Schwetzingen is a German city in northwestern Baden-Württemberg, 10 km southwest of Heidelberg and 15 km southeast of Mannheim.
As testified to by the remains of one of the biggest graveyards ever found in southeast Germany, Schwetzingen has been the spot of human settlements since the Stone Age; the graveyard was brought back to light in 1988 in Schälzig, south of Schwetzingen. The foundation of the city dates to the Frank-Alemannic period, when a man named “Suezzo” settled there along with his clan, hence the city’s early name”Suezzingen”, first recorded in 766 in the Lorsch Gospels. Originally divided into Upper- and Lowerschwetzingen, the city was unified in the XVIIth and XVIIIth cen. In 1742 it was chosen by Mannheim’s Prince-Elector Karl Theodore as summer residence, and in a few years Schwetzingen became the region’s lighthouse and was bestowed the right to organize markets in 1759. The then tiny village was about to face constant growing and was enlarged in Baroque style, most remarkably with the magnificent complex that includes the amazing castle and lush garden around it.
Schwetzingen counts today 22.000 inhabitants about, and is twinned with Luneville (France), Pápa (Hungary) and Spoleto. Besides the artistic-cultural heritage, Schwetzingen also vaunts an important asparagus production, as testified to by the “Spargeldenkmal”, a monument erected at the centre of the city.
Schwetzingen’s main attraction is its castle and gardens, that the city has been nominating for the UNESCO WHL since 1998.
There are signs of the presence of a previous building in the same area, dating to 1350, that faced destruction during the Thirty Years’ War and the ensuing Nine Years’ War, but the castle, in its present aspect, was designed in 1697 by Italian architect Matteo Alberti, disciple of Andrea Palladio, thus commissioned by Prince-Elector Johann Wilhelm. The castle would reach the highest splendour with the advent of Prince-Elector Karl Theodore who entrusted the major environmental architects of the period to design the gardens following the model of those in Versailles, and the result has been unparalleled throughout Europe. Starting from 1749 Nicolas de Pigage and Friedrich Ludwig von Sckell, among many others, gave their contribution to the monumental complex.
A number of very interesting works are scattered across the park, including more than 100 sculptures. The “Apollotempel” (temple of Apollo) is a small, round edifice that hosts the statue of the Greek god of light and arts, portrayed while playing lyre. Shaped on the typical scheme of an Italian villa, the “Badehaus” (Bath House) represents a vivid example of summer residence, enriched by the presence of its own garden. The magnificent work designed by Nicolas de Pigage is the reproduction of an oriental mosque instead. A late-Baroque building adorned by exotic details, it represents the biggest such structure in a German garden and influenced the name given to this section of the park, named Turkischer Garten.
An ideal link to Versailles is the fountain representing the Greek myth of poet Arion and the Dolphins, inspired by Diana’s handbasin by the French realm. In the northern wing of the palace there is another actual jewel, the “Rokokotheater”. It was also designed by de Pigage between 1751 and 1752, and is the oldest surviving Rangtheater (theater with boxless tiers) in Europe. In the 2nd half of the XIXth century it fell into disuse, but the decadence would be over following the 1937 restoration, which was also an enlargement in Rococo style, hence the somehow misleading present name (the theatre still includes major elements in Neoclassical style). In 1952 started hosting the Schwetzingen’s Lyric and Music Festival, one of the city’s two main events, along with the Mozartfestival.
Schwetzingen lies along three important tourist routes, i.e. the Badische Spargelstrasse (Asparagus Route) that starts here and leads to Lichtenau-Scherzheim, the Bertha Benz Memorial Route from Mannheim to Pforzheim, and above all the Burgenstrasse, the Route of the Castles, that from Mannheim leads to Prague.
The city has been twinned with Spoleto since 2005.