Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Europe 2017: Sanspareil Rock Garden, Germany

We're in Germany visiting family and are trying to squeeze in as many tourist activities possible, weather permitting. The first couple of days were hot and muggy, with little relief overnight. Nobody has air conditioning, so there's no escaping the oppressive stickiness. Fortunately, a series of rainstorms on night 2 took the edge off, and day 3 was a lot more pleasant, albeit very wet at times.



Our destination for the day was the Sanspareil Rock Garden near the city of Bayreuth in Northern Bavaria. It's definitely not what you might think when you hear the word "rock garden." Instead, it's a 35-acre (14 hectare) beech grove which during 1744-1748 was transformed into a woodland fantasy at the behest of Margrave Frederick of Bayreuth and his wife, Margravine Wilhelmina, the rulers of the principality of Bayreuth. As was typical of that age, the ruling nobility had seemingly unlimited funds to build whatever their imagination (or that of their court architects) could dream up.

According to the sign you see below, the name Sanspareil "is said to originate from the reaction of a lady of the court in 1746 who exclaimed: Ah, c'est sans pareil ! (It has no equal.)"



Margrave Frederick first come upon the enchanted beech grove some 20 miles outside of Bayreuth on a hunting expedition, and he liked it so much that he had it transformed into a garden. Court architect Joseph Saint-Pierre drew up ambitious plans that encompassed both natural features, such as the existing rock formations, and man-made structures, some of which were quite exotic:

Aeolus Grotto with temple (no longer in existence)

In spite of the artifice, one main tenet was to build in harmony with nature. Margravine Wilhelmina is quoted as saying that "Nature herself was the architect."

Speaking of Wilhelmina, she was fascinated with the life of Telemachus, the son of Odysseus, who had to overcome many trials and tribulations on his quest to find his father (described in the first four books of Homer's Odyssey), and she designated rocks and grottoes in the forest as stations along Telemachus's journey. (From an early 21st century perspective, the pursuits of the wealthy in the 18th century seem frivolous indeed.) In addition, there was an ambitious literary program that included performances in the open-air rock theater, which is still in existence today.

What did fail, however, were attempts to install ambitious water features throughout the forest. When it became clear that the fountains the Margraves considered essential for the success of their woodland fantasy garden would never become reality, they lost interest in the project.

Sanspareil did remain a popular destination for the rest of the 18th century, but after the last Margrave abdicated in 1791 and Bayreuth became first a Prussian province and then part of the Kingdom of Bavaria, Sanspareil fell into oblivion and disrepair.

It wasn't until after World War II that restorations began. The original wooden structures are long gone. What remains are the open-air theater, the Oriental Building (the residence of the Margraves), and the Kitchen Building (now a charming café where we had an early lunch).

Today, the Sanspareil Rock Garden is an airy beech forest in the country where everyday worries seem as far away as the rest of civilization. We'd experienced torrential downpours on the Autobahn on our way to Bayreuth, but by the time we got to Sanspareil, the rain had stopped. Even though there were several cars at the parking lot, we saw nobody else on the paths. The forest was completely quiet, the only noise from the water dripping from the trees. Walking through the garden was pure magic--magic I hope I was able to capture in my photos.

Road through the Sanspareil beech forest

Do you get the idea that it rains here a lot? In fact, the groundskeeper I met said that on the morning of our visit it had rained over half an inch in just a few minutes.

One of many natural rock formations

European beech (Fagus sylvatica)





Split rock

Stone steps up to Belvedere Rock where three buildings once stood


Steps down

Open-air theater built to resemble a ruin

This is the best preserved structure at Sanspareil. In fact, it's said to be fairly unchanged since its construction in 1744.


The orchestra pit is behind the low wall in the photo above. The audience stood (or possibly sat) beyond in the grotto. Since 1985, a Bayreuth theater company (Studiobühne Bayreuth) has been using this venue for summer performances.



Grotto off to the side of the rock theatre


Another split rock


Note the trailing ivy 
Propped-up rock with out-of-place-looking construction fence



The most impressive of the split-rock formations at Sanspareil




Now we're at the other end of the garden near the parking lot. The building you see below is the Morgenländischer Bau (Oriental Building) where the Margraves stayed when visiting Sanspareil.




The interior courtyard was built around this beech. It may not seem particularly massive, but it was there when the structure was built in 1746-1747.

The original parterre garden was simplified in the late 1700s and then disappeared completely. It was rebuilt in its current form in 1987 based on an old etching.

This building was originally the kitchen. Now it houses a small cafe that's open in the summer months.

Tables outside the cafe


We had a simply but tasty lunch here

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20 comments:

  1. That lush greeness! It leaves me speechless.. I love, adore the green, very green atmosphere of those temperate climate gardens.. heat ruins everything here. Thanks for sharing these wonderful and tantalazing pictures. Greetings from Argentina.

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    1. I know exactly how you feel! The greenness was almost overwhelming. The forest had a fairytale quality to it, just like Kris said in her comment below.

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    2. Please more pictures! :-)

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  2. It looks like something out of a fairy tale. Beautiful, and so very green!

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    1. Yes, it did feel like walking through a fairytale forest. But a forest full of friendly creature, not leprechauns and goblins.

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  3. Beautiful Gerhard ! The rock features are wonderful. All those fantastical greenery-draped walk throughs.

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    1. They must get a tremendous amount of rain for everything to be so green. Even more than my mother gets at her house about an hour and half away.

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  4. Wow, that's amazing. The stairway is so beautifully crafted. All the stonework must have taken years, and it, and the Beech, survived WWII?

    You are missing some horrible July weather back in California, by the way. 1/2" of rain in a few minutes? Can't imagine.

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    1. It was hot (90°F) and muggy earlier in the week but now it's cooled off. Occasional rain almost every day. No wonder everything is so green!

      The Sanspareil Rock Garden sustained any damage in WWII. The allies targeted major cities.

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  5. That is SO GREEN! It kind of gives new meaning to the idea of green. What an enchanting place. Pam/Digging: penick.net

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    1. My eyeballs went into shock when they saw this intense level of greenness. Call it the German Amazon!!!

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  6. Thank you for this truly magical tour. Your pictures transported me right onto those wonderful paths and steps. What a lovely place.

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  7. Wow, c'est sans pareil! (indeed) And so very green...

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    1. It was greener even than what I'm used to do from the PNW!

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  8. Hello Gerhard,
    found your american blog - and be surprised to see pictures from Franconia! Sanspareil is so close to me, but I never went there. Was always curious how it looks like. Thanks for sharing. Yes, I know, it's a shame!
    Greetings from Germany
    Sigrid

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    1. Sigrid, I know exactly how it goes. It's only human to ignore places close to where we live because we think we can visit them whenever we want--but then we never do. That has happened to me many times. After all, it's taken me all these years to finally visit Sanspareil :-).

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  9. You did indeed succeed in capturing the magic. Wonderful!

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  10. Rocks, moss and trees. What could be better. Wouldn't you love to attend a performance in that theater?

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  11. Thanks for sharing. The size of those beech trees!

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