See sites of royal splendour in Germany
Built on the foundations of Grimmenstein Castle and completed in 1656, Friedenstein Palace served as a prestige residence for Duke Ernst I of Saxe-Gotha. The north wing alone is 100 metres in length, and the side wings measure 140 metres – prominent symbols of the duchy's power. For the outward face of his palace, the Protestant duke chose a plain and austere look that does much to make it so appealing. Symmetry, strict forms and sheer scale are the hallmarks of Friedenstein Palace. By contrast, the duke's son Friedrich I had the rooms inside turned into flights of opulence between 1680 and 1687. The ducal apartments and the audience chambers have exquisite marquetry floors and richly decorated stucco ceilings. In the breathtaking main banqueting hall, meanwhile, the ceiling is adorned with sculptured stucco figures framed by lavish garlands of fruits and flowers. Today, the museum at Friedenstein Palace displays a collection of ducal art treasures, paintings, sculptures and crafts covering all periods of history. The grandeur of Friedenstein Palace is matched by its beautiful park – one of Germany's earliest landscaped gardens in the English style. The west wing houses the fully intact baroque theatre In 1683, Friedrich I introduced opera and commissioned the construction of a baroque theatre with a then state-of-the-art stage in the west wing of the palace. This is one of the oldest theatres with original stage machinery still in use today. The auditorium, dating from 1774 , is almost fully preserved. Every summer, the theatre hosts the Ekhof Festival, which 'rediscovers' plays of the 18th century for modern times. Nearby attractions: the New Palace Museum with its 'Mon plaisir' baroque dolls' town is an attraction that no fan of porcelain and historical childhood toys should miss. Friedrichsthal Palace is perfect for a day out, while more simpler pleasures await in Schmalkalden, which boasts an enchanting medieval old quarter with buildings from the 16th to 18th century. The Rennsteig, Germany's best-loved walking trail, lies just nine kilometres from Friedenstein Palace.