Gilded goblets made from ostrich eggs, bejeweled swords, shimmering crystal and agate bowls – and the largest, most exquisite green diamond in the world (a whopping 41 carats of glittering green light and color). Yes, there’s some serious bling to be eyeballed at the Dresden Green Vault in Germany – tops on our list of Dresden attractions.
The Green Vault (which comprises two museums in the Dresden Royal Palace) houses one of the most sumptuous collections of treasure in Europe.
Dresden attractions – “Florence on the Elbe”
You may know that in 1945, near the end of WWII, Dresden was virtually reduced to rubble by an Allied fire-bombing campaign. People still debate whether the bombing raid was justified, coming so late in the war.
The German city was one of Europe’s most beautiful – dubbed “Florence on the Elbe” for its lovely Baroque architecture.
In the raid, more than 75,000 buildings were destroyed and over 25,000 people killed.
Today, Dresden has been nearly completely rebuilt.
Most buildings have been reconstructed to look the way they did before the fire-bombing. Everything looks old, but shiny and “new” old. If you didn’t know, you’d think you’re looking at palaces and churches that have withstood centuries of time (but very clean ones).
The city is once again beautiful.
And not just for its Baroque skyline. In addition to its Baroque architecture and Green Vault, other Dresden attractions include its setting on the leafy green banks of the Elbe River – one of the most tranquil and scenic anywhere.
A king’s treasure in the dazzling Dresden Green Vault
But let’s get back to the treasure. After all, Dresden’s Green Vault – part of the world-renowned Dresden State Art Collection of 14 museums (and tops on the list of things to see in Dresden) – is one of the main reasons you want to visit Dresden, right?
It started with Augustus the Strong.
In 1697, he became ruler of Saxony, one of the largest territories in Europe (bigger than the present-day German state of Saxony). Like King Louis XIV of France, Augustus embarked on an extravagant building spree in Dresden, erecting magnificent Baroque castles and palaces. He commissioned a series of grand rooms and halls in his palace to showcase his valuables for visiting nobles and paying guests.
Historic Green Vault:
The rooms in the original Historic Green Vault (downstairs in the palace) are museum-quality themselves.
In one mirrored room, adorned with gold leaf and a painted ceiling, we gaped at intricate ivory sculptures. In another, we saw a dazzling display of rubies, diamonds, and jewel boxes.
All told, the Historic Green Vault has more than 3,000 bronze statuettes, gemstone vessels, jewels, shell tumblers and other precious objects to drool over.
Many are set out on cabinet shelves and tables (not behind glass) – allowing really up-close viewing.
Fortunately, rooms in the Historic Green Vault sustained little damage during the fire-bombing of WWII – they were protected by huge metal window shutters and doors. And the treasure had been transported to a fortress at the beginning of the war to keep it safe. (The Soviets ferreted everything away to Russia at the end of the war – but returned it all to Dresden in 1958.)
New Green Vault:
The New Green Vault upstairs has an equally jaw-dropping collection of jewels and gorgeous objects, but the rooms themselves are not part of the collection, and here the items are behind glass.
This is where you see the Dresden Green Diamond – considered the “sister” stone to the famous Blue Hope Diamond, which is similar in size. It probably came from India and, in 1768, was set in a hat ornament, surrounded by more than 400 smaller diamonds.
You might also be tempted to trade in your Starbucks for a cup of coffee from the Golden Coffee Service.
The court jeweler Johann Dinglinger created this fantastic coffee pot and pyramid of enameled cups ornamented with precious stones, rising from a gold platter decorated with ornately carved ivory figurines.
A good way to impress your guests, don’t you think?
Bicycling the Elbe
If the Green Vault isn’t enough, there are some 50 or more museums in Dresden you could explore.
Or you can sample Dresden’s outdoor delights.
We were game to bicycle the Elbe Biking Trail. The trail runs about 725 miles (1,165 kilometers) all the way along the Elbe River from the Czech border to the North Sea.
We only cycled a 16-mile (26-kilometer) level stretch from Radebeul to Pillnitz Castle, a former summer residence for the Saxon kings.
And it seemed like everyone and their dog was out this warm and sunny autumn day! People were running, walking, cycling and pushing baby strollers. We pedaled past villas and vineyards – where leaves on surrounding maple trees painted the landscape a vivid gold.
The steamships that travel up and down the river were also a colorful sight as they ferried onboard daytrippers, sightseers and bicyclists. These ships are part of the oldest and largest steamboat fleet in the world.
After, we toasted our bicycling expedition with beer from the Radeberger Brewery.
Founded in 1872, it was the first brewery in Germany to brew beer in the traditional Pilsner style that Saxons prefer.
Today, there are over 600 breweries in the Saxony region. (And in case you’re not sure what a Pilsener-style beer tastes like, we can tell you it’s kind of sweet with a dry bitterish finish.)
Other things to do in Dresden?
Yes, there are plenty more things to do in Dresden…
Like seeing the singing drain pipes of Kunsthofpassage. Visiting the Rococo-style Zwinger Palace (with the world’s largest porcelain collection, and the Old Masters Gallery of European paintings by Titian, Raphael and Correggio). Window shopping in the Old Town (chocolates anyone?).
And going to church (really!) – you can climb to the top of the Frauenkirche tower for great city views.
But this is where our tale ends.
We wish we’d had time to explore more of the city and take in the other places to see in Dresden.
And we’d love to take another peek at that Green Diamond!
All photos are © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase (except where noted)