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Gotha in October Rain

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Gotha and its surroundings were „burnt soil” to me. Pathetic as this sounds: I had no intention to ever return.

What else could be the reason than a certain male inhabitant of this region. A long and ugly story that I do not want to bore you with.

But then I received an invitation to speak at a conference. One of those invitations that should not be refused. Unfortunately it took place in Gotha. After several years it was time to overcome the bad memories…

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Augustine convent

I feared most that “he” might show up there, but luckily the conference coincided with the Frankfurt book fair so “he” would be busy there.
Phew. Relax.

The conference took place inside the palace, Gotha’s main sight. Us speakers were all accommodated in the former Augustine monastery, now a house for conventions and seminars and guesthouse. Simple rooms, but perfectly fine. My room faced the inner cloister, which meant a nice view and relative quietness. Hence no complaints from my side.

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View from my window

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It was late October and the weather was as “octobery” as can be: a light but constant drizzle from low grey clouds that soaked everyone and everything. Even the memories drowned in it, and the last bits were drowned in local beer with the colleagues. About time.

The conference was to begin in the morning and I live several hours away, so I had to arrive one day earlier. I and used the afternoon and evening for a walk of the town and round the palace.

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The heart of the town is the market square, rather an outstretched trapezoid than a square.

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The upper end points towards the palace. The cascade in the middle of the street is part of a water conduit which is in fact about 500 years old.

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The lower part has the town hall standing in its middle. The building has received a fancy red coat of paint in the latest renovation.
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A walk through Gotha's streets on a rainy evening:

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Ernst der Fromme

Gotha’s palace - I refuse to call it a castle because it is not - made its appearance in each and every seminar and lecture on early modern palaces. Built in the 17th century, it was one of the first that abandoned the previously standard pattern of four wings enclosing an inner courtyard, which about all renaissance palaces have (like the one in Schmalkalden, which I'll present in the following blog entry). In Gotha, the fourth wing has been reduced to a low arcade, almost non-existent. This is one of the earliest baroque palaces. Three wings embracing an open courtyard, that’s the characteristic pattern of palaces built in the baroque era. Later on the courtyard will open towards the city outside. Here, however, it opens towards the garden side and the landscape view towards the Thuringian Forest.

The palace’s name is Friedenstein (“peace rock”), a reference to its predecessor. Gotha used to have a heavily fortified castle called Grimmenstein (“grim rock”) which had been destroyed in the wars of the 16th century. Wars which had caused a lot of distress to the ducal house and the country, the loss of the electorate to another Saxon line, years of imprisonment for the then ruling duke. Now, three generations later, Duke Ernst der Fromme („the Pious”) wanted to start a better future and set a different signal. The duchy had been divided among Ernst and his brother, with made Sachsen-Gotha a separate duchy and line. (Oh yes, Saxon history is complicated.) Thus, Gotha became a ducal residence.

Ernst had his new palace built on the hilltop above the town, using the topography to express his power. The terrain rises steeper and steeper. Climbing up market square and then the ramps, the front of the palace appears like a huge, uniform block. Only in the middle there is one gate.

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Walking through the passage, you reach the wide courtyard which reveals the true size of the building complex.

The long side wings end each in a stumpy square tower. Their roofs have different shapes. They form Gotha’s characteristic skyline.

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Left

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Right

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The portal to the arsenal

All facades are very simple, with uniform small windows. From outside it is impossible to tell what is behind them. You cannot tell from outside where the palace chapel, the festival hall, the theatre, the arsenal, the library is located. Only the portals underneath the arcades might give an idea, but the facades do not show.

It wasn’t my first visit. I had visited before on two excursions, where we had extensively seen and discussed the historical rooms and halls inside the palace.

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Underneath the arcades

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The tower at the end of the western wing contains the theatre.

On one occasion, during a special tour for conference participants, I even had the chance to see the theatre, including access to the stage machinery behind and underneath the stage. This theatre is Gotha’s most valuable treasure. It is one of the very few completely preserved baroque theatres in Europe, complete with the original machinery and a dozen or so stage settings. It is still in use. An annual theatre festival with baroque plays and operas takes place here. The plays are selected according to whether they match the existent stage settings. Everything is operated by hand. A crowd of volunteers is operating the machinery and changing the settings. Sorry, I did not take any photos then.

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The palace chapel is an important example in the history of protestant church architecture... but I am sparing you another lecture.

Posted by Kathrin_E 15:08 Archived in Germany Tagged castles thuringia thüringen

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