The fairytale half-timbered houses of the state are widely known. But Hessen has many other highlights in store for culture lovers. Cities and towns sparkle with architectural splendor. The palette ranges from Renaissance masterpieces to magnificent Baroque buildings and enchanting Art Nouveau gems. Here are some particularly beautiful examples.

Fulda

The city of 68,000 inhabitants on the river of the same name is the largest city in the region of Eastern Hesse and its political and cultural center. The landmark of the city is the St. Salvator Cathedral.

Darmstadt

With about 160,000 inhabitants, the fourth largest city in Hesse belongs to the Rhine-Main region. The nearest larger cities are Frankfurt am Main and Offenbach about 30 km to the north.

Wiesbaden

With its 15 thermal and mineral springs, the capital of Hesse is one of the oldest spas in Europe. Around 279,000 people live in the state's second largest city.

Bad Nauheim

The spa town of around 32,000 inhabitants is located 28 kilometers north of Frankfurt am Main on the eastern edge of the Taunus Mountains. The Wetter and Usa rivers flow through it.

Limburg

The city of 35,5000 inhabitants is located directly on the western border of Hesse between the Taunus and the Westerwald on both sides of the river Lahn. The most famous building is the late Romanesque cathedral.

Frankfurt on the Main

With a good 763,000 inhabitants, Germany's fifth-largest city is located on both sides of the Main River southeast of the Taunus Mountains. The city with its striking skyline is one of the most important international financial centers.

Bad Hersfeld

The festival and spa town in northeastern Hesse has just under 30,000 inhabitants. It is mainly known for the Bad Hersfeld Festival in the Abbey Ruins.

Kassel

The major city with 202,000 inhabitants is located about 70 kilometers northwest of the geographical center of Germany, close to the borders with Lower Saxony and Thuringia. To this day, residences and castles recall its role as the former capital of the Landgraviate of Hesse.

Splendor of the Baroque in Fulda

A magnificent cabinet with 420 mirrors and red silk wallpaper, the opulent Fürstensaal, exquisite porcelain - Fulda's city palace is a baroque masterpiece inside and out. Here, time flies by in sheer amazement. The estate was once built on the site of a medieval abbot's castle and later rebuilt by architect Johann Dientzenhofer (1663-1726) into a baroque four-wing complex. One can literally feel the courtly prosperity of the 18th century in all its facets, many of the historic rooms are open to visitors. Just like the baroque palace garden with its splashing fountains, playful water basins and stone sculptures. One of the most famous garden sculptures in Europe is the 6.80-meter-high Floravase on the flight of steps leading to the Orangerie - with its flower tendrils and angel figures, it symbolizes Flora, the goddess of flowers, and is considered an expression of deep connection with nature. Simply beautiful.

The entire Baroque Quarter of the old royal seat is full of history and stories, testifying to the wealth and power of the former prince-bishops of Fulda. As a well-known landmark, the St. Salvator Cathedral rises not far from the palace garden. It stands on the site of a former monastery church, was built from 1704 by Johann Dientzenhofer in the style of the Italian Baroque and has been considered an episcopal and cathedral church since 1752; its facade is characterized by two mighty, 65 meter high bell towers. In the meantime, the modern age celebrates its glittering festivities on the cathedral square - large open-air concerts have already taken place here, with stars such as Joe Cocker, José Carreras and Chris de Burgh.

Fulda's wealth of baroque beauty is far from exhausted, there is much more to see. Among them are the Paulustor and the Hauptwache not far from the cathedral and the palace, as well as the ornate noble palaces once inhabited by wealthy court officials. The Palais Buttlar, built from 1737 onwards, is now home to the Tourist Info. The visitor truly walks through an architectural synthesis of the arts in this quarter.

Beautiful Art Nouveau in Darmstadt, Wiesbaden and Bad Nauheim 

Another place, another architecture: A center of Art Nouveau in Germany still lies in Darmstadt. Around 1900, Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse (1868-1937) promoted the founding here of a colony for young wild Art Nouveau artists on the Mathildenhöhe, which spread its radiance across the entire country. In addition, the blue-blooded man had rooms in Darmstadt's New Palace furnished by English representatives of Art Nouveau. Many other buildings and monuments with the typical curved lines and large-scale floral ornaments followed and continue to enchant the city to this day.

The Mathildenhöhe is and remains the highlight of the Darmstadt Art Nouveau. At the invitation of the grand duke, seven young artists of this "Art nouveau" realized their ideas of a modern living environment with their buildings from 1899 on. This was nothing less than a revolution. The famous Mathildenhöhe artists' colony was born and was soon regarded as an important pioneer of modernism. After the destruction during the war, striking buildings such as the Hochzeitsturm (Wedding Tower) were lovingly restored, and today parts of them serve as museums - and are on Germany's list of proposed UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

One encounters the Art Nouveau in Darmstadt, however, not only on Mathildenhöhe. The main train station, opened in 1912, also displays numerous Art Nouveau elements, and the Hessisches Landesmuseum (HLMD) has an entire section dedicated to the subject. The three-winged complex of Darmstadt's Art Nouveau baths, built from 1907 onwards, with its many pools, spa facilities and large sauna area shows off its most beautiful Art Nouveau décor, and the listed Dornheim Bridge and the House of Industrial Culture are other buildings worth seeing. Art Nouveau fans will truly get their money's worth here.

