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The fate of Schwarzburg Palace

The eventful history of the ancestral castle of the Counts of Schwarzburg

About 65 km southeast of Erfurt lie the palace and village of Schwarzburg in the Schwarza valley – on a cutting on the northeastern slope of the Thuringian Slate Mountains, which the Schwarza River, that gave the castle its name, partially washed out to form a deep gorge. A rising slate rock, which was only accessible from its north-western narrow side and thus easy to defend, offered an almost ideal situation for the construction of a fortification – the Schwarzburg – which, as the ancestral castle, represents the oldest base of Schwarzburg dynastic development.

The eventful history of the Schwarzburg can be traced back to the early 12th century, with the first documentary evidence dating back to 1123. The - at that time - fortified mountain spur served Count Sizzo (reigned 1109 - 1160) for his naming, as the ancestral castles were often name givers. Thus, the Schwarzburg is the oldest residence of the Schwarzburg nobility, one of the oldest noble families in the Thuringian region.

The first extension of the castle complex, which included various stately residential buildings, halls, servants' quarters, farm buildings, defences and a chapel, took place in the first half of the 14th century.

With the extinction of the Schwarzburg-Schwarzburg line in the middle of the 15th century, however, the castle lost its status as headquarter, was pledged and later even sold to Friedrich II of Saxony. However, the Schwarzburg House War (1447 - 1451) brought the castle back into the possession of the Schwarzburg noble family, whereby the division of the Schwarzburg lines and their changing regimes meant that it was no longer used as a main but rather as a secondary residence. As a result, the castle was used as a place to visit for hunting or for family reunions.

Nevertheless, there have been several alterations that have transformed the castle into a palace over the centuries. These included the construction of the eastern wing around 1548 and the western wing around 1559, which later formed the remaining main building. Around 1700, the efforts to use the Schwarzburg as a residence led to the most significant redesign of the palace complex. The western main building was renovated in the baroque style and was given an elaborately designed portico. In addition, an imposing church was built. For financial reasons, however, the efforts to create a "Schwarzburgian Versailles" remained unrealized.

In 1726 a fire caused great damage to the castle, especially to the church consecrated in 1713, to parts of the Leutenberg wing and to the main building itself. However, these were taken as a starting point to rebuild and redesign the castle. Only a few years later the reconstruction as a hunting lodge and summer residence was largely completed and a new castle church could be consecrated.

Larger financial investments benefited the Schwarzburg in 1867 under Prince Albert, which led to the baroque furnishings being abandoned in favour of an appearance in the style of historicism. A facade renovation, which was completed by 1873, brought the preliminary completion of the upgrading of the palace complex.

The November Revolution of 1918 not only ushered in the end of the First World War, but also led to the end of the monarchy in Germany. On 23rd November 1918 Günther Viktor resigned the affairs of state for Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt and on 25th November 1918 for Schwarzburg-Sondershausen. The Schwarzburger was thus the last German prince to renounce the throne. With a law passed on 22nd November 1918 by Prince Günther Viktor and confirmed by the state parliament, which was intended to regulate the compensation of the Princely House and its right to use and income, compensation, pension payments and hunting rights. Everything else, not mentioned in the decree, fell to the "Günther Foundation", which also came into force on November 22nd 1918, and which lasted until 1923 and was intended to preserve the castles of Heidecksburg and Schwarzburg and their collections. After that, the newly founded state of Thuringia took over the legal succession, whereby a law six years later clarified the rights of use of the Schwarzburg. The wife of Günther Viktor (died in 1925), Anna Luise of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, was granted lifelong residence rights at Schloss Schwarzburg.

The Second World War also took its toll on the Schwarzburg. Anna Luise von Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, who lived in the castle with a right of residence, had to give up this right in 1940 and leave the castle within a few days.

The National Socialist government therefore decided to convert Schwarzburg palace into a guesthouse, whereby the project was even classified as primarily important measure for the war. The building measures were devastating for the appearance of the whole complex - entire parts of the building were demolished and the fate of the palace was sealed.

However, minister Albert Speer stopped the construction work on 17th April 1942, which kept the palace in its ruinous state. From then on, the palace served only as a storage site for artwork, as well as for official and industrial material.

At the end of the Second World War, US troops occupied the Schwarzburg palace and a Soviet local commandant's office was established. Both facts brought losses of art objects by massive plundering of the depot rooms of the palace.

In the following decades, various plans were drawn up for the use of Schwarzburg palace, including as a trade union holiday home, hotel and cultural centre, casino and golf course as well as SED recreation centre, none of which, however, were implemented. The castle was left to itself and thus to unstoppable decay.

On New Year's Eve 1981, the castle church finally sufferd more damage as a firework rocket set the tower on fire.

In 1994, Schwarzburg palace was handed over to the newly established Palace, Castle and Gardens Trust of Thuringia. At first, the retaining walls had to be secured. From 2009 onwards, the Princely Armoury was secured and renovated, and in 2010 extensive stabilisation work began on the main building. Initially, the focus was on the roof and the static structure. In 2017/18, the northern border, which was demolished in the 1940s, was rebuilt.

The measures are funded by the Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media and the Thuringian State Office for the Preservation of Monuments and Archaeology.

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Weimar Constitution, Schwarzburg palace shall exist as a place of democracy and be developed as a site for democratic education in rural areas. "Schwarzburg palace - place of democracy" was recommended as one of 24 projects for the programme of national urban development projects, which is launched annually by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Construction and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) and the BBSR. The aim of this programme is to promote monuments of national importance and architectural heritage of exceptional value, including the Schwarzburg complex with no doubt.

In regard to the project, the Thuringian Palaces and Gardens Trust is implementing extensive construction work on the severely damaged main building. In 2019, some of the interiors will be accessible within construction site tours. By 2021, the work should be as far advanced that visitors can explore parts of the castle as part of a parcour.