A marvellous day in Meissen…
After spending the last couple of days in Dresden, learning about the history of this region, we have heard so much about Meissen, the little town that used to be the capital of Saxony. So we decided to take ourselves to Meissen for the day, just to see what all the fuss is about… and boy did we discover a jewel of a town!
Seeing as it was such a beautiful summer’s day we decided to cruise up the River Elbe from Dresden to Meissen on one of the old paddle steamers that travel up and down this part of the river. With the sun shining, the river gently flowing around us and freshly made cappuccinos delivered to our table, this was a most enjoyable way to travel. We passed farming villages, old castles and numerous vineyards on our 2 hour journey North along the Elbe, arriving in Meissen pleasantly relaxed and ready to explore.
The view as we approached Meissen was quite spectacular. With its defensive position atop a hill, high above the river and surrounding valleys, Meissen dominates the local landscape.
Meissen was founded as a German town in 929 and came under the control of the House of Wettin, Saxony’s ruling family, in 1087. It remained the capital of Saxony until 1485, when the Wettin dynasty moved the capital to Dresden. Meissen’s fame and importance as a city therefore peaked in the Middle Ages, and the old town is a wonderful example of medieval architecture and town planning. Most impressive of all are the main castle, Albrechtsburg Castle (the imposing white edifice visible from the river), and Meissen Cathedral (the black towers visible from the river).
Albrechtsburg Castle was constructed by the Wettin family in the Middle Ages in the Gothic style and has been amazingly well preserved and restored. The whole castle is open to the public and is in effect a museum, show-casing Gothic architecture and how the royals would have lived all those centuries ago. We spent hours wandering through the castle, marvelling at the art pieces, murals, vaulted ceilings, old windows and beautifully crafted stone staircases.
Albrechtsburg was by far one of the best castles we’ve seen yet. It may not have the fairy-tale beauty of Neuschenwanstein, but it’s more impressive in many ways because you can see how people lived there. Neuschwenstein was Ludwig II’s dream, a fantasy never fully realised; whereas Albrechtsburg was a functional royal residence and court for years – it felt somehow so much more real for that. The other reason I think Albrechtsburg Castle made such an impression on us is because we were allowed to go through it on our own. We had audio guides that gave us the relevant history and information, but being able to go through the castle at our own pace and on our own greatly enhanced the experience (you can only visit Neuschwenstein as part of a guided tour with a guide that follows a script, word for word, the whole time – an arrangement that was not all that conducive to soaking up the atmosphere). It also probably helped that Meissen was virtually empty today (guess everyone’s at the Dresden Folk Festival maybe?). So we got the whole place almost to our selves and got to really enjoy the sights and soak up the atmosphere.
After our self-guided tour of Albrechtsburg Castle we went in search of sustenance and found a great little restaurant, perched on the edge of the Upper Town, at the top of the hill. The views from the restaurant over the Lower Town of Meissen were great, and lunch wasn’t bad either. We lingered there for a bit, just enjoying the scenery…
After lunch we gradually meandered our way down the narrow, winding cobbled streets, through the rest of Meissen’s altstadt. The whole town is like a postcard, with terracotta-tiled, white-washed, wooden-framed buildings all squeezed together along streets that all ultimately lead to the Markt Platz (translation – Market Square). It was one of the better day trips we’ve had and definitely one we’ll remember!