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Meissen (Upper Sorbian Mišno, Latin Misnia, Misena) is the
district town of the district of the same name in the Free State of
Saxony, has more than 28,000 inhabitants and has the status of large
The city of Meissen is internationally famous for the production of Meissner porcelain, which was the first European porcelain to be produced since 1708. The name of the city with double s ("Meissen") is a registered trademark of the State Porcelain Manufactory Meissen.
The Albrechtsburg in Meißen is one of the most famous late Gothic architectural monuments and is considered the first castle in Germany. The hilltop castle is a protected cultural asset under the Hague Convention.
The castle hill was settled from the Young Bronze Age to the time of the Germanic peoples. So far, no traces of fortifications have been found. When King Heinrich I destroyed the Sorbian people's castle Gana in 929, he was looking for a place for a new castle. He found this between the Elbe, the Triebisch and the Meisa. The towering rock on which the later castle called Misni (Meißen) was built, was ideal for ruling the country. Because of its location above the Elbe, the Albrechtsburg is also called the “Saxon Acropolis”. The report by the chronicler Thietmar von Merseburg shows that he found a wooded hill. Heinrich's castle consisted of a number of wooden structures surrounded by a wood-earth wall. The name of the Misni Castle refers to the small Misni stream (Meisa, see Meisatal), which flows into the Elbe just below the castle hill.
From 936–968 the castle is no longer mentioned in Saxon historical sources. It may have been lost in the fighting with the Bohemians in September 936. A Margrave of Meissen is attested from 968. While Slavs were settling on the Misni river, the first German settlement in today's urban area was established south of the castle at a small natural harbor. There is also evidence of a burgrave since 1068. Over time, a Burgraviate of Meissen developed, which the Meinheringer family was able to expand further.
The conquest of Henry I marked the beginning of a dispute over the rule of the region that lasted for many years. After many campaigns, which were mainly carried out by Margrave Gero, the lordly penetration of the Margrave of Meissen was completed around 963. In 968 the diocese of Meissen was founded. It had its seat and its cathedral church, the Meißner Dom, also on the castle hill and acquired in the late Middle Ages with the bishopric Meißen an independent territory compared to the margraves and electors.
Meißen Castle had become the central location of the Burgwardes, i.e. a larger area of dominion that corresponded to the former Gau Daleminzien. It was the center of a royal administrative area. Along with the royal palaces of Magdeburg and Merseburg, together with Bautzen, it played a key role among the many castle warden in the conquered area, so that it can be described as an early state castle. The Burgward district of Meißen was at the intersection of the interests of several ruling families. After the conquests of Henry I, it belonged to the Ostmark under Margrave Gero, who represented the interests of the empire. To the east bordered the territory of the Piast, the later Polish kingdom. In the south, the Přemyslids, the Dukes of Bohemia, tried to expand their power. In this area of tension, the history of the castle in the 10th and 11th centuries was very eventful and was by no means secure German imperial possession.
After Rikdag's death in 985, Ekkehard I was installed as Margrave of Meissen. He came from the royal Saxon family of the Ekkehardines. Its headquarters were in Kleinjena near Naumburg. Ekkehard's most pressing task was to conquer Meißen Castle. Boleslaw II of Bohemia had captured Meissen Castle in 984 on the way back from a campaign together with the Bavarian Duke Heinrich the Brawler, the opponent Otto II. led the Thuringian army together with Mieszko I of Poland against the Slavs. Ekkehard was related by marriage to Miezko through Reglindis, his brother Hermann's wife.
The Polish Piast Duke Boleslaw Chrobry (the brave, son of
Miezkos) took the death of Emperor Otto III. and the assassination
of Margrave Ekkehard I of Meißen in 1002 as an opportunity to
conquer the Mark Meißen east of the Elbe. While he was able to
occupy the land relatively easily because he was in tune with the
Slavic population, the German occupation defended the castle.
However, it was ultimately taken with the help of Gunzelin,
Ekkehard's brother. The castle team was granted free withdrawal. The
newly elected German king, Heinrich II, appointed Gunzelin as the
new margrave in Meissen in 1002, who also came into possession of
the castle. In 1003, Boleslaw II of Bohemia demanded, as had
obviously been agreed, Gunzelin surrender the Meissen Castle, which
the latter refused. The background to the events was that the
Ekkehardines were closely related to the Polish Piasts. So far they
had turned against the Bohemian Přemyslid Duchy, which was allied
with Bavaria. After the assassination of Ekkehard, who had applied
for the German royal crown, it was feared that a different noble
family than the Ekkehardines could be appointed as margraves. With
the conquest of Lausitz and Meissen, Boleslaw had created a fait
accompli. Heinrich II had no choice but to appoint the Ekkehardiner
Gunzelin. With his actions Gunzelin ignored the claims of his nephew
Hermann, who had been at Meißen Castle with his mother Swanehilde.
