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Bavaria

Bavaria is the largest state in the Federal Republic of Germany. Ruled by the Wittelsbach dynasty from 1180, the duchy of Bavaria was elevated to the status of a kingdom in 1806. In addition to historic cities, fairy-tale castles, and exquisite Baroque and Renaissance palaces, the region has more than its fair share of glorious Alpine scenery, beer halls, and colorful festivals.

POINTS OF INTEREST

BAYREUTH

Music lovers associate this city with the German composer Richard Wagner (1813–83), who lived here from 1872. The Villa Wahnfried was built for Wagner by Carl Wölfel and today houses a museum dedicated to the famous musician. Nearby, the Franz-Liszt-Museum occupies the house where the Hungarian composer died in 1886. Other sights of interest in Bayreuth include the Markgräfliches Opernhaus, the lavish Baroque opera house, dating from the mid-18th century, and the Neues Schloss. Built for Margravine Wilhelmine in the 1700s, the palace has splendid Baroque and Rococo interiors and English-style gardens.

BAMBERG

Bamberg’s most interesting historical monuments are clustered around Domplatz, including the magnificent Cathedral of St. Peter and St. George. Begun around 1211, the cathedral combines the late Romanesque and early French- Gothic styles. The eastern choir contains the famous equestrian statue of the “Bamberg Rider” (1225–30), whose identity remains a mystery to this day. The west side of Domplatz is flanked by the Alte Hofhaltung, the former bishop’s residence. Built in the 15th and 16th centuries, it houses a museum of local history. The more recent Baroque Bishop’s Palace (1763) stands behind the cathedral. Also on Domplatz is the Neue Residenz (1695–1704), with its richly decorated apartments. Inside, the Staatsgalerie has a collection of old German masters. On the east side of the town, the Altes Rathaus, originally Gothic in style, was remodeled in 1744–56 by Jakob Michael Küchel.

BAMBERG CATHEDRAL

Bamberg’s skyline is dominated by the cathedral of St Peter and St George, which combines the late Romanesque and early French-Gothic styles. It was founded in 1004 and consecrated in 1012, and again in 1237 after being demolished by fire and then rebuilt. This is a triple-nave basilica with two choirs, whose apses are flanked by two pairs of towers. The cloisters were built between 1399 and 1457, while the monumental sculptures adorning the portals date from the 13th century. The western choir holds the only papal grave in Germany, that of Pope Clement II, who had been the local bishop.

WÜRZBURG

Located on the bank of the Main river, Würzburg is an important cultural and commercial center and home of the excellent Franconian wine. The city’s most impressive landmark is the Residenz, where Würzburg’s prince-bishops lived from 1744. A highlight of this lavish Baroque palace is the huge Treppenhaus (staircase), by Balthasar Neumann (1687– 1753). Above it is a glorious ceiling fresco by the Venetian artist, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Before the Residenz was built, the city’s prince-bishops resided in the fortress known as the Festung Marienberg, which has stood on a hill overlooking the river since 1210. The Mainfränkisches Museum, housed inside the fortress, illustrates the history of the town and holds a number of works by the renowned German sculptor Tilman Riemenschneider (1460–1531). Würzburg’s cathedral, the Dom St. Kilian, dates from 1045 and is one of Germany’s largest Romanesque churches. North of it is the 11th-century basilica Neumünster. Its imposing Baroque dome and sandstone facade are 18th-century additions. Dating from the 13th century, the picturesque Rathaus (Town Hall) has a late-Renaissance tower, added 1660.

ROTHENBURG OB DER TAUBER

Encircled by ramparts, Rothenburg is a perfectly preserved medieval town in a picturesque setting on the banks of the Tauber River. At the heart of the town is Marktplatz, whose focal point is the Rathaus (Town Hall), combining Renaissance and Gothic styles. Off the main square, St. Jakobs Kirche (1373–1464) and the Franziskanerkirche both contain many historical treasures. Two museums of note are the Reichsstadtmuseum, devoted to the town’s history, and the Mittelalterliches Museum, which contains a large collection of medieval instruments of torture. Through the Burgtor, a gateway in the city walls, you arrive at the Burggarten – pretty gardens offering great views.

