In 1765, a visionary prince, Leopold III Friedrich Franz of Anhalt-Dessau, collaborated with architect and art theorist Friedrich Wilhelm von Erdmannsdorff to develop Gartenreich Dessau-Wörlitz alongside the Elbe River. This “garden kingdom” is an exemplary model of the Enlightenment planning, showcasing a harmonious integration of art, education, and economy. These principles are manifested in the English garden-style landscape that consists of gentle and rolling hills that create scenic views scattered with neoclassical and neo-Gothic bridges, palaces, and sculptures. When the ambitious project was completed in 1810, the extensive landscape was filled with magnificent buildings, English gardens, and subtly modified expanses of agricultural land linked by dramatic vistas and avenues. Many of the buildings that were erected are of noted influence throughout Germany. A unique structure is the Wörlitz synagogue, which is seamlessly incorporated into the landscape, resting on top of a small hill in perfect scale with the size of the structure. Prince Franz commissioned the synagogue in 1787 in proximity to the neo-Gothic Christian church, reflecting his belief in religious freedom and equality. Erdmannsdorff’s design for the synagogue was influenced by classical Roman design and a round temple was completed in 1790.
2000 World Monuments Watch
At the time of its construction, Gartenreich Dessau-Wörlitz illustrated modern European agrarian practices and landscape design. The quality of the evocative landscape was maintained throughout the nineteenth century. The garden escaped World War II unscathed while the city of Dessau sustained significant damage. Unfortunately, motorway and railroads, constructed in the mid–twentieth century, cut through some of the landscape, and inappropriate buildings have been constructed within the garden boundaries. Despite this, most of the characteristic features of the meadow landscape have been preserved and many monuments and buildings remain intact, but their conditions vary. The Gartenreich Dessau-Wörlitz avoided much of the industrialization and expansion of Dessau that has happened since 1990. World Monuments Fund included Gartenreich Dessau-Wörlitz on the Watch in 2000. The following year, WMF supported the restorations to the roof and cupola of the Wörlitz synagogue. The interior of the temple was badly damaged during Kristallnacht in 1938, but luckily, Hans Hallervorden, the park director at the time, took steps to protect the building. The conservation project was completed in 2004 and the former synagogue is now a museum of the Jewish history of Saxony-Anhalt.
The eighteenth century was a seminal period for European landscape design. Gartenreich Dessau-Wörlitz was the foundation for widespread improvements inspired by English landscaped gardens and neoclassical architecture. Both Prince Franz and Erdmannsdorff incorporated the classical styles they had seen during their travels to make the “garden kingdom” the pinnacle of “Anglomania.” This cultural landscape is one of the most significant in central Europe and is part of the “Central Elbe” conservation area, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. In 2000, Kulturlandschaft Gartenreich Dessau-Wörlitz was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The grounds and buildings today are estimated to be visited by over one million people every year. The preservation of this outstanding cultural landscape will lend to the education and delight of residents and visitors alike.