Jacques Fouquier: Hortus Palatinus and Heidelberg Castle (ca. 1619); Kurpfälzisches Museum, Heidelberg

The epithet Eight Wonder of the World is a commonplace that is used far too often, yet in the case of the Hortus Palatinus it was justified. Sadly the use of the past tense has to be applied with regard to these miraculous gardens, attached to the Heidelberg Castle, for they only existed for some ten years before they fell victim to the mayhem of the Thirty Years War. They have never been restored to their former splendour, but even in their ruined state they are still a much admired, popular attraction.
The gardens were created in the second decade of the 17th century for princess Elizabeth Stuart, commissioned by her husband Frederick V, a grandson of William of Orange, who had become the ruler of the Palatine (a state in the middle of Germany). The project was executed by the French engineer Salomon de Caus with the help of his friend, the architect Inigo Jones. The latter was the foremost English architect of his time, while de Caus had established a reputation for himself as the French Leonardo da Vinci. Interestingly, they were among the last great artists who belonged to the same Renaissance world da Vinci had belonged to. In fact the Hortus Palatinus can be seen as the last grand manifestation of the Renaissance. Never before had the ideals of Renaissance Neo-Platonic / Hermetic philosophy been pursued this rigorously. An astonishing attempt was made to create a magical place were all human knowledge and all known technology were united according to the principles of divine harmony. So, while the gardens reflected a bygone age, technologically they were more advanced than anything else in the world.
Explosives were used to create absolutely flat terraces on a mountain top. Tropical plants were imported and ways were devised to make them grow in the middle of Germany without the use of greenhouses. There was an automatic water organ; automated birds that could sing (literally) like nightingales; and perhaps most intriguing of all: a statue that began to make noises when it was hit by sun rays.
It is a great tragedy that the existence of Frederick and Elizabeth's magical kingdom only lasted a decade before it was ravished by the religious wars of the 17th century.
(Edgar Foley)


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