn carriage, and still be privy to the luxury of the renaissance-styled pavilions, sculptures, flower beds and borders of tall trees in this city oasis. Times…they change!
Facing the Hofgarten, stands the magnificent (reconstructed) palace complex of Residenz, consisting of ten large inner courtyards, theatres, concert halls, chapels, treasury and the residential quarters. This was the seat of Bavarian rulers and the Wittelsbach dynasty who made Munich their capital from 1100s and 1900s. Apparently, Hitler was so enraptured by Munich’s legacy, that he continued the tradition and retained it as his capital after being elected as chancellor. Each royal occupant added rooms and object’d art. In effect, the rooms and the vast art collection span a period covering renaissance, baroque, rococo and neo-classicial eras. Even King Ludwig II, the’ fairy tale king’, spent some time in the Residenz as a crown prince and added his own touches similar to the castles of Neuschwanstein and Linderhof. Art enthusiasts…have a ball!
The first wide-eyed wonder stop is the Antiquarium, a huge tunnel-like hall with a decorative vaulted ceiling that was once used for banquets and receiving guests. This oldest hall in the entire palace has a large ornate fireplace at one end and antique busts and sculptures lined all along its arched windows. Standing in the middle under the curved ceiling, with your arms outstretched, your head tilted back to survey the paintings above, you realise how tiny you are in the over-sized space. Ah, to turn back the clock and be a honoured guest of the Bavarian imperials…
Take your time to survey as many of the 130 palace rooms. Each of them is a living fairytale of the life of the kings and queens of Bavaria. Imagine the time of grand balls and parties, as you walk through apartments laden with lavish furniture, oversized paintings, rich tapestries, glittering chandeliers and exquisite sculptures. Doors covered in gold leaf trimmings. Rooms covered with silk damask walls in powder blue, gold, cream, yellow, green, gold, rich red. Opulence overload.
Lavishness has a whole new meaning in the Rich Chapel…aptly named for its magnificent decor of royal blue and gold inlay work. The domed ceiling inset with dainty stained glass openings is like a piece of jewellery, the workmanship is so detailed and minute. The fine floral ornamentation is designed to raise even the most cynical of eyebrows. Go on, stare all you can.
Gape over thousands of royal family jewels in the Schatzkammer (Treasury). Gorgeous crowns, medieval jewels, swords, gem-studded tiaras, altar pieces, treasure chests, gold and silver tableware are displayed under muted lighting and carefully focused spotlights. 1,250 items arranged across 10 rooms. Find your favorites. A ruby-diamond statuette (50 cm high) of St. George slaying an emerald-encrusted dragon. A traveling set belonging to Napoleon’s second wife adorned with more precious stones. And the oldest English Imperial crown dated 1370-80. This 7-inch high ‘Bohemian’ crown is made of pure gold, is enamelled and studded with rubies, sapphires, emeralds, diamonds and pearls. When you leave the palace museum a few hours later, you may be too dazzled for anything else.
Absorb the overwhelming experience with a leisurely stroll along Maximilianstrasse, Munich’s Bond Street. Expensive boutiques, upmarket art galleries and fabulous government buildings line this wide tree-shaded avenue. Women in fur enjoy wine in lavish restaurants and men in Armani suits step out of limousines. And you settle at a pavement table outside Starbucks with your crushed-ice frappuccino. Sounds of a Beethoven symphony flow into your ears from somewhere. You’re thinking…the charming capital of beautiful Bavaria with its low-key atmosphere is rightly dubbed ‘Millionendorf’ (village of a million people). Strangely though, like its heraldic animal, the Bavarian lion, it still has a certain regal air that stays with you even when you’ve left it behind.
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