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Nymphenburg Palace

A recreation area with many historic and cultural attractions

Visiting the palace of Nymphenburg is a three-in-one experience. Firstly, visitors will get an idea of how much Munich has expanded over the last 200 years—the palace was initially a summer country residence and now the area around it is a relatively central suburb of the city. Secondly, the palace and its outbuildings are home to a unique collection of art and architecture. Finally, however hot the weather, however full the coach and car park, it is one of the few places in town where nature-lovers can always find a quiet spot in beautiful parklands.

In 1662, after ten years of marriage, Henriette Adelaide of Savoy gave birth to Maximilian II Emanuel, the long-awaited heir to the throne of Elector Ferdinand Maria. As a gift to his wife, Ferdinand Maria had purchased a plot of land west of Munich as the site of a summer villa. The Italianate building was to take the shape of a cubic pavilion with a small, geometrically arranged Italian garden. Construction was begun in 1664 under the supervision of Italian architect Agostino Barelli and was almost completed by 1679, when Max Emanuel ascended the throne.
It was the very epitome of the Baroque architectural style, which is characterized by a sense of dynamism, symmetry and realism, with strict attention to detail. In keeping with many rulers of the period, Max Emanuel took a great interest in art and architecture. For this reason Enrico Zuccalli, one of the leading architects of the time and master of what has come to be known as Munich High Baroque, was commissioned to enlarge Nymphenburg in 1701, and he added the north and south wings we admire today. At the same time the palace grounds were expanded and redesigned by Charles Carbonet, a pupil of Le Nôtre, according to the latest precepts of French landscape architecture. And French influence did not end there. Max Emanuel spent an 11-year exile in Paris while Bavaria was under Austrian rule, returning in 1715 with some of the most sought-after French and French-trained architects of the day and set about transforming his palaces, among them Nymphenburg, into modern masterpieces. Among the many architects involved were Joseph Effner and Dominique Girard, who together conceived an overall plan for Nymphenburg Palace, giving it the approximate shape and size it has today. In the mid- to late 18-th century, Rococo came into fashion and began to dominate art and architecture. The Great Hall of the palace and the Amalienburg garden pavilion are two fine examples of Rococo’s swirling stuccowork, ornate detail and ingenious use of light and space. After Max Emanuel passed away, in 1726, his successors continued to make changes to the palace. In 1792 the grounds were opened to the public by Elector Karl Theodor.

Nymphenburg Palace offers a number of attractions, all of which are worth visiting: the Nymphenburg Porcelain Manufactory, the Marstall Museum, two concert halls, the Museum of Mankind and Nature, a 200-acre park, four magnificent garden pavilions (Pagodenburg, Badenburg, Magdalenenklause and Amalienburg), the palace chapel and, last but not least, the palace itself.

Walk up the gray stone steps that lead to the palace and the first room you enter is the Great Hall, all white and gold, with a glowing ceiling fresco (1756) depicting the goddess Flora, a mythological water-nymph, after whom the palace is named. This room, created by François Cuvilliés the Elder and Johann Baptist Zimmermann, is truly an evocation of the age when grand balls and festivities were part of European court life, and is one of the finest examples of late Rococo in Bavaria.


To the right of the Great Hall is the northern wing of the palace, where the Elector’s apartments lie. Alongside two antechambers, the bedroom and the north cabinet is Max Emanuel’s Gallery of Beauties, with five portraits of women at the court of King Louis XIV of France. The rooms were redecorated several times by various inhabitants and much of the 18th-century furniture on display here today belonged to the last Elector to have lived here. Turn to the left from the Great Hall and you enter the southern wing, where the Electors’ wives resided. Visitors should look out for the cabinet designed by Cuvilliés the Elder decorated in a chinoiserie-style popular in the 18th century and the bedroom where Ludwig II was born. In the former dining room lies another Gallery of Beauties, this time belonging to Ludwig I and containing no less than 36 portraits of beautiful women, including the Irish femme fatale Lola Montez, whose alliance with Ludwig sparked off the 1848 Revolution. The second floor of the palace is the residence of Duke Franz of Bavaria and therefore closed to the public.

The Marstall Museum is also housed in the southern wing of the palace, in the former horse stables. Located on the ground floor, it is home to the largest collection of coaches and carriages in the world, lending visitors insight into the history of horse-drawn vehicles over the centuries. The 1740 glass coronation coach of Elector Karl Albrecht can be admired alongside more up-to-date conveyances that resemble early motorcars and the extravagant collection of coaches and sleighs belonging to Ludwig II, including the state coach made for his marriage to Duchess Sophie of Bavaria, a fairy-tale creation that is completely gilded inside and out. Though the marriage never took place, the coach was used by Ludwig II for nocturnal journeys he liked to take between castles. The second floor of the Marstall Museum contains the Bäuml Porcelain Collection, the largest and best collection of Nymphenburg porcelain anywhere.
The northern wing of the palace houses a number of further attractions, including the palace chapel, two concert halls (Orangery and Hubertussaal) and the Museum of Mankind and Nature (Museum Mensch und Natur)—a perennial favorite among families, offering lively, interactive exhibitions devoted to the history of the earth, from four billion years ago until today.

Nymphenburg Park began as a small, geometrically arranged Italian garden, later evolving into a 200-acre, French-style Baroque park, with a fountain and canal. In the 18th century, the canal was used for gondolas and today serves as an alfresco ice-rink in the wintertime. The “natural” landscape garden in the English style was added to the formal garden in the early 19th century by Friedrich Ludwig von Sckell, who had designed Munich’s English Garden in 1789. Of the four “Schlösschen” (little palaces) in the grounds the Pagodenburg was the first to be built, in 1716, by Joseph Effner. The octagonal building was a place where the elector and his friends would meet to play cards and chess, or simply rest after playing outside games, such as “Mailspiel,” which was similar to golf. The central salon on the ground floor, with its white and blue Dutch tiles and ornamental painting, seems decidedly European compared with the chinoiserie style of the upper storey with its Chinese Cabinet. A similar style can be found in the Badenburg and the Amalienburg.

As the name implies, the Badenburg was created as a bathing pavilion, carrying on the tradition of Roman and Turkish bathing cultures. The bath itself resembles what we would call a swimming pool today, and is adorned with blue and white Dutch tiles and ceiling frescoes showing mythological bathing scenes. The pavilion also has an entrance hall, bedroom, cabinet, dressing room and a magnificent banqueting hall.

The Magdalenenklause, built by Effner in the style of an artificial ruin, was conceived as a hermitage, a symbol of transience to offset the earthly delights embodied in the other park buildings. The interior has a number of rooms, the largest of which contains an altar and is decorated with seashells.

Finally there is the Amalienburg, a gem of Rococo architecture. This hunting lodge was a gift to Maria Amalia from Elector Karl Albrecht. It was created by Cuvilliés the Elder, in collaboration with Zimmermann. The silver-chased décor of its most spectacular room, the circular Hall of Mirrors (Spiegelsaal), alludes to the pleasures of hunting, gardening and dining in imaginative depictions, while the numerous mirrors after which it is named give the illusion of infinite light and space. Other rooms include the bedroom, cabinet, kitchen and the “dog and gun room,” where the hounds were kept.

Nymphenburg Palace is the ideal place to spend a leisurely day either relaxing in the park or visiting its many attractions.

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