Unlike the Munich Residence, which evolved over some five hundred years and thus incorporates the styles of quite different periods, the Würzburg Residence was built in its entirety, with short interruptions, almost within a single generation.
The architects drew their inspiration from an area extending from Vienna to Paris and from Genoa and Venice to Amsterdam. The building embodies the attainments of Western architecture of its day, French château architecture, Viennese baroque and the religious and secular architecture of northern Italy and is a synthesis of the arts of astonishing universality.
The Würzburg court architect, Balthasar Neumann, who was entrused with the coordination of the massive building project, had to work not only with the leading architects of Germany and France – with Lucas von Hildebrandt and Maximilian von Welsch, with Robert de Cotte and Germain Boffrand – but also with numerous artists such as the Italian Antonio Bossi, the "ornamentation genius" of the Würzburg Residence, the gifted sculptors and woodcarvers Johann Wolfgang van der Auwera from Würzburg and Georg Adam Guthmann from Munich, and not least with Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, the greatest fresco painter of the 18th century.
Balthasar Neumann's incomparable suite of rooms – vestibule, staircase, White Hall and Imperial Hall – one of the most magnificent in the history of palace architecture, was decorated and furnished by these artists and craftsmen in a joint creative undertaking which also produced "Würzburg rococo", the most exuberant of all the variations of this style in Germany.
The Würzburg Residence is moreover by no means the work of the artists alone, but equally that of its various great owners, who, in addition to providing the financial and political means, gave this gigantic building international standing through their widespread connections, which extended far beyond their own lands. These owners were the Counts of Schönborn.
The former residence of the Würzburg prince-bishops is one of the most important baroque palaces in Europe. It was begun for Prince-Bishop Johann Philipp Franz von Schönborn by the then young and unknown architect Balthasar Neumann (1687-1753); the shell of the palace was built from 1720 to 1744 and the interior completed in 1780. By the time the massive building was finished, the gifted architect had also served the brother and second successor of Johann Philipp, Friedrich Carl von Schönborn, and the two following Würzburg prince-bishops. The building costs amounted to a total of around 1.5 million florins – at a time when one florin represented a week's wages for a day labourer this was a massive sum.
On 16 March 1945, only a few weeks before the end of the Second World War, a devastating air raid destroyed 90 percent of the Würzburg old town. The Residence was almost completely burnt out. From the attic the fire ate down through wooden ceilings and floors, and all the furnishings and wall panelling it had not been possible to store elsewhere were devoured by the flames. Only the core of the Residence, the vestibule, Garden Hall, White Hall, staircase and Imperial Hall with Tiepolo's frescos were saved. Neumann's stone vaults withstood the collapse of the burning attic. The rebuilding process cost 20 million euros
The original castle on the Marienberg, a hill which was first settled in the late Bronze Age, was probably a small fort built early in the 8th centuryby the Franconian-Thuringian dukes. The circular Marienkapelle is one of the oldest church buildings in South Germany and dates from around 1000. From 1200 an unusually large castle was built, which was extended during the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. For half a millennium, from around 1250 to 1720, the Marienberg was the ruling seat of the Würzburg prince-bishops, who also held the title of Duke of East Franconia.
Following the storming of the castle in 1631 by the Swedes, Prince-Bishop Johann Philipp von Schönborn built a circle of massive bastions to protect the Marienberg. In 1945 the fortress was almost completely burned out, and its reconstruction was only completed in 1990.
The massive, four-storey tower was built in 1724-1729 by Balthasar Neumann to guard the south flank of the fortress. Above the three levels for heavy artillery is a platform for riflemen. In addition to the normal firing slits it has a further 21 vertical openings, angled downwards: these are the "Maschikulis" from which the tower takes its name.
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