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January 03, 2009


Yesterdays trip to Würzburg was interesting. It is not the first time I have visited this ancient city, but the last visit was confined to the Marienberg Castle. This time we went straight into the old city and undertook a guided tour of the Residence, the former home of the Furst Bischofs (Prince Bishops) of Würzburg. The Marienberg was established by the missionary Bishop Kilian in the 8th Century and, after his murder, his successors were permitted to fortify their mission. Under Charles the Great (or Karl der Grosse - Carolus Princeps in Latin) the stability his rule brought allowed the establishment of the city and the flourishing of trade across this area. Franconia became a prosperous Duchy and the church spread its influence. The Emperor Barbarossa chose to be married in Würzburg and the Bishop evidently made a good impression - so was appointed as the Duke or Herzog, combining the secular power with his spiritual charge.

His successors consolidated this power successfully and the Marienburg became a truly "Feste Burg", translated as "Mighty Fortress". By 1740 however, the Furst Bischof had decided that a more splendid palace would be appropriate for his diplomatic and governmental role and so The Residence was commissioned in the heart of the city. It is a building of superlatives, the building is a splendid expression of the Baroque, a great U shaped structure with an entrance hall large enough for a visitor to be driven inside in his coach and to dismount out of the weather. The painted fresco ceilings are stunning, the colours as bright and fresh as the day they were painted, having survived the bombing of March 1945, itself a tribute to the architect and the builders. These are largely the work of an Italian artist and include elements that are 3D - itself an amazing achievement.

In other rooms - though the term "room" is hardly applicable to a chamber of these dimensions - one is treated to the most amazing stucco work, again the creation of a single artist from Italy who created each and every piece by hand and so there are no two pieces identical. All in all it took several years simply to decorate the building, and the actual construction lasted almost twenty-five. One of the ingenius tricks of the architect was to incorporate an existing chapel into the West wing in such a manner that there is no major alteration to either the chapel or the twinning of the exterior of this range with its identical range on the other wing. As soon as I can I will publish some pictures I managed to take which will, hopefully, show the overall beauty effectively. Wandering through the rooms one finds the Mirror Room stunning - all the more so because it has been faithfully recreated from photographs and fragments that survived the bombing. Elsewhere the custodians had managed to dismantle the treasured interiors and remove them to safety, but the attempt to dismantle and remove the mirror room's contents failed and the room was a casualty in the fire that followed the intensive bombing. In 1979 the decision was taken to recreate the "lost" room and the result is not only faithful to the original it is an exact creation using the same techniques and processes that had created the original. This is where I part company completely with the insistence of English Heritage and their advisors who insist on preserving semi-destroyed stonework and paintings which could be better retrieved and preserved by faithfully restoring them to original condition.

Continuing our wander in the cold we found the Dom, the building is a pair of churches, one currently closed for repair and restoration and the other, as far as I could work out, older, now fully restored with even the Baroque Stucco decoration again faithfully recreated from sketches and photographs. The care and attention given to every detail is evident everywhere, even in those churches where the work has obviously stopped due to lack of funds. One magnificent example os the beutifully restored Marien Kapelle in the Markt. The building is a magnificent example of the Perpendicular architecture, rising tall and narrow above the market place with it's stone vault beautifully restored and decorated at the East End. New statues occupy niches and plinths on the pillars on the nave and the partially burned figure of Joseph retrieved from the wreckage occupies a small chapel beneath the tower as a reminder of the destruction caused in that one fateful night in March 1945.

Perhaps the German's are better able to appreciate what was destroyed in their recreations and restorations, I can't help feeling that we could do better for some of our treasured heritage by restoring it properly instead of trying to lock in into some kind of "time capsule" which generally makes it impossible to maintain properly or use it effectively and efficiently in todays world. Personally I feel the Germans have the right approach and English Heritage should be stripped of its power to block sensible and appropriate restoration of ancient buildings.

And now its time to batten down the hatches for a cold night - the weather forecast is for -8*C and snow tonight dropping to -20*C on Tuesday - by which time I shall be home again, no doubt to Madam Paddy's delight.

Posted by The Gray Monk at January 3, 2009 06:10 PM

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