When you think of Potsdam, you think of Sanssouci and Frederick the Great. Built from 1740 to 1745 in the Rococo style, the palace became the personal retreat of the king. Following the example of the Rheinsberg palace, he held a court of muses here at which he received friends and interesting guests for gatherings and concerts. 100 years after the cornerstone was laid, his great-grandnephew Friedrich Wilhelm IV occupied the palace. He ordered the park to be extended, remodelled and furnished with new buildings in the Italian style. Here Friedrich Wilhelm IV fulfilled his dream of the South.
Colonnades in the forecourt of Sanssouci
The forecourt is located on the northern side of Sanssouci. It is surrounded by two quarter circles with a total of 48 Corinthian columns arranged in pairs. The design for the colonnades is by W. von Knobelsdorff and their execution was carried out by the Potsdam sculptor F.C. Glume. Official guests came by coach up a steep slope and were received here by the king. The visitors’ entrance to the palace is still found here today.
Frederick’s grave is found on the eastern side of the terrace. This tomb was created on the personal order of the king at the same time as the construction of Sanssouci. It was only through a twist of fate that he had escaped execution by his father the Soldier King after his failed escape bid in 1730. As punishment he was forced to witness the execution of his friend Katte. In his will he left precise instructions for his own burial: “I have lived as a philosopher and wish to be buried as one, without pomp or splendour and without the least ceremony … I am to be buried by the light of a lantern at midnight on the third day after my death, without any procession, in the grave on the terrace right of the palace, which I have prepared alongside my dogs…” Only on 17 August 1991, exactly 205 years after his death, was Frederick’s coffin ceremonially laid to rest in its intended location.
Sanssouci garden parterre with Great Fountain and group of figures of Juno
The Water Pool and the Great Fountain are situated at the intersection of the park’s two axes. Around them stand 12 marble figures alternating with Roman benches. These allegorical figures came from the workshops of the French sculptors J.B. Pigalle and F.G. Adam, and were brought to Sanssouci as gifts from the French King to Frederick the Great. In the 19th Century the small quatrefoil pool with a group of figures centred on Thetis was demolished and the parterre remodelled as part of the redevelopment by Friedrich Wilhelm IV.
Cherry blossoms in the park at Sanssouci
Cherries, “Prunus” in Latin, are a symbol of love and belong to the rose family. They held a special meaning for Frederick the Great. Of all fruit types, he loved them the most. However, grapes, apricots, bananas, pineapples, melons and figs also had to be on his table, regardless of the season. In order not to be reliant on expensive imports, he had fruit trees planted in the park and citrus fruits cultivated in the Orangery. Grapes on espaliers and figs behind glass grew on the southward facing terraces of the palace. In contrast to the time of Frederick, today white and pink ornamental cherries in spring delight the eyes of visitors in addition to these white fruit trees.
Frederick the Great’s reign was marked by the Age of Absolutism. Louis XV and his mistress Madame Pompadour ruled in France, Peter III and later his widow Tsarina Catherine the Great in Russia and the royal couple Maria Theresa and Emperor Franz I in Austria. All these rulers had a common desire for appropriate representation. The lordly nature and fairytale richness of the residences of Versailles, Zarskoje Selo and Schönbrunn remain impressive up to the present day. With the rise of Prussia as the fifth major power in Europe, Frederick the Great felt compelled to construct a palace of the appropriate size and splendour. In 1763 he charged his architect J.G. Büring with the building of the New Palace. Despite the Seven Years’ War, it proved possible to raise the inconceivable sum of 60 Million Thalers for the project.
Campanile of the Friedenskirche
The ascent of Friedrich Wilhelm IV to the throne ushered in frenetic building activity in and around Potsdam. Following the example of the Church of the Redeemer in Sacrow, a building complex in the style of Italian cloisters was created on the site of the former kitchen garden near the Green Gate. The king himself provided the designs, which he had his architect L. Persius rework.