The Zwinger was built in the first quarter of the 18th century under the direction of the architect Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann and the sculptor Balthasar Permoser. The enclosed space, roughly one and a half football pitches in size, was originally conceived as a racing arena and festival venue, while the surrounding buildings were planned as an orangery. This was because August the Strong’s passion for collecting did not limit itself to porcelain and art but also extended to Mediterranean plants. Thus it was that Dresden became home to one of the most important collections of its kind.
La Dolce Vita in Dresden.
The orange trees not only exuded a southern flair but also served as a symbol of status and power – the fruits being compared to the Golden Apples of the Hesperides, which bestowed eternal youth on the gods. According to Greek mythology, Hercules was the only mortal who succeeded in robbing the nymphs of their coveted fruits. To this day, the statue of Hercules Saxonicus stands supreme among the figures adorning the Wallpavillon.
At the end of the 19th century, the orange trees were removed from the Zwinger. It was an inglorious departure, not so much due to the harsh climate but rather the uncouth behaviour of visitors, who probably fancied themselves as latter-day Hercules.
So now the first batch of trees are returning to Dresden. In 2013, the stately homes and parks authority in Saxony (Staatliche Schlösser, Burgen und Gärten Sachsen gGmbH) purchased 80 bitter orange trees in Italy. These were then cultivated in the baroque garden of Großsedlitz for subsequent transfer to the Zwinger. Having now reached a height of almost four metres, they will not only grace the inner courtyard of the Zwinger but also provide fruit for the gardeners to turn into marmalade.
‘Godparents’ are still being sought to sponsor the elaborate care required by these sensitive plants at a cost of 550 euros per tree per year. If you are interested, please get in touch with the charity organising the scheme – Freundeskreis Schlösserland Sachsen.
August the Strong had orangeries constructed in the nearby Herzogin Garten (Duchess’s Garden) where his collection of plants could be kept safe from winter frosts. Appropriately, part of this orangery destroyed in the Second World War is now being rebuilt to complement the return of the orange trees to the Zwinger.