For more than 400 years, the Thuringian Ernestines shaped the face of Europe. Their descendants ruled in Belgium, Bulgaria and Britain, and included Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert.
The palaces, castles and gardens of the Ernestines are all over Thuringia. With their magnificent architecture, often surrounded by spacious gardens, their rich art collections and beautiful rooms they bear witness to the incredible wealth and influence of the family.
Friedenstein Palace is the largest early baroque palace in Germany and part of the ‘Baroque Universe’ of Gotha. It was once an important residence of the Dukes of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, a branch of the Ernestine princes. The wealth and the influence of this family on European history are reflected in the amazing historical, art and scientific exhibitions of the palace and the Ducal Museum. Visitors can see the glamorous residential rooms of the ducal family and also admire a special gem, the baroque Ekhof Theatre. It dates back to the late 1600s and still works with the original baroque stage machinery. The theatre comes back to life every summer during the Ekhof Festival.
Weimar, cultural capital of Europe in 1999, is home to various ducal palaces and gardens of the Ernestine branch of Saxe-Weimar. The town has close connections to European cultural history, represented by names such as Goethe and Schiller, J. S. Bach, Lucas Cranach, Franz Liszt, Henry van de Velde, Lionel Feininger, Friedrich Nietzsche and many others. Altogether 16 places in Weimar are on the UNESCO World Heritage list, among them the Town Palace with its amazing art collections, Belvedere and Ettersburg Palace with their gardens and the world-famous Duchess Anna Amalia Library.
The little town of Dornburg boasts three castles and palaces – the Old Castle, The Renaissance Castle and the Rococo Palace. Whereas the Old Castle once served as a residence for the Saxe-Weimar dukes, the Rococo Palace was designed as a ‘maison de plaisance’. Visitors admire the beautiful interior design and marvel at the gardens, which cover an area of four hectares. They include among other things an English-style landscape garden, a French-style baroque garden, a beautiful rose garden and a vineyard.
There are countless castles and palaces in Thuringia, but the most famous is doubtlessly Wartburg Castle in Eisenach. In its 1000 years of history, it has seen many sovereigns. In the 19th century, the then decaying building was restored thanks to the Grand Duchess Sophie of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. Her commitment saved an outstanding building, which today is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the most visited tourist attraction of Thuringia. It is a place for romantics and bears references to St. Elisabeth, Martin Luther and the Reformation, Franz Liszt, Richard Wagner and his opera Tannhäuser as well as the birth of the German nation.