Over the medieval town centre of Schmalkalden towers Wilhelmsburg Palace, built between 1585 and 1590 as a secondary residence for the Hessian landgraves.
With its nearly fully intact outbuildings, original interior structure, magnificently painted ceilings and walls, and stucco ornament, the ensemble is a unique gem among Germany’s Renaissance palaces.
The Banquet Halls, the Gentlemen’s Kitchen, and above all the imposing three-storey Palace Chapel are a feast for the eyes. It was in the chapel at Wilhelmsburg Palace that the Protestant creed for the first time assumed architectural form: altar, pulpit and organ are arranged along a single vertical axis. When attending services, the Hessian landgrave sat opposite this axis in the ruler’s gallery. The Renaissance organ, which was heard for the first time on 23 May 1590, is the oldest wooden organ in Thuringia still in use. Organ concerts are presented regularly as part of an international concert series.
History was written in Schmalkalden in the 16th century. The Schmalkaldic League, founded in 1530, was the first major defensive alliance of Protestant states. In 1537 Martin Luther spent several weeks in the town to attend one of the League’s most important meetings. It is here that he read out for the first time the Articles of Schmalkalden, the declaration of independence of the Protestant states. The articles were entered in the Book of Concord of the Protestant Church in 1580.
Schmalkalden is also home to the oldest profane wall paintings in Central Europe. They date to the era of St. Elisabeth and illustrate a popular medieval epic poem on the exploits of the knight Iwein, a heroic member of King Arthur’s round table. A perfect replica of the original room containing the paintings can be viewed at Wilhelmsburg Palace, along with a virtual animation in a 3D cinema.