A proud series of baroque residences were built along the upper Rhine River. Rastatt Castle was the first, founded by the Margrave Ludwig Wilhelm of Baden-Baden (1655 – 1707), nicknamed “Turk Louis“ by locals due to his spectacular military success in the recent Turkish wars.
The oldest baroque residential palace on the Upper Rhine still receives its guests much as it did almost 300 years ago, with a vast Court of Honor framed by three monumental wings, a grand structured facade, and a glittering gold figure of Jupiter casting thunderbolts with a gesture of divine supremacy from high on the roof of the main building. A truly baroque spirit pervades the entire complex, designed with a clear order and strict symmetry. Rastatt Palace was the first noble residence on German soil to be inspired by the great prototype at Versailles as the 17th century turned to the 18th.
Schloss Rastatt MapIn 1698 the Margrave Ludwig Wilhelm of Baden-Baden had the foundation stone for a hunting lodge laid here in the Rastatt, but before long it grew into an imposing seat of residence. The expanses of the Rhine Plain gave “Turk Louis“, the hero of the Turkish campaigns, an opportunity to express his legitimate claims to political power. The new palace, park and town were to be the three integral components in a coherent whole conceived as a total work of art and reflecting the baroque aspirations of the nobility at that time. The complex was also to be protected by walled fortifications, and the town was to have a planned layout and model housing. Following his services on behalf of the Viennese aristocracy, the Italian architect Domenico Egidio Rossi, was commissioned to translate this audacious project into reality. But the dream of absolutist glory was short lived. For Baden’s ruler died in 1707, just as his palace was completed with its “symmetry and magnificence“. It would take several more years, until in 1715, his widow Sibylla Augusta truly succeeded in inspiring prestige and glamour into the life of the residence.
Rastatt Ancestral Hall
Much of the palace has survived the passage of time is a unique and authentic specimen of a residential palace in the early 18th century. The splendid stucco work with figures and raised relief that dominates the ceilings of the Margrave‘s State Department has been preserved virtually unchanged. Today we can see the rituals of an absolutist court in our minds eye as we proceed to an unchanged formal sequence of rooms: the ante-chamber, all of audience or throne room, and ceremonial bedroom. The focus of the overall arrangement is the Ancestral Hall, the venue for festive baroque receptions, which still displays all its original splendor. Huge pilasters of red and gray stucco lustro (trompe l’oeil marble) with Turkish prisoners sculpted in plaster, impose an ordering patterns on this space. A colorful ceiling fresco illustrates the very apotheosis of a sovereign ruler as Hercules is welcomed on Mount Olympus. Imaginative declaration lavishly finished with gold, embellishes this splendid ballroom, while noble ancestors observe the proceedings with serene composure from Psalm rows of portraits on the walls. Little survives of the original luxurious furnishings many of which were made of silver, apart from the series of tapestries devoted to “the art of war“. These Flemish works from the Van der Borcht factory illustrate the great merits of the army commander in the Margrave‘s ante-chamber and hall of audience