The current design of Weimar’s city palace, the residence of the Dukes of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, has developed over more than 500 years of construction work.
Situated on the bank of the river Ilm, the palace was originally built on the site of a medieval moated castle and was first mentioned in documents at the end of the 10th century.
The palace was extensively redesigned after a fire in 1424 and from the middle of the 16th century, when Weimar became the dukes’ permanent residence. In 1618, the palace was burnt down again. Reconstruction work began almost right away in 1619 in accordance with designs drawn up by the Italian architect Giovanni Bonalino. The palace chapel was completed by 1630; Johann Sebastian Bach worked there from 1708 to 1717. After the Thirty Years War , the planned four-wing annex was redesigned as a Baroque three-wing annex open to the south under the supervision of Johann Moritz Richter the Elder.
In the southwestern corner of the Grand Ducal Palace in Weimar, the “Ensemble Bastille” located outside the palace courtyard attests to the gradual transformation of the Ernestine residence from castle to Renaissance palace.
The portal’s ornamental reliefs incorporate the coat of arms of the Electorate of Saxony, symbolising the unbroken Ernestine claim to the title of prince elector. The tower, which was topped with a Baroque helmet in the 18th century, was originally part of the medieval castle keep. In future, exhibition rooms in the Ensemble Bastille are to be allocated to the Treasure House Thuringia for a presentation of Thuringia’s residences, to the Castle Road Thuringia as cultural tourism initiative and to exhibits on the older history of the palace before the classical period.
In 1774, the three-wing annex was again destroyed by fire, with only the enclosure walls left standing. Duke Carl August convened a palace construction commission under the direction of Johann Wolfgang Goethe to commence reconstruction work in 1789. The reconstruction work continued until 1803, with Goethe making a significant contribution. The architects Johann August Arens, Nicolaus Friedrich Thouret and Heinrich Gentz successively created a new residence incorporating the preserved enclosure walls of the east and north wings. The highlights of the classical interior are the staircase and the ballroom. The Berlin sculptor Christian Friedrich Tieck was commissioned to furnish the premises with sculptures.
In 1816, Clemens Wenzeslaus Coudray started planning the west wing; construction work on this wing was completed in 1847 when the palace chapel was consecrated. Along with the ducal family’s private chambers, the west wing houses the poet’s rooms furnished by Grand Duchess Maria Pawlowna between 1835 and 1847. These are memorial rooms in honour of Christoph Martin Wieland, Johann Gottfried Herder, Friedrich Schiller and Johann Wolfgang Goethe.
The construction of the south wing in 1912 to 1914 under supervision of Grand Duke Wilhelm Ernst closed off the courtyard, which opened towards the park. The city palace has been used as a museum since 1923. It is also the administrative headquarters of the Klassik Stiftung Weimar.
The palace museum is located in the north, east and west wings of the former residential palace. The core of the collection is the former grand ducal art collection spanning medieval to modern times (around 1900).
It is organised according to the history of the collection and is integrated into the historical palace rooms with their part original furnishings. The highlights of this collection are the Cranach Gallery with other examples of Old German painting located on the ground floor and works by Caspar David Friedrich, Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein, Auguste Rodin and Max Beckmann.
Sculptures and crafts dated back around 1800 are also displayed on the piano nobile. These include furniture from David Roentgen’s workshop, a number of articles from the dowry of the Tsar’s daughter Maria Pawlowna, and porcelains made by European manufacturers. Works by the Weimar school of painting are displayed on the 2nd floor. The modern French and German works dated back around 1900 were largely acquired by Count Harry Kessler, the former director of the Grand Ducal Museum of Arts and Crafts (today the Neue Museum Weimar).