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Use and Beauty: The Gardens of Worlitz

Report of the lecture given by Steven Desmond on June 24th 2009

Garden historian Steven Desmond started by painting a historical, political and geographical background which clearly fixed mid eighteenth century Worlitz in a relevant context. He traced cultural developments in garden design contrasting the Baroque absolutism of Louis XIV's taste, subjecting nature to a vigorous symmetrical organisation, with the development of a more naturalistic style of English planning in tune with the democratic ideas and liberal thinking of the Age of Reason

The gardens at Worlitz, situated north east of Leipzig and west of Wittenberg in Northern Germany were created between 1765 and 1817 by Prince Franz Anhalt Dessau, an acknowledged anglophile. After returning from his Grand Tours he drew heavily on these experiences to transform his entire rural principality in a way that encompassed art, landscape, agriculture, industry and technology to create a "pretty and practical" centre of Enlightenment

A gentle stroll through the gardens was described as a series of metaphors for life's journey through a Masonic Labyrinth allowing time for calmness and reflection. Buildings, sculptures and groups of trees form focal points in a system of vistas linking different parts of the garden with each other and guiding the eye into the surrounding countryside. The Schloss was the first classical house to be built in Germany and shares an affinity with Broadlands. Direct comparisons of the designs of garden buildings can be made with those at Stowe and Stourhead. The Temple of Flora is reminiscent of one at Wilton House, the Pagoda imitates the one at Kew Gardens and the Gothic House pays homage to Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill. The lakes and serpentine canal are bridged fifty three times in both ornamental and functional ways. There is even a quarter scale copy of the iron bridge at Coalbrookdale and an island with an erupting Vesuvius inspired by Fingal's Cave

The Gardens of Worlitz, accredited by Unesco as both a World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve, annually welcome one million visitors to experience what Goethe described in 1778 as

'... endlessly beautiful, as if one is being told a fairy tale in the Elysian Fields, purist in their loveliness'

Liz Dray. 25.06.09

Steven Desmond enjoying CDFAS hospitality