Aerial view of Heidelberg Palace

Renaissance garden artThe garden

A visit to Heidelberg Palace must include a walk through the romantic palace garden, the once famous Hortus Palatinus. The Artillery Garden with its ornate Elizabeth Gate offers beautiful views of the palace and town.

Painting of Heidelberg Palace with the Hortus Palatinus, Jacques Fouquières, oil on canvas, 1620

Jacques Fouquières painted the garden in its ideal state circa 1620.

Fortifications become gardens

From before the castle's founding in the 13th century to the early 17th century, strategic considerations had left little space for a pure pleasure garden. Massive fortifications with ramparts, towers and casemates surround Heidelberg Palace. Prince-Elector Friedrich V had the Hortus Palatinus, a representative palace garden, installed between 1616 and 1619.

Fountain with "Father Rhine" in the garden at Heidelberg Palace

Fountain with "Father Rhine"

Representation and the pleasure of a private garden

The Hortus Palatinus was planned as an artistic synthesis. Grottoes, ornate beds, intimate garden alcoves, and "magical machines" were planned across staggered terraces, for the pleasure of courtly society. Contemporaries praised the representative garden complex as the "eighth wonder of the world." However, today, it is uncertain how many of the plans were implemented. In the western area of the palace grounds, old fortifications gave way to the garden. The Artillery Garden was built here as a walled-in, private pleasure garden for Electress Elizabeth.

Conversion to a landscape garden in the 19th century

The Hortus Palatinus remained unfinished. In 1618, the Thirty Years' War broke out, which resulted in the first devastation of the Electoral Palatinate. A lack of garden maintenance finally resulted in the garden's decay. After being used as a vegetable garden in the 18th century, botanical rarities were planted there in subsequent years. Much in the style of an English landscape garden, the once precise, geometric beds were now filled with oak, cedar of Lebanon, and ginkgo trees.

Aerial view of the garden terraces at Heidelberg Palace

Old trees characterize the garden today.

The garden today

Visitors taking a leisurely stroll through the garden at Heidelberg Palace will find many fascinating hints of times past. Pillar remnants tell of a once magnificent Renaissance garden alcove. The view from the various terraces to the palace and down into the Neckar valley are breathtaking. The palace garden is open to the public and is worth a visit any time of year.