Sanssouci Park Walking Tour, Potsdam

Sanssouci Park Walking Tour (Self Guided), Potsdam

Sanssouci Park is a unique Potsdam landmark that occupies 290 hectares in the heart of the city. The Park is named after the Sanssouci Palace that it surrounds, which in turn takes its name from the French phrase "sans souci", which means carefree, and implies that the palace was designated as a place of fun, rather than a seat of power.

Indeed, the Sanssouci Palace was built in 1747 as a summer residence for Prussia's king Frederick the Great (1712-1786). The latter was an enlightened monarch, passionate about the arts, who counted among his closest friends the likes of French philosopher Voltaire and many prominent celebrities of the time. In his organization of the park, Frederick deviated from the classical layout of Baroque gardens, seeking to combine the beautiful and the useful.

Sanssouci Park is a home to a number of historic buildings, such as the Charlottenhof Palace, the Roman Baths and the Temple of Friendship, surrounded by broad meadows creating visual avenues. Marking the eastern entrance to the Park is an Obelisk, established in 1748. Beginning from here a 2.5-km main avenue extends all the way to the New Palace, which marks its end in the west. In 1764 the Picture Gallery was constructed, followed by the New Chambers added in 1774. Frederick invested heavily in the fountain system of Sanssouci Park, which, among other features, included the Neptune Grotto, completed in 1757. The Sanssouci Park grounds are free to enter, and you can stroll around and view these and other attractions from outside at no charge. If you're keen to learn about the history of Prussia during the reign of Frederick the Great whilst enjoying yourself, take our self-guided walk through this marvelous park!
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Sanssouci Park Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Sanssouci Park Walking Tour
Guide Location: Germany » Potsdam (See other walking tours in Potsdam)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 13
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.9 Km or 2.4 Miles
Author: nataly
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Obelisk
  • Neptune Grotto
  • Bildergalerie (Picture Gallery)
  • Terraced Gardens
  • Sanssouci Palace
  • New Chambers
  • The Labyrinth
  • Chinese House
  • Roman Baths
  • Charlottenhof Palace
  • Temple of Friendship
  • New Palace
  • Communs

1) Obelisk

Potsdam is a city that has a significant number of memorials, monuments and public art displays. Several obelisks can be found throughout Potsdam. However, when one speaks of The Obelisk, they are referring to the Obeliskportal in Sanssouci Park.

The Obelisk is located at the eastern entrance to Sanssouci Park. It was was erected at the behest of Frederick the Great in 1747 from a design by Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff. The Obelisk, along with accompanying sandstone statues, was meant as a decorative piece for visitors to see as they exited the park.

The Obelisk is distinctive for having ornate hieroglyphs carved throughout. These hieroglyphs are purely created using artistic vision. They cannot be translated into actual words, sentences or stories.

Sanssouci Park is the park surrounding Sanssouci Palace. The park is open daily from 6 AM through dusk. There is no charge for entering the park but donations are accepted.
Neptune Grotto

2) Neptune Grotto

The Neptune Grotto, known in German as Neptungrotte, is a historic structure in Sanssouci Park. The creation of the grotto was ordered by Frederick the Great, ruler of Prussia, in 1757. It was designed by architect Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff using a Rococo-inspired theme.

The grotto is intricately carved to reflect its namesake: Neptune, the Roman god of the sea. Neptune holding a trident stands above the entrance. Conches adorn the sides of the structure in the shape of waterfalls. A large shell inside the grotto is made of real shells.

A series of fountains are located around the grotto. However, these fountains were not installed with the ability to expel water so they are fully decorative rather than functional.

The Neptune Grotto may be visited while Sanssouci Park is open. Hours are 6 AM to dusk throughout the year.
Bildergalerie (Picture Gallery)

3) Bildergalerie (Picture Gallery)

The Sanssouci Park Picture Gallery, known in German as the Bildergalerie, is a museum that displays the art collection of Frederick the Great. Construction was completed in 1764 under the directive of the Prussian ruler. It is known to be the oldest extant museum built for a ruler in the country.

