The world-famous Zwinger is one of the most magnificent Baroque buildings in Germany. With its pavilions and galleries, the “Crown Gate”, the “Nymphs’ Bath” and not least the gardens in the Zwinger courtyard, it is an oasis for every visitor to Dresden. The strange-sounding name “Zwinger” is a term used in military architecture and is a reference to the building’s original position in front of the defensive wall around the city. However, even in August the Strong’s time the Zwinger did not have the function of a fortification.
The Zwinger courtyard was a garden and orangery – a venue for court festivities, and its buildings already housed the electoral art collections and the library. The galleries with their balustrades, statues and vases constitute a Baroque Gesamtkunstwerk in which architecture and sculpture are inextricably bound together.
It was not until the mid-19th century that the architect Gottfried Semper closed the side of the courtyard facing towards the River Elbe by erecting a gallery building there. This building, which was opened in 1855 and is now known as the Semperbau (Semper Building), was one of the most important museum projects of the 19th century in Germany. Until the Second World War it housed not only the Gemäldegalerie but also the Kupferstich-Kabinett and the Mengs Collection of Casts of Classical Sculptures. When people stroll through the Zwinger courtyard today, they perceive the architectural ensemble as a harmonious whole, although the Semperbau’s more restrained and solemn architectural style is quite different from the Baroque gaiety of the Zwinger. Semper skilfully but discreetly adapted the form of the windows on the courtyard side to the round arches of the Zwinger architecture.
The Zwinger and the Semperbau burned out as a result of the aerial bombardment of Dresden on 13 February 1945 and were rebuilt during the 1950s and 1960s. Now the Zwinger is home to the Porzellansammlung and the Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon. The Semperbau houses the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister.