DAY 79: MEISSEN – SAXONY’S ANCIENT JEWEL


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!

 

The medieval town of Meissen – a perfectly preserved jewel on the banks of the River Elbe.

 

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.

 

Our vessel for the morning. One of the Sächsische-Dampfschiffahrt fleet of paddle steamers (apparently this is the largest and oldest fleet of historic paddle steamers in the world). Their 9 authentic side-wheel steamboats are all 100-150 years old, but beautifully maintained.

 

Paddling out of Dresden.

   

The river is quite low at the moment so we fit under the old bridges of Dresden just fine, though we  could see why the boats don’t run in early spring, when all the snows are melting and the river is 2-3m higher.

 

Cruising down the River Elbe on a sunny Sunday morning.

 

Sailing through the beautiful river landscapes of the Elbe Valley.

 

The vineyards around Seusslitz produce dry white wines. Some of these vineyards are almost 800 years old.

 

Sailing past the sandstone hills so characteristic of this part of Germany.

 

Cruising down the Elbe, which arises in the Krkonoše Mountains in Northern Czech Republic before traversing much of Bohemia (in the Czech Republic), then Saxony in Germany and flowing into the North Sea.

 

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.


Our first views of Meissen, as we rounded a bend in the river, took our breath away.

 

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).

 

Meissen Cathedral was built in 1260 and is known as being one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in Europe.

 

The imposing front facade of the cathedral, with the castle to the left. Both castle and cathedral face into the main square at the top of the hill.

 

Albrechtsburg Castle, the former residence of the House of Wettin.

 

An imposing view of Albrechtsburg Castle from the bottom of the hill.

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. 

 

The main banqueting hall at Albrechtsburg Castle.

 

This was once the main throne room. The statues around the room are all former rulers of Saxony.

 

Ascending one of the stone staircases up to the second floor (the castle has 4 in total, plus a basement where the kitchens were).

 

A private reading room on the second floor with amazingly complex ceiling vaulting (and an old heater in the corner).

 

One of the king’s audience chambers on the second floor. The detail in the painting of the ceiling and walls was amazing.

 

This secret little room was hidden behind a wall and was covered in old graffiti from the 19th century!

 

Meissen is famous for its porcelain. The area around the town has extensive local deposits of china clay (kaolin) and potter’s clay, and in 1710 Meissen porcelain was the first high quality porcelain to be produced outside of the Orient. This is an example of 18th century Meissen porcelain.

 

They also had displays of old armour, like this one, which was very cool.

 

Going back down one of the other 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.

 

Views South over the valley from Albrechtsburg Castle.

 

Views North over the valley from Albrechtsburg Castle.

 

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…

 

Lunch in Meissen anyone?

 

Our lunchtime views over the rooftops of the medieval town of Meissen.

 

Lingering over lunch…

 

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!

 

Meissen’s charming altstadt continued all the way down the hill.

 

Meandering our way down the hill, through the narrow cobbled streets of Meissen.

 

The central Markt Platz was about half way down the hill and used to be the heart of this old town.

 

Meissen – definitely a day trip to remember!

 

 

 

 

 

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