Bildergalerie was designed by Johann Gottfried Buring on the grounds of a former greenhouse. The interior is decorated with gold ornaments, Italian marble and a domed ceiling. Outside, the garden-facing side of the building features statues by Johann Gottlieb Heymuller and Johann Peter Benckert. The statues represent figures from arts and sciences.

Frederick the Great collected paintings throughout his life. French Rococo art, especially those by Antoine Watteau, were early favorites of the ruler. He later collected more Renaissance and Baroque art including works by Rubens, Rembrandt and Correggio.

All of the paintings were moved to Rheinsberg Palace during World War II. Many of the paintings were lost. However, a large collection of paintings confiscated by the Soviet Union was returned in 1958. Some of the portraits in Bildergalerie include the Incredulity of St. Thomas by Caravaggio and Saint Hieronymus and Four Evangelists by Peter Paul Rubens.

Bildergalerie is open from May through October. The gallery's hours are 10 AM to 8 PM Tuesday through Sunday.
Terraced Gardens

4) Terraced Gardens (must see)

The Terraced Gardens are an impressive part of the Sanssouci Palace. This location was previously a wooded vista. However, Frederick William I wanted to transform the area. In 1744, the hillside was changed into six terraces.

The terraces feature convex centers that maximize sunlight. One hundred sixty-eight glazed niches are featured among the wall’s brickwork.

Trellised vines were planted in front of the bricks, and figs were planted in the niches. The terraces also have strips of lawn with yew trees. The gardens feature a circular ornamental parterre created with trellised fruit hedging. One hundred and thirty-two steps lead downward and divide the terraces.

Below the terraces, visitors will find a beautiful ornamental garden. The “Great Fountain” was built in 1748. Then, in 1750, marble statues were added around the fountain. This idea was copied from Versailles and the French King Louis XV gifted several statues, including Venus and Mercury. The other statues represent Apollo, Diana, Jupiter, Mars, Juno, and Minerva.
Sanssouci Palace

5) Sanssouci Palace (must see)

Sanssouci Palace was built by Frederick the Great between 1745 and 1747 and served as his summer palace. The palace’s name means “without concern,” alluding to its function as a restful retreat.

Frederick the Great wanted to cultivate grapes, figs, and plums and designed a terrace and gardens. The restful palace was Frederick the Great’s favorite residence. The palace has a grand facade but originally had just ten main rooms located on a single level.

Sanssouci Palace features Rococo style with ornate reliefs and elaborate tapestries. The style is so unique that it is known as Frederician Rococo.

The interior features beautiful architecture. The Concert Room hosted the king’s flute concerts. The Fourth Guest Room is thought to be the room that renowned philosopher Voltaire stayed in when visiting Sanssouci. The Library has cedar paneling and houses about 2000 books. During Frederick’s reign, the books were all in French, as French was thought to be more elite than German.

Frederick the Great’s tomb is located on the palace’s highest terrace. He was buried next to his beloved dogs in his favorite place on earth.

Frederick William IV enlarged the palace during the 19th century. The palace now operates as a museum and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace is located in Sanssouci Park, which features several buildings, including the New Palace, Chinese House, Dragon House, Roman Baths, and the Church of Peace.

In the summer, the palace hosts Potsdam Palace Nights. The gardens are lit up, and guests are treated to classical music. Actors dress in period costumes and mingle with guests. The palace also hosts dance and theater performances as well as lectures. On the weekends, the night ends with midnight fireworks.
New Chambers

6) New Chambers

The New Chambers, or Neue Kammern in German, is a building in Sanssouci Park. It sits west of Sanssouci Palace to balance the Bildergalerie on the east. It was built as a guesthouse on the order of Frederick the Great in 1775.

Just as the Bildergalerie was constructed on the site of a greenhouse, the New Chambers building was constructed on what was once an orangery. The original building was designed in 1747 by George Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff. The reconstruction was managed by Georg Christian Unger in the Frederican Rococo architectural style.

Though the building was reconstructed, much of the original construction were left in place. This included the french doors and the ramps that were used to move potted plants in and out of the orangery. The cupola was added during the rebuild. Seven guests rooms and two ballrooms were created from a design by Johann Christian Hoppenhaupt. The largest of the ballrooms, the Jasper Room, lies directly under the cupola.