To the Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse the state also owes a very special jewel. In Bad Nauheim, 70 kilometers to the north, which was then as now one of the country's leading spas, a unique Art Nouveau spa complex was built from 1903 at the behest of the art-loving regent. With its spa courtyard, richly decorated bathhouses, fountains, figurines and lavishly ornamented waiting rooms, it is one of the most important testimonies to that architectural style.

The horseshoe-shaped drinking spa encloses an inner courtyard complete with walkways and a large concert shell. An octagonal fountain with a golden dome in the center of the drinking hall provides healing water. The Kurhaus, built from 1862 onwards, was extended by a large concert hall - richly decorated with abstract and figurative Art Nouveau paintings, it is a real gem. The complex is so beautiful that once the rich and powerful sought healing and well-being there.

In Wiesbaden, too, the epoch left behind architectural traces. In contrast to Darmstadt and Bad Nauheim, however, Art Nouveau seldom plays first fiddle here, preferring to be discovered in the once conservative city. During a building boom that began in the mid-1880s, Wiesbaden saw the construction of many magnificent buildings whose architects welcomed the new style, but primarily used it only discreetly in the design of the facades. Accordingly, Art Nouveau design features can be found on many buildings today, especially in the Dichterviertel and Rheingauviertel districts, but also in parts of the city center.

A main theme is the art nouveau but at the Museum Wiesbaden. The huge Art Nouveau collection of the art dealer and patron Ferdinand Wolfgang Neess, who died in 2020 and donated the works to the museum, is presented here as a permanent exhibition in the south wing. More than 500 objects worth a good 40 million euros bring the fin de siècle lifestyle back to life - emphatically putting Wiesbaden on the map of European Art Nouveau cities.

In the footsteps of Romanesque, Renaissance and Classicism

In Hesse enchanting examples of other important periods in the history of architecture. Thus, in addition to buildings from the Baroque and Art Nouveau periods, there are buildings worth seeing from, for example, the Romanesque period (around 950 to the 13th century), the Renaissance (15th and 16th centuries) and Classicism, which replaced the Baroque between 1770 and 1840. Here are some examples.

Massive stone walls and columns, striking round arches and arched windows, block-like capitals and walls, rather simple ground plans - all these are considered typical identifying features of Romanesque architecture, as can be found locally in many sacred buildings. This is the case, for example, with the Romanesque cathedral of Limburg, which towers majestically over the city on the Lahn River as a landmark and was consecrated in 1235. Since only a few people were able to read and write at the time the cathedral was built in the Middle Ages, the architecture is full of symbolism - the building has no fewer than seven towers, in reference to the seven sacraments.

Next to the Wetzlar Cathedral and St. Kilian's Chapel in Marburg, the Leonhard Church in Frankfurt am Main is also one of the showpieces of Romanesque architecture in Hesse. It is located in the old town not far from the Römer on the northern bank of the Main and was built in 1219 as a late Romanesque basilica. As the only one of Frankfurt's nine dotation churches, it remained almost undestroyed during the Second World War. Today, it is a branch church of the Frankfurt Cathedral parish and serves as a parish church for the English-speaking Catholic community.

Also buildings in the style of the Renaissance, which seeks to revive the formal language of antiquity in classical austerity, are frequently found in Hesse. For example, the Old Town Hall of Wiesbaden, which was completed in 1610 and is considered the oldest building in the state capital. Bad Hersfeld's town hall, located in the heart of the old town between Weinstraße and Kirchplatz, dates from almost the same year of construction. About three kilometers south of it, on the left bank of the Fulda, lies another gem of this era. A former Gothic moated castle was rebuilt here in the 16th century in Renaissance style into Eichhof Castle and from then on served as a summer residence for the superiors of the Hersfeld Imperial Abbey. The appearance, including the Renaissance gable and the magnificent interior, has hardly changed since then; a Luther room commemorates the reformer's visit. Plays are regularly performed on the castle stage during the Bad Hersfeld Festival.

Another Hessian magnificent castle comes along splendidly in the style of classicism. Wilhelmshöhe Palace is enthroned amid lush greenery in the famous Bergpark of Kassel, Hesse's third largest city. It was built around 1790 for Landgrave Wilhelm IX, from 1891 to 1918 it served as the summer residence of the imperial family and was a retreat for Wilhelm II. Today, the public has access and enjoys the Old Masters Picture Gallery, a collection of antiquities, the graphics collection and the Palace Museum. Since 2013, Wilhelmshöhe Palace and Bergpark have been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Hesse's state capital Wiesbaden also has a neoclassical city palace, located close to the city center. It was built from 1837 for the Dukes of Nassau and was later the second residence of Prussian kings. Since 1946, the property has served as the working place of the Hessian Parliament; today, the plenary hall offers a large foyer, a visitors' gallery and an information center, and the Hessian Broadcasting Corporation has its own studio in the building. In addition, colorful concerts and events take place in the large music hall - Hessen's great architecture is just often closely interwoven with everyday life.

Cover photo: Baroque garden splendor - the Orangerie in Fulda © ines39 - stock.adobe.com

In collaboration with Hesse tourism

Hiking through quiet low mountain ranges, old beech forests or orchards, paddling on the Lahn, looking at the most beautiful medieval half-timbered houses and soaking up the atmosphere of historic spas - Hessen makes romantic souls happy all around. But gourmets also get their money's worth on wine hikes, in Hessian butcher shops and with "Handkäs mit Musik", a pickled cheese. Reasons for a Vacation in Hesse there are enough!

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