Saxony has a long history and is rich in historic sites. Its capital city, Dresden, ranks among the most beautiful and interesting towns in Germany, despite the devastation it suffered during World War II. The region also boasts the enchanting Erzgebirge Mountains and the glorious scenery of “Saxon Switzerland”, where the mighty Elbe River runs amid fantastic rock formations.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Granted town status in 1165, Leipzig is not only one of Germany’s leading commercial towns, but also a center of culture and learning, with a university founded in 1409. An important center for the German publishing and book trade, it is the home of the Deutsche Bücherei, the German national library established in 1912. During the various trade fairs, such as the Book Fair in spring, it receives a great number of visitors, and it has much to offer in terms of entertainment, including concerts by the renowned Gewandhaus symphony orchestra and the Thomanerchor boys’ choir, which boasts Johann Sebastian Bach as a past choirmaster.
The Saxon silver route, through the Erzgebirge (mineral ore mountains), takes the visitor to some of the most interesting and scenic places of the region. Silver was mined here from the 12th century, and mining traditions have been preserved to this day. Small towns entice visitors with their interesting parish churches, former mining settlements, museums, and disused mines.
One of Germany’s most beautiful cities, Dresden first gained its pre-eminence in the year 1485, when the Albertine Wettins decided to establish their residence here. The town blossomed during the 18th century when it became a cultural center and acquired many magnificent buildings. Most of these buildings were completely destroyed during the night of 13/14 February 1945, when British and American air forces mounted a vast carpet-bombing raid on the city. Today, meticulous restoration work is in progress to return the historic city center to its former glory, now with renewed effort because of the damage caused by flooding in 2002.
The most famous building in Dresden is the Zwinger, a beautiful Baroque structure. Its name means “intramural”, and it was built in the space between the former town fortifications. Commissioned by Augustus the Strong, it was constructed in 1709–32 to a design by Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann, with the help of the sculptor Balthasar Permoser. Its spacious courtyard once used to stage tournaments, festivals, and firework displays and is completely surrounded by galleries into which are set pavilions and gates. Today it houses several art collections.
GEMÄLDEGALERIE ALTE MEISTER
The Dresden gallery of old masters contains what is considered to be one of Europe’s finest art collections. Its core consists of the canvases collected by the Wettin family from the 16th century, but the majority of exhibits were purchased at the order of King Augustus II the Strong and his son Augustus III. It was during that time that the gallery was moved to its own premises – first to the Johanneum and later to its present home in the Zwinger, built by Gottfried Semper in 1847–55.
Saxon Switzerland, the wonderfully wild region around the gorge cut into the Lusatian mountains by the River Elbe, features stunningly bizarre rock formations and several formidable castles. The best way to explore the area is on foot as many places are inaccessible to cars. Alternatively, you can admire the spectacular scenery from a boat, on the Elbe.