Along with Sanssouci Palace and its garden, the New Chambers was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990.
The Labyrinth

7) The Labyrinth

Located in front of the New Chambers, the Labyrinth is an integral part of the vast, 700-acre, Sanssouci Park, and is a firm favorite among its visitors.

The maze is made up of well-maintained shrubs, that are more than six feet high, and is laid out as a simple yet exciting adventure. Within the shrubbery walls here you can find numerous trees, smaller shrubs, cobbled walkways and statues. Due to the sloping land, those who wish to view the Labyrinth from afar, i.e. without having to walk through the maze itself, can do so from the steps of the New Chambers.

The Labyrinth and the surrounding land are sometimes collectively referred to as "Carre Voltaire." This name is applicable generally to a wildlife refuge and is given after one of Frederick the Great's closest friends, the French philosopher Voltaire.
Chinese House

8) Chinese House

The Chinese House, also known in Germany as the Chinese Teahouse, is a garden pavilion in Sanssouci Park. Like much of the park, the Chinese House was built in 1764 at the behest of Frederick the Great. The building functioned as the setting for small social events but was primarily a decorative outbuilding that added a point of interest to the garden.

The Chinese House was designed by architect Johann Gottfriend Buring in Chinoiserie style. This trendy architectural technique combined ornamental Rococo with Chinese influences. The house was modeled from a similar Chinese house on the grounds of the Maison du Trefle in Luneville, France designed by Emmanuel Here de Corny.

The house has a trefoil shape with a rounded central building, rounded windows and gilded columns. Golden sculptures at the feet of the columns were crafted by sculptors Johann Gottlieb Heymuller and Johann Peter Benckert. The cupola atop the roof features a Chinese statue created by Friedrich Jury.

The Chinese House is open from May to October. Visitors may enter the house on Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 AM through 5:30 PM.
Roman Baths

9) Roman Baths

The Roman Baths, or die Romischen Bader in German, include a number of buildings, water features and green spaces. Among the buildings are a tea house and a garden house that reflect the original baths of Rome. The Roman Baths are located near the Charlottenhof Palace in Sanssouci Park.

Frederick William IV of Prussia ordered the construction of the Roman Baths between 1829 and 1840. A variety of Roman and antique Italian styles were used in the designs that the prince drew himself. Architects Karl Friedrich Schinkel and Ludwig Persius used those ideas to create his formal plans for the construction.

The buildings and green areas of the Roman Baths were designed around an artificial lake. The lake was planned by architect Peter Joseph Lenne. Though modeled after traditional Roman baths, this Roman Bath was never used as a bathing facility.

The Roman Baths are open from May to October. Visitors are welcome from Tuesday through Sunday between the hours of 10 AM and 6 PM.
Charlottenhof Palace

10) Charlottenhof Palace

Charlottenhof Palace, located southwest of Sanssouci Palace in Sanssouci Park, is best known as the summer residence of Crown Prince Frederick William (later King Frederick William IV of Prussia).

The whole area, complete with its buildings, dates back to the 18th century. The land (south of the then Sanssouci Park) had changed hands several times before King Frederick William III bought it and gave it to his son, Frederick William IV, and his wife, Elisabeth Ludovika, as a Christmas gift in 1825.

The Crown Prince commissioned the architect, Karl Friedrich Schinkel, to remodel the old farmhouse already present on the site into a palatial home. Schinkel, assisted by his student Ludwig Persius, used the house foundations to create a small Neoclassical palace, styled as a Roman villa. The furniture, remarkable for its simple yet cultivated style, for the most part, was designed by Schinkel himself. The project, fairly low-cost, was completed from 1826 to 1829.

Frederick William referred to this summer residence as "Siam" (which at the time was considered "the Land of the Free") and to himself, jokingly, as the "Siam House architect". Artistically inclined, he took an active part in the designing of both the palace and the surrounding gardens. The latter was designed by landscape architect, Peter Joseph Lenné, who completely reworked the originally flat and partly marshy area into an English garden with trees, lawn, and water features, organically incorporating it into the broader Sanssouci complex.

