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Dubbed ‘the cradle of Saxony’ and nestled on the bucolic banks of the Elbe, the town of Meissen was a prized residence of the House of Wettin. The grand gothic castle of Albrechtsburg overlooks the town from its rocky perch. It is one of Germany’s oldest royal residences. The entire structure is open to public viewing with grand murals depicting Saxon history, along with historical documents, antique furniture, tapestries, fine masonry, and an exceptional spiral stair-case.
The surrounding Old Town is filled with fine examples of medieval architecture, including the 13th century gothic Cathedral where the remains of the Wettin line rest, the gothic Meissen Frauenkirche, and scores of renaissance town houses. Meissen is a fine place to stroll, but more than its historic buildings, it is famed as the birthplace of European porcelain.
At the turn of the 18th century, porcelain was a much sought after material and a coveted symbol of wealth, success, status, and power. But as yet, the precious ‘white gold’ was exclusively produced in the orient. Not until the alchemist Johann Friedrich Bottger codified early production techniques using a recipe he had allegedly bought, did Europe’s first porcelain factory fire to life within the walls of the Albrechtsburg castle.Read more
The earliest pieces were very simple designs, but once the techniques of multi-coloured enamel were mastered they took on ever more elaborate, Chinese-inspired decorations, including colourful flowers, landscapes and animals. The Royal Porcelain factory kept its secrets for several years until a competing factory emerged in Vienna. Within fifty years there were no less than 30 porcelain manufacturers across Europe.
Despite competition, Meissen retained its reputation for quality – its styles dominated and lead production for decades. For centuries, scores of eager artisans arrived at the factory gates to learn from the masters. Today, Meissen porcelain is among the most coveted in the world – the very finest statuettes, vases, tea sets fetch handsome prices at auction. The Meissen factory no longer operates inside the castle, but has moved to a location on the banks of the river Elbe. Its doors are open to visitors.