Hermann certainly wanted to manifest his claims to his father's
Gunzelin could not enjoy his possession for long. As early as 1009 he was accused by Heinrich II and lost the margraviate. Meißen Castle was given to the great rulers of the area for custody alternately for four weeks until Hermann, the son of Ekkehard I, was appointed Margrave of Meißen in the autumn of 1009. After King Heinrich II's unsuccessful campaign to the east in 1015, the German army was repulsed. Hermann was only able to hold Meißen Castle against the Piast Mieszko II with difficulty. The fighting was probably so hard that Hermann asked the women in the castle to take part in the fighting.
In 1046 the Ekkehardines died out. The rule of Meissen fell back to the empire and Emperor Heinrich III. re-awarded it to Count Otto I of Weimar-Orlamünde. After his death, the Brunones Ekbert I. († 1068) and Ekbert II. († 1090) were margraves. Both were opponents of Heinrich IV. Even Emperor Heinrich III. had tried to protect the realm's claims to the castle militarily and legally. In 1073 Heinrich IV appointed his trusted follower, Duke Vratislav II of Bohemia, as margrave of Meissen. He thus ousted Ekbert II. Finally, in 1089, Heinrich von Eilenburg, since 1081 Margrave of Lusatia, became the first Wettin margrave of Meissen. The legitimacy of his only, posthumously born son, Heinrich II., Was questioned by his cousin Conrad I, who captured him in 1121 and had him poisoned in 1123. In 1125 Konrad I von Wettin was appointed Margrave of Meissen by the Emperor. He had succeeded through skill and energy in bringing a large territory under his rule, the center of which was Meissen. With his striving for power and that of his successors, he was in competition with the imperial family, which from the end of the 12th century sought to create a large area of rule in today's Saxony with the expansion of Germany to the east.
The Staufer emperors tried not to let the power of the Wettins grow any further. The Mark Meissen was therefore from Emperor Heinrich VI. In 1195 withdrawn as a settled fief. But he did not succeed in disempowering the Wettins. Margrave Dietrich the distressed could finally secure the mark as Wettin property.
In addition to the margrave and the bishop, a royal burgrave had
his seat on the castle hill. When Meissen was founded it was
undoubtedly a royal castle, an imperial castle. The margrave held it
as sovereign. Because of his sovereignty, it was not possible for
him to always be present at the castle. Therefore there was a
bailiff or burgrave who had the residence obligation and was, in
addition to the economic tasks, the military commander of the
castle. There was certainly such a royal commander before Burchhard
was mentioned. For 1009 it is documented that the castle team
consisted of contingents of imperial princes changed constantly. It
is possible that the castle, which is located far in the conquered
area, had a changing occupation as early as the 10th century. There
was also a garrison of its own, as the Burgmanns seats at the castle
and in the upper suburbium suggest.
The first officially mentioned burgrave named Burchard was appointed by Henry IV in 1069. During the investiture controversy, the castle was included in the politics of the empire because it was occupied by three parties with different interests. Heinrich IV appointed the Bohemian Duke Wratislaw as Margrave of Meissen in 1073. He thereby disempowered Ekbert II of Weimar-Orlamünde, who belonged to the aristocratic opposition. A few years later, however, Ekbert regained the mark. Finally, Heinrich von Eilenburg became the first Wettin Margrave of Meissen. The tripartite division of the political powers on the castle hill also resulted in three separate castle areas. In the north-east stood the margravial, in the south-east the episcopal and in the west the castle-counts. The castle of the burgrave took up the largest area on the castle plateau. In front of the castle gate there was an early suburbium, today's St. Afra-Freiheit. In the valley there was a moated castle connected to the margrave castle by stab walls. Each castle had its own entrance. In the 12th century the castle was expanded with representative stone buildings. A square tower that has been found in the foundations today dates back to around 1100. An archaeologically proven layer of fire suggests that there was considerable destruction at the end of the 12th century.