Officially, the palace and the park were named "Charlottenhof" in honor of Maria Charlotte von Gentzkow who had previously owned the property, from 1790 to 1794.

The palace's most distinctive feature – the tent room, used as a guest bedroom – was fashioned after Roman Caesar's tent. Inside it, both the ceiling and the walls were decorated with blue-and-white striped wallpaper; the window treatments and the bed tent with coverings also followed this pattern. The blue-and-white theme is widely spread throughout the palace and can be seen even on window shutters. This was done in tribute to the Bavarian origin of princess Elisabeth.

The interior of all ten rooms is still largely preserved in its original form.

Since 1990, Charlottenhof Palace has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin".
Temple of Friendship

11) Temple of Friendship

The Temple of Friendship, known in German as Freundschaftstempel, is a small building in Sanssouci Park. The construction of the building was ordered by King Frederick I of Prussia. The temple was built in honor of King Frederick's sister, Princess Wilhelmine of Prussia, who died in 1758.

The Temple of Friendship is a classical temple designed by architect Carl von Gontard. It was made to resemble the pavilions of ancient Greece and King Frederick's own Temple of Apollo in Neuruppin. The pavilion has a shallow, domed roof that is supported by eight Corinthian columns with medallions displaying friends from classical antiquity. These friends are: Pylades and Orestes, Euryalus and Nisos, Heracles and Philoctetes and Pirithous and Theseus.

The pavilion offers a life-sized statue of Wilhelmine holding a book. The marble statue was crafted by Johann David and Johann Lorenz Wilhem Rantz. It was designed from a portrait by painter Antoine Pesne.
New Palace

12) New Palace (must see)

The New Palace is a palace in Sanssouci Park. It was built at the behest of Frederick the Great in order to celebrate Prussia at the end of the Seven Year's War.

Construction on the New Palace began in 1763 and was completed in 1769. It was designed by architects Johan Gottfried Buring, Heinrich Ludwig Manger and Carl von Gontard in the Baroque and Rococo architectural styles. Frederick the Great insisted that the palace be overly adorned with marble, stone and gilt to show the wealth and success of Prussia.

Built with more than 200 rooms, the New Palace was not used as a primary residence but as a place to meet dignitaries and other royals. Frederick the Great kept a suite at the New Palace for his occasional stays. The suite includes two antechambers, a study, a dining salon, a concert room and a bedroom.

As a lover of art, Frederick the Great insisted the New Palace be decorated with fine pieces from well-known artists of the time. The palace had over 400 sandstone statues by sculptors such as Johann Peter Benckert, Johann Matthias Gottlieb Heymuller and brother Johann David and Johann Lorenz Rants.

The New Palace underwent a series of changes over the years. For instance, in the early 19th century, Frederick III had a moat dug around the palace. At the turn of the century, Wilhelm II had steam heating and electric chandeliers installed. After the November Revolution, the New Palace became a museum.

Little damage was done to the New Palace during World War II. However, the Soviet Army looted the palace and removed much of the art and furnishings. For more than two decades, those items were lost. In the 1970s, most of the furnishings were discovered still in packing crates and in excellent condition. They were returned to the palace, which has allowed it to retain the appearance it did prior to the war.

The New Palace was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990.

13) Communs

The two buildings of Communs were the locations of the royal kitchens, gardeners' shops, palace guard quarters, servants' quarters and utilities. The two buildings were designed to reflect the Baroque appearance of the palace by architects Carl von Gontard and Jean Laurent Le Geay in 1769.

The Communs buildings have a curved colonnade decorated with multiple statues and obelisks. The statuary contains over 400 figures that represent gods and demigods from ancient mythology. The use of curved staircases, domes and columns created a visually pleasing appearance that blocked the marshlands that once sat beyond the area.

An underground tunnel was built in 1896 at the behest of Wilhelm II. This tunnel allowed access between the Communs and the palace during poor weather. There is also an underground tunnel that connects the two buildings to each other.

Located in Sanssouci Park, the Communs now belong to the University of Potsdam.

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