Residenz

Lonely Planet review

The Unesco-listed Residenz is one of Germany’s most important and beautiful baroque palaces and is a great way to kick off or end a journey along the Romantic Road.

Johann Philipp Franz von Schönborn, unhappy with his old-fashioned digs up in Marienberg Fortress, hired young architect Balthasar Neumann to build a new palace in town. Construction started in 1720. It took almost 60 years before the interior was completed, but the prince-bishops only used the palace for 20 years before they were incorporated into Bavaria. During the British bombing of WWII, the central section miraculously escaped unharmed; the rest required extensive restoration. Today the 350 rooms are home to government institutions, flats, faculties of the university and a museum, but the grandest spaces have been restored for visitors to admire.

Visits are by guided tour only. German-language groups leave every half an hour; English tours leave at 11pm and 3pm year-round and, additionally, at 4.30pm April to October.

In 1750, the ceiling above Neumann’s brilliant Grand Staircase , a single central set of steps that splits and zigzags up to the 1st floor, was topped by what still is the world’s largest fresco (667 sq metres), by Tiepolo. It allegorically depicts the four then-known continents (Europe, Africa, America and Asia).

Take in the ice-white stucco of the Weisser Saal (White Hall), a soothing interlude in mind-boggling stucco and papier mâché, before entering the Kaisersaal (Imperial Hall), canopied by yet another impressive Tiepolo fresco. Other meticulously restored staterooms include the gilded stucco Spiegelkabinett (Mirror Hall), covered with a unique mirrorlike glass painted with figural, floral and animal motifs that make you feel as if you’re standing inside a Fabergé egg. Destroyed in WWII, this room took eight years to recreate in the 1980s and contains 600 sq metres of gold leaf.

You're usually set free by the guide to explore the north-wing imperial apartments alone. Less impressive than the other parts of the palace, highlights include the velveteen-draped bed where Napoleon I slept in 1812 and a green lacquered room with an intricately inlaid parquet floor.

The bare corridors between the various restored rooms are given interest by fascinating exhibitions on the restoraion techniques used here in the postwar decades.

In the residence’s south wing, the Hofkirche (Court Church) is another Neumann and Tiepolo co-production. Its marble columns, gold leaf and profusion of angels match the Residenz in splendour and proportions.

Behind the Residenz, the Hofgarten has whimsical sculptures of children, mostly by court sculptor Peter Wagner. Concerts, festivals and special events take place here during the warmer months. Enter through intricate wrought-iron gates into the French- and English-style gardens, partly built on the old baroque bastions.

Next to the main entrance, the Martin-von-Wagner Museum is home to three collections. The Antikensammlung (Antiquities Collection) focuses on Greek, Roman and Egyptian ceramics, vases, figurines and marble sculptures from 1500 BC to AD 300. The Gemäldegalerie (Art Gallery) has primarily German, Dutch and Italian paintings from the 15th to the 19th centuries, including works by Tiepolo. Finally, the Graphische Sammlung (Graphics Collection) consists of drawings, copperplate etchings and woodcuts, including some by Albrecht Dürer.

Atmospherically housed in the cellar of the Residenz is a winery owned and run by the Bavarian government, Staatlicher Hofkeller Würzburg , Germany's second largest. It produces some exceptional wines; tours conclude with a tasting.