Schwetzingen Gardens

Story and photos by A.L. Shaff
Contributing writer

The lavish gardens of the Prince Elector’s Summer Residence in Schwetzingen are dressed in their finest and await the dance to begin.  Anticipating acceptance to the UNESCO World Heritage list of 2012, to join such honored sites as the Great Wall of China and the Palace at Versailles, Schwetzingen has turned its gardens into an unmatched floral paradise. Summer 2011 presents a perfect time to enjoy that beauty!

Schwetzingen lies just south of Mannheim and west of Heidelberg with easy autobahn A5 or A6 access. The Summer Residence of Prince Elector Carl Theodor (1724-1799) served as a hunting lodge, which he extended into a glorious baroque and rococo palace dedicated to extravagance and beauty.

The entire residence complex in Schwetzingen has remained intact for more than 300 years, thus providing insight into life during that era. The near-perfect melding of the three parts of the ensemble (city, residence and gardens) joins nature and man-made beauty in close harmony.

Nowhere in the world has contrasting the French stylized gardens and the English wild, natural gardens proved as successful. The fact that so many cultural and architectural designs remain in one royal residence indicates the spirit of preservation in modern Schwetzingen.  The buildings and gardens have been painstakingly renovated to their 18th century baroque/rococo style.

The immense sphere of the circular parterre appears as a rainbow mosaic of floral pictures and 3D images. Spotted throughout the garden, bisque-white statues of gods and goddesses represent the seasons or particular Greek and Roman myths of hunting and nature in romantic stylization.

Within the gardens, the bath house, the garden mosque and the Apollo Temple demand special attention.

The bath house seems more like a staged setting for an opera than a place to bathe. 

Gilded statues hover above intricate parqay floors that seem to echo the music of Mozart and contemporaries who created the music heard within these walls during an age of excess.

In its quiet setting, the pink garden mosque with tall minarets and domes impresses with its monumental proportions. Surrounding a silent inner court, the mosque invites introspection and prayer. As the last of such once-popular edifice, it has survived the removal or destruction of similar mosques from most European palaces. 

Temples dedicated to Greek and Roman gods stand in half-hidden niches throughout the gardens, but none as impressive and fun as the Apollo Temple.  Rising high above a lower grotto, the statue of this god of the sun rules grandly over the rest of the park. Steps lead up to a medium level then drop into the grotto where a few stairs lead to Apollo’s level.  For family and kids, this part of the garden provides a shared family photo moment to cherish.

Families can share the entire day in Schwetzingen by touring the palace then walking the gardens to enjoy the flowers and chase through intricate mazes. Then, as the sun sets, an open-air dinner at a Hof restaurant outside the gates provides a pleasing closing of the day.

Even a half day at Schwetzingen gardens, then a trip to nearby Heidelberg’s castle combines for an experience of beauty and history rolled up with great photographs to share with the kids, with visitors from the states or the folks back home.

Set the GPS for Schwetzingen Castle and follow your heart to the rainbow!

Summer Hours

Castle: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday

Gardens: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday