Gemälde des Hortus Palatinus von Schloss Heidelberg, unbekannter Meister um 1600

An Italian garden in HeidelbergThe Hortus Palatinus

In the 17th century, Heidelberg Palace was famous for its unusual palace garden: the Hortus Palatinus. This "Palatine garden" set itself apart because of its terraced design, ornate beds and water features.

Copper engraving of Heidelberg Castle and garden, estimated 17th century

Copper engraving of the gardens around the palace.

Spectacular gardens

A genius garden architect and engineer: France's Salomon de Caus (1576–1626). He was commissioned by Prince-Elector Friedrich V, who had the spectacular garden complex built on the terraces southeast of the palace between 1616 and 1619. Portions of the steep hillside needed to be blasted to make room for the various high-lying garden sections. Ingenious staircases surround the entire complex.

Ornate ornamental beds and fanciful grottoes

The individual garden sections were designed in a variety of ways following the style of Italian Renaissance gardens. Ornamental beds, labyrinths, pergolas and exotic plants drew the promenading court society. Fanciful grottoes and pavilions invited strollers to linger. To this day, the locations of the former labyrinth, the orange garden and the rotating flower beds can be identified, though their splendor is gone forever.

Detail of a painting of Heidelberg Palace with the Hortus Palatinus, Jacques Fouquières, oil on canvas, 1620

Knot beds and labyrinths were part of the Hortus Palatinus.

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

Fountain with "Father Rhine."

Praised as the "eighth wonder of the world"

The royal household and the prince-elector's guests were especially fascinated by the ingenious water features. In addition to fountains and other features, "magical machines" were also on display. Hydro- and solar energy set figures in motion, as if moved by an invisible hand. It is not surprising that Friedrich's garden art was praised by contemporaries as the "eighth wonder of the world."

Image: Design by Salomon de Caus for fountain figures

Salomon de Caus' garden designs have been preserved.

An uncompleted synthesis of art

After Friedrich V was elected King of Bohemia and had left the Electoral Palatinate, work on the Hortus Palatinus ceased. In the 18th century, some of the lavish ornamental sculptures were moved to the palaces in Mannheim and Schwetzingen. The garden grounds served primarily as a vegetable garden. The engravings created by Salomon de Caus give a sense of the planned artistic synthesis; a constant temptation to dream about reconstructing the garden.

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