In cooperation with the World Heritage Region Wartburg Hainich

A mighty palace complex, the scent of blossoms in the English Garden and Baroque theater delights - even today, the rule of former dukes shapes the cityscape and cultural life of the residential town of Gotha, which is nestled beautifully between the Thuringian Forest and the Hainich National Park. A tour of the Baroque Universe museum ensemble at Friedenstein Castle.

A gleaming white facade, round arches and massive corner towers. This is how Friedenstein Castle in Gotha has been enthroned since the 17th century. In Duke Ernst the Pious, the early Baroque palace had a builder who loved art, promoted the sciences and, in the midst of the Thirty Years' War, founded a state system that was quite progressive by the standards of the time and received recognition throughout Europe. High-ranking princes and state representatives came to pay their visit to the ducal residence. Prussian King Frederick the Great and Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, for example, were invited in later times. Whether the latter forgot his hat there at the time is not vouched for. Nevertheless, an original headdress of the French emperor is one of the exhibits in the Palace Museum, which is housed in the north and west wings of the palace. Other exhibits that bear witness to the noble family's 350-year collecting tradition include an elephant made of gold and silver, which comes from the court goldsmith's workshop of the well-known Johann Melchior Dinglinger, and the New Coin Cabinet, which displays original gold and silver coinage from antiquity to modern times. The special feature: The museum presents the exhibits in historically significant settings. Magnificent baroque stuccowork, playful ornaments in the rococo style, classicist wall reliefs and a large ancestral gallery make the ducal apartments, the Laubenzimmer and the representation rooms shine, through which museum visitors stroll on their tour of the castle museum.

The joy of art and the passion for collecting of the Gotha dukes is also manifested in the Ducal Museum, which is located at the foot of the castle and presents art from all over the world: There are Egyptian mummies, antique vases, gold jewelry from China and Japan to see. And then there is also high-ranking art hanging there! For example, by the Dutch and German masters Peter Paul Rubens and Caspar David Friedrich. The real highlight of the permanent exhibition, however, is a painting that is closely associated with Gotha: The Gotha Lovers, painted around 1480, which shows historically authenticated people who love each other dearly despite their unequal position at court. 

Browse through old writings  

In addition to the arts, the sciences also flourished in Gotha. Scholars such as Voltaire and Goethe frequented the court. In the ducal library dating from 1647, the presence of earlier intellectual greats can still be felt today. Prints and manuscripts from the Middle Ages to the present are gathered here, and two very special treasures are housed here: an original print of Luther's treatise "Of the Freedom of a Christian Man" and an Arabic manuscript from the early Middle Ages; both have been included by UNESCO in the list of World Documentary Heritage. Today, the Duke's Library is a research library that can be visited on guided tours. How about an evening tour during Museum Night, for example? 

The Historical Museum, which is also part of the Baroque Universe museum ensemble, offers interesting facts about mankind, including archaeological finds from prehistoric times. In the Museum of Nature in the west tower of the palace, an interactive exhibition invites children and young people in particular to join in. And if you feel like getting out into nature, you can enjoy a stroll through the extensive ducal park with its orangery and English Garden. 

Palm trees, fig trees and the scent of fresh lemons - exotic plants grow in the botanical garden of Friedenstein Castle © MGlahn
Palm trees, fig trees and the scent of fresh lemons - exotic plants grow in the botanical garden of Friedenstein Castle © MGlahn

Behind the scenes at the Ekhof Theater

What is a quick change machine? An ingenious construction that allows scenery changes at lightning speed. It is part of the baroque stage technology of the Ekhof Theater, which was built in Friedenstein Castle in 1687. For the effective baroque theater productions even a weather machine was made, which let it thunder and storm, if once again the weather god drove with capers into the production. The wooden stage equipment is still used today. However, it is only used during the Ekhof Festival, which presents plays from the 18th century every year in July and August. During the rest of the year, the precious stage construction is spared, but can be admired as a walk-in exhibit in the theater museum. What visitors:inside thereby experience: The Ekhof Theater was the first court theater in Germany and is considered the cradle of modern theater culture. Good to know: Further stage delights are provided by the Schlosshof Open Air, which transforms the inner courtyard of the castle into a concert setting in summer. 

Intimate theater pleasures: Just 165 people fit into the historic Ekhof Theater © MGlahn
Intimate theater pleasures: Just 165 people fit into the historic Ekhof Theater © MGlahn

500 Years of Reformation - Walking in Luther's Footsteps in Gotha 

Outside Friedenstein Castle, visitors can also travel back in time. The Gothic cloister, the chapter house and the sacristy have been preserved in the 700-year-old Augustinian monastery, the first monastery in Thuringia. Martin Luther stayed at the monastery as a monk from 1515 to 1516, shortly before he posted his 95 theses against the sale of indulgences on the castle church in Wittenberg. On his journey to the Diet of Worms, where Luther again defended his theses before emperors and kings, the reformer preached in the monastery's church. And in the late Gothic Margarethenkirche, the oldest building in the city, the reformer's teachings were proclaimed as early as 1522, one year after the Imperial Diet. The "Reformation up close" tour takes you to the Augustinian monastery and other sites of the Reformation, which celebrates its 500th anniversary this year in Gotha and elsewhere.

By train comfortably and without traffic jams to Gotha: Plan arrival.

Cover image: Surrounded by a green park, Friedenstein Castle watches over Gotha © Walkling

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