In the middle of the 13th century, the castle hill was expanded. On the east side, the fortifications that serve today as a substructure for the two castles were built. A round tower was built at each of the three corners of the castle plateau. The stone castle bridge was also built during this time. To the west of the castle plateau, the burgrave's court consisted at least of a hall and a chapel. A keep, the white tower, rose above the burgrave area. This tower is clearly attributable to the Burggrafenburg and served to protect the castle bridge. The castle bridge was an extraordinary structure for the time and served as a representative entrance to the Burggrafenburg. They are attributed to Florentine builders. The front gate to freedom and the middle gate at the other end of the bridge were part of this ensemble. But soon after the representative expansion of the castle, the margraves pushed the burgraves further and further away from the castle courtyard. 1308 joined Meinher III. involuntarily surrendered the White Tower to Margrave Friedrich for two years. He never got it back. When the reigning burgrave finally fell in a battle in 1426, the margrave moved in as a settled fiefdom. In the 15th century, the Margraves of Meissen introduced significant changes to the castle area. The burgraves had been eliminated as rulers around 1426. Their castle complex was left to decay. Separating walls between the castle areas fell victim to the pickaxe. The last building to be removed was the White Tower in 1607. The red tower on the top of the castle hill was probably demolished around 1500. Strangely, the margraves only owned this building as a fief of the Hersfeld monastery.
In 1423 Frederick IV, the pugilier, was appointed Elector of
Saxony. His grandchildren, Ernst and Albrecht, ruled Saxony and
Thuringia together from 1464 to 1485 and in 1471 commissioned the
builder Arnold von Westfalen to build the first German castle on the
site of the old margrave castle. Even if the castle was actually
designed as a residence for the two princes, it was never used as
such. In 1485 the government of the two brothers was repealed and
the country was divided into two parts. Albrecht (the Albertiner)
essentially received the Meissnian areas with the newly built castle
and the later Thuringian District, his brother Ernst the remaining
Thuringian areas and the Duchy of Saxony with Wittenberg, to which
the electoral dignity was bound. The castle was named
"Albrechtsburg" in 1676 after its first master and builder. But it
was only his son, George the Bearded, who took up the Albrechtsburg
as his residence. The castle was badly damaged during the Thirty
Years War. Since then it has been empty.
It was not until the beginning of the 18th century that the Albrechtsburg received more attention from August the Strong when he had the first European porcelain factory set up in the castle in 1710. Two years earlier, Johann Friedrich Böttger and Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus had invented European porcelain. Initially, Dresden was planned as the manufacturing site, but August the Strong opted for the vacant and isolated castle because nowhere else would the secret of porcelain production have been so secure. On June 6, 1710, the porcelain factory started operations in the former royal residence, which was supposed to make the “white gold” world famous.
In the middle of the 19th century the manufacture was relocated to the newly built factory building, the castle was empty again. In the years 1864 to 1870, the old factory fixtures were removed and the palace was architecturally refurbished. The missing furniture was replaced by elaborate paintings on the late Gothic walls. The later well-known artist Alexander Linnemann from Frankfurt was also active here. B. when designing the new doors, documents on this are in the Linnemann archive. At the end of the 19th century, the Albrechtsburg was made accessible to the population and still enjoys many visitors from home and abroad. The case of the "blighting of the Albrechtsburg" forced the legislature to give up its decades-long opinion that Saxon antiquity protection does not require any statutory regulation. In 1909, for example, he passed the law against disfigurement of town and country (Verunstaltungsgesetz), in whose draft the Albrechtsburg case was explicitly listed as an example.
In 2010 the Albrechtsburg celebrated its 300th anniversary as a manufactory and shone again as a porcelain castle.
Overall architectural picture
The former electoral palace rises above a hook-shaped floor plan on a rocky plateau that slopes steeply towards the Elbe north of the Meissen Cathedral. All floors below the eaves line are arched, a great feature in German palace construction, which meant an immense financial and design effort. Above the high substructures of the core building are a low ground floor and two main floors with unusually large so-called arched curtain windows. Another storey used by a manor is already within the roof zone and is illuminated through the windows of the row of hatches.