NUREMBERG

The largest town in Bavaria after Munich, Nuremberg (Nürnberg) flourished in the 15th and 16th centuries, when many prominent artists, craftsmen, and intellectuals worked here, making it a leading European cultural center. The city is divided in two by the Pegnitz river. In the southern half, the mighty Frauentor is one of several gateways in the massive 15th and 16th-century ramparts. A short walk away is the Germanisches Nationalmuseum. Founded in 1853, the museum houses a superb collection of antiquities from the German-speaking world, including masterworks by Tilman Riemenschneider, Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), and Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528). Overlooking the bustling Lorenzer Platz, the Gothic St. Lorenz-Kirche is one of the city’s most important churches. Begun in 1270, it boasts some glorious stained-glass windows. As you cross over the Pegnitz to the north side of town, look out for the Heilig-Geist-Spital (Hospital of the Holy Spirit), which dates from 1332 and spans the river. A major landmark north of the river is the Frauenkirche, commissioned by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV in the mid-14th century. Also of importance is the Albrecht- Dürer-Haus, where the celebrated Renaissance painter lived in 1509–28. Copies of a wide selection of his works are on display here. A climb up Burgstraße brings you to the Kaiserburg, the imperial castle complex. The oldest surviving part is a pentagonal tower, the Fünfeckturm, which dates from 1040. At its foot is the Kaiserstallung (Imperial Stables), now a youth hostel. At the Christkindlmarkt, the lively Christmas fair held during Advent in the Hauptmarkt, you can warm yourself with a glass of hot red wine spiced with cloves and buy locally made crafts.

NUREMBERG: GERMANISCHES NATIONALMUSEUM

This museum, which was officially opened in 1852, was founded by a Franconian aristocrat named Hans von Aufsess. It houses a unique collection of antiquities from the German-speaking world. In 1945, towards the end of World War II, the buildings that had originally housed the museum were bombed. The architecture of the modern building, which was completed in 1993, cleverly incorporates the remaining fragments of a former Carthusian abbey. Among the most valuable items in the museum’s collection are works by Tilman Riemenschneider, Konrad Witz, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Albrecht Altdorfer, Albrecht Dürer, and Hans Baldung Grien.

PASSAU

Passau lies on a peninsula between the Danube and the Inn, near the Austrian border. In 739, the Irish monk St. Boniface founded a major bishopric here. After two destructive fires in 1662 and 1680, the town was rebuilt by Italian architects, who left many fine Baroque buildings, including the cathedral, St. Stephans Dom. However, the town retains a medieval feel in its narrow alleys and archways. The Gothic town hall dates from the 14th and 15th centuries. Opposite it is the Passauer Glasmuseum, which has a fine collection of Bohemian, Austrian, and Bavarian glass. High above the Inn stands a pretty Baroque pilgrimage church, the Wallfahrtskirche Mariahilf.

NEUSCHWANSTEIN

Set amid magnificent mountain scenery on the shores of the Alpsee, this fairy-tale castle was built in 1869–86 for the eccentric Bavarian King Ludwig II, to a design by the theater designer Christian Jank. Its pinnacled turrets have provided the inspiration for countless models, book illustrations, and film sets. The walls of the vestibule and other rooms in the castle are lavishly covered with paintings depicting scenes from German myths and legends. The gilded interior of the throne room is reminiscent of a Byzantine basilica, while the dining room has intricately carved panels and fabulous pictures and furniture. The pale grey granite castle, which draws on a variety of historical styles, is a 20-minute walk from the village of Schwangau. In the village itself is another castle, Schloss Hohenschwangau, built in 1832 by Maximilian, heir to the throne of Bavaria, over the ruins of a medieval castle. A tour of the Neo-Gothic castle gives a fascinating insight into the history of the Wittelsbach family, rulers of Bavaria from 1180 to 1918. There are also some fine 19th-century furnishings and the castle’s terraced gardens afford magnificent views.

