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The oldest ecclesiastical Baroque residence on the Upper Rhine

Bruchsal Palace

Nördlicher Aufgang des Treppenhauses von Schloss Bruchsal;  Foto: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Andrea Rachele
One of Balthasar Neumann's masterpieces

The staircase

The famous staircase of Bruchsal Palace was borne of necessity: Prince-Bishop Schönborn caused a complicated situation with his high-handed actions. No one could solve the problem—that is, no one except the famous architect, Balthasar Neumann.

Entrance hall (vestibule) of Bruchsal Palace. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Arnim Weischer

Two stairs lead from the grotto to the bel étage.

Unique architecture

On an oval floor plan, the two stairways swing up, allowing an open view down to the grotto. With increasing height, the staircase grows brighter from the atria on the sides and from above. The destination of the climb is impressive: A large, painted cupola crowns the oval space, which also forms a bridge-like connection between the two ceremonial halls, the Royal Hall and the Marble Hall. The grotto, stairs, and Domed Hall form a cohesive whole, a truly unique combination.

Detail of a wall (servants' floor) in the entrance hall of Bruchsal Palace. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Arnim Weischer

An architectural problem: the servants' floor.

How was this design created?

The construction of the central building began according to plans by Anselm Franz von Ritter zu Groenesteyn in 1725: the ground floor, the bel étage, as a representational main story, and a low-ceilinged second upper story were planned, as was standard. Yet Schönborn noticed that these weren't enough to accommodate his most important employees and his dressing rooms. In 1726, while Ritter zu Groenesteyn was absent, he ordered the addition of an intermediary story between the ground floor and the bel étage on both sides of the staircase, and therein created the problem.

View of the Domed Hall in Bruchsal Palace. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Andrea Rachele

Neumann created an oval stage over his stairs.

The "hole in the middle"

In their planned form, the stairs would no longer reach the bel étage, as they now had to cross a greater height. There was no simple solution to the problem: Groenesteyn's suggestions were not artistically satisfactory. Construction continued left and right of the staircase, including on the servants' floor. In the meantime, the "hole in the middle"persisted for years, as Schönborn wrote. Until he brought one of the most famous architects of the age to Bruchsal: Balthasar Neumann (1687–1753).

Historical photography of the Domed Hall of Bruchsal Palace, photo circa 1870. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Georg Maria Eckert

The Domed Hall before the destruction of World War II.

The finest of Baroque spatial art

As of 1728, Neumann became the head of construction in Bruchsal. In 1731, he developed previous designs for the staircase into one of the most ambitious creations of German Baroque. By altering the slightly oval layout, Neumann was able to extend the length of both stairs, and thus the height that was reached. Today, Neumann's design is considered one of the most imaginative Baroque staircases, and it has made Bruchsal Palace famous.