The tower-like character of Meißen Castle, which is still so
eye-catching from all sides, should represent a well-calculated
picture with political significance. The Albrechtsburg was not only
intended to be a residential palace that was particularly
comfortable to live in, but also to set an unmistakable sign of the
Wettin territorial rule, which was increasingly consolidating and
gaining in imperial political, administrative and economic
importance. For this purpose, Arnold von Westfalen was expected to
formulate a new architectural language. While the architectural
decorations belong to the late Gothic period, as was the case with
Sachsenburg Castle, which was built from an older complex at the
same time, the structure of the building already leads to the Saxon
Renaissance. Due to the floor plan, the Albrechtsburg building,
which was already proportioned like a tower, was broken down into
individual tower figures; all facade strips tend to be in an upright
rectangular format; In terms of the effects of light and shadow, the
core structure presents itself like a crystal with a multi-fold
surface. In addition to the stair towers on the courtyard side,
however, only one structure in the central zone of the Elbe side
develops into a real tower; all the other structures are tied
together again by the mighty roof. In the roof zone, however, the
dormer windows, rectangular roof bay windows that sit on the eaves,
form a wreath of tower figures surrounding the building. The Lukarne
in its typical formation as a window bay comes from France; around
1470, however, it was only used in such a systematic and consistent
manner in individual cases (e.g. in the castles of Baugé and Le
The Albrechtsburg seen from the north
Another momentous adaptation of French building culture in Meißen was the use of the viewing stair tower, as it was formulated as a type in 1365 with the - later removed - large spiral staircase in the courtyard of the Louvre. The large main staircase in the south, via which the access to the lordly upper floors leads, is a masterpiece of stonemasonry with intricately curved steps that wind up around an open eye in the middle. Their windows were originally open and enabled diverse visual relationships between those walking on the stairs and spectators in the courtyard. However, the overall shape of the balcony in front of the Meissen stair tower and the adjacent section of the facade has no direct French model. A smaller stair tower is also located on the courtyard facade in the corner between the north and east wings.
The builder had to implement a highly complex spatial program inside the Albrechtsburg.
Large areas of the first floor are occupied by two hall-like rooms. Both are generously windowed on several sides, have two aisles and, like the other rooms on the floor, are vaulted. The centrally located hall, to which the main staircase of the large stair tower leads, was the large ballroom of the palace, which can be used on a case-by-case basis. It could not be heated and in everyday life it fulfilled the function of a communication area between the surrounding stairs and rooms, which also include a chapel room.
In contrast to this, the north hall was the court room heated by a large tiled stove formerly placed in the northeast corner, in which the entire male court, including the princes, was supposed to gather for main meals twice a day. Between the two rooms there is a musicians' gallery above the connecting door, which could serve both rooms as required.
Three independent apartments are grouped around these two large rooms as living and office areas, each consisting of an oven-heated room as the main room and one or more subordinate chambers as bedrooms and storage rooms. The architecturally most elaborate is the apartment, which adjoins the courtyard room in the northeast. Its living room and the unheated bedroom above it, which can be reached directly by a walled staircase, occupy the structure that has been rotated 45 degrees from the main building and rises like a tower with three free-standing sides above the Elbe valley. Above the elaborate and costly substructures of the basement, the architect has created spaces that allow a far-reaching view on three sides.
The structurally staged overview itself was already valued across
Europe in palace construction. However, the multi-view "fan view" in
Meißen differs fundamentally from the gaze routines customary in
France or Italy at the time, where the visual reference to the
surroundings was almost always formulated in the form of a directed
uniform image. In the following years such space formations should
u. a. in Wittenberg, Torgau, Neuburg a. d. Danube or Heidelberg
become a characteristic of the elaborate Central European palace
construction. The large northeast apartment of the Albrechtsburg
with three windows was probably originally intended for high-ranking
guests; in the course of the 16th century, however, the princes
withdrew to a separate table during the main meals. At the time of
building, it was only common for the female members of the court,
the so-called women's rooms, to separate from the entire meal. The
builder also designed a room with three window fronts for them,
albeit on the second floor, where this group of people was somewhat
isolated from the hustle and bustle of the courtyard.
On the second floor, next to the Frauenzimmertafelstube and two other smaller apartments on the south side, the elector's three-room apartment was set up as the center between the Elbe and courtyard fronts. In addition to the room with windows on both sides as the main reception room and the subordinate, more intimate bedroom, the Elector should have a small side room on the valley side. The estudes or cabinets in French castles come into question as typological models for such a retreat, but there is nothing to prevent the Meissen innovation from deriving from the studioli propagated by Italian humanists since Petrarch (1304–1374). A famous, almost simultaneous example was established between 1472 and 1476 in the Duke's Palace in Urbino. The small room of the electoral apartment in Meißen is architecturally designed to be a real showpiece and offers views over the Elbe valley in different directions. In its location, away from the hustle and bustle of the castle courtyard, it corresponds exactly to the advice that the influential Renaissance theorist Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472) formulated for the construction of such rooms.
The ground plan of the second floor is repeated in essential aspects on the floor above of the porthole zone. Here one can assume the apartment of the Electress with an internal staircase to the rooms of her suite one storey higher in the roof.