LAKE CONSTANCE

Lake Constance (in German, the Bodensee) lies on the borders of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The area surrounding the lake is one of the most attractive in Germany, in terms of both natural beauty and cultural heritage. The best time to visit is summer when local fishermen stage colorful festivals and there are plenty of opportunities for water sports and cruises on the lake. Konstanz (Constance) is the largest town in the region, and its main attraction is the magnificent 11th-century Romanesque cathedral. The town is in two parts: the old town (Altstadt) is a German enclave in Switzerland on the southern shore, while the newer part stands on a peninsula between the two main arms of the lake. The many romantic old towns and beautiful islands of Lake Constance attract hordes of visitors every summer. The exquisite little town of Meersburg opposite Konstanz is a very popular destination. So too is Mainau, the “Island of Flowers.” The most beautiful gardens on the island are in the park of the Baroque palace, built in 1739–46. At the northeastern (Bavarian) end of the lake, the medieval island town of Lindau is the major draw.

REGENSBURG (RATISBON)

Regensburg was once a Celtic settlement and later a campsite of the Roman legions. The outline of the Roman camp is still visible around St Peter’s Cathedral. In the early 6th century, Regensburg was the seat of the Agilolfa ruling family, and in AD 739, a monk named Boniface established a bishopric here. From AD 843, Regensburg was the seat of the Eastern Frankish ruler, Ludwig the German. From 1245 it was a free town of the Holy Roman Empire and throughout the Middle Ages remained South Germany’s fastest-growing commercial and cultural center. The city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

BAYERISCHER WALD

The Bavarian forest stretches north to the Danube, between Regensburg and Passau. It is part of Central Europe’s largest woodland and provides idyllic grounds for a variety of outdoor pursuits. The local rocks contain large quantities of quartz, which contributed to the early development of the glass industry here. To this day, the region produces some fine, blown-glass artifacts. The region also hosts a number of popular festivals throughout the year.

BERCHTESGADENER LAND

Berchtesgadener Land is one of the most beautiful regions, not just in Germany, but in the whole of Europe. It occupies the area of the Berchtesgadener Alps whose boundaries are defined by the river Saalach to the west, the river Salzach to the east, the “Stony Sea” (Steinernes Meer) to the south, and, to the north, Untersberg, which is 1,972 m (7,500 ft) above sea level. To the south of Berchtesgaden village lies the National Park (Nationalpark Berchtesgaden).

CHIEMSEE

Bavaria’s largest lake, Chiemsee is a real paradise for watersports enthusiasts, with sailors, water-skiers, swimmers and divers all enjoying the opportunities it offers. The lake is set amidst magnificent Alpine scenery in the region known as the Chiemgau, which stretches eastwards from Rosenheim to the border with Austria along the river Salzach. Chiemsee is surrounded by numerous small towns and villages and dotted with islands, some of which feature fascinating historic buildings. Excellent land, water and rail transport facilities ensure trouble-free travel to all destinations in the area.

LINDERHOF

In the early 1850s, Linderhof was bought by the Bavarian King Maximilian II. This remote mountain district had great appeal to the young heir to the throne, Ludwig, later to become the eccentric King Ludwig II. In 1874, work started on remodeling the existing Königshäuschen (royal cottage) in the Neo-Rococo style. The palace is surrounded by a delightful garden, which is dotted with romantic little buildings, including Schwanenweiher (Swan Lake), Venusgrotte (Venus grotto) and the Marokkanisches Haus (Moroccan house).

AUGSBURG

Situated at the confluence of the Lech and Wertach rivers, Augsburg is the third-largest town in Bavaria and one of the oldest in Germany. As early as 15 BC this was the site of a Roman camp, which later became a town known as Augusta Vindelicorum. Until the end of the 13th century, the town was ruled by powerful bishops. From 1316, as a Free Imperial City of the Holy Roman Empire, Augsburg grew to become one of the richest and most powerful cities in Germany. The Thirty Years’ War (1618–48), however, put an end to the town’s prosperity.