While the Atla docked in Wurzburg all day, those of us joining in the optional excursion to Rothenburg weren’t in town very long. Fortunately it was long enough for a visit to the Residenz, where the bishop-prince of the mid-1700s dwelt in baroque opulence.
Okay, I’ll admit it. A baroque “palace” for a church official. In Germany. With lots of gold leaf. After a full day of touring already. It didn’t sound like a great way to end the afternoon. But, when our guide, Gunther, offered to let some stay on the bus and return to the Atla without the tour, I didn’t speak up. No one on our bus did.
‘Sure glad I didn’t.
We trekked across the broad cobblestone plaza leading to the residence. You can’t really call it a “home” because it’s simply too much to imagine anyone living in this place, let alone having leftovers or having to remember to take out the trash. But I guess bishops didn’t have to worry about that. This one in Wurzburg had more than 500 servants to take care of those details. He just had to look official and deal with all the bowing and scraping being done to curry his favor.
And maybe he took some time to look up at the ceilings in his home. I know I sure would have spent at least two-thirds of my daily hours lying back on a bench and staring upwards. This place has a fresco in the Imperial Hall and another over the palatial stairwell; each is magnificent and each was designed and painted by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.
I’ve never been one for old fancy buildings, just because they’re old and fancy. Yet walking into the Wurzburg Residenz and falling under the spell of these two frescos (frescoes?) wasn’t a choice I had; it just happened. My favorite is the one over the stairwell; it is the world’s largest ceiling fresco (677 square meters). It depicts four continents of the world; the colors are rich and realistic and the details are numerous. The most amazing thing about this painting, though, is what effect it has on the viewer: Tiepolo’s skills with perspective and draftsmanship resulted in a trompe l’oeil effect that “fools the eye” more than any other piece I’ve seen. Swaths of deep red cloth appear to drape off the painting toward the ground, a spotted dog looks so real I expected him to wag his tail, legs of a painted figure seem to physically extend off the image’s edge. In short, two dimensions become three effortlessly. I was amazed.
Other rooms, including a gold and mirrors number that almost hurts the eyes, followed these first two rooms, but none had the impact on me that Tiepolo’s work had. At dinner back on the Atla that night, passengers were still talking about the effect the paintings created and the feelings it left them with.
My advice: Even if you’re not an “old building” kind of tourist, take this tour. And take time, too, to just sit and look heavenward. You’ll be astounded. And glad you didn’t skip it.