Monday, August 20, 2012

History of Arenenberg Castle

Settlements on the southwestern bank on the Swiss shore of Lake Constance, where Arenenberg (formerly called “Narrenberg”, meaning the foul’s hill) is located, date back to the antiquity. First written proof of the castle exists from 1350. It then belonged to one of the powerful patrician families from Constance. Except for short intervals it remained their property. Between 1500 and 1530 Arenenberg belonged to the Buxheim Monastery, one of the largest and most important Carthusian monasteries of the Holy Roman Empire. Local monks appreciated Arenenberg and its wine in such a way that they composed a special scripture on the topic and probably started building a small monastery on the premises. Due to economic reasons they ended up reselling the estate to wealthy local aristocrats who made further extensions. The last reformist mayor of Constance, Sebastian Gaisberger, finally built himself a summer residence, which suggests that there must have been a respective garden. It is not possible to name every single owner of Arenenberg but the estate was definitely one of the most desired at Lake Constance.
In 1816, Hortense de Beauharnais, stepdaughter of Napoleon I and his heiress, visited this charming property for the first time. She began immediately to plan modification measures and bought the castle in 1817. The reconstruction took approximately two years. The medieval castle and its gardens turned into an island of French culture amidst the rather provincial region of Lake Constance. The castle was surrounded by a 12 ha park with hermitage, fountains, waterfalls and nymphaeum, steep paths and viewpoints. On the premises are the main building, house of the former Queen of Holland, and the “dependance” south of the main building, which consists of three wings. Here we find the theatre, the market garden and greenhouse, kitchen, administration, stabling, accommodations for domestics and last but not least, the official representative part of the building, and the private sleeping and living rooms of Prince Louis Napoléon, who made history as Napoleon III. Reconstruction and remodeling was done on several occasions, for the last time in 1834.
In 1838, one year after his mother Hortense died, the prince had to leave Lake Constance and sold the estate in 1843 to Mister Keller from Saxony. Twelve years later – the prince had become emperor – he managed to buy Arenenberg Castle back.
Substantial reconstruction began in 1855 to remodel everything back to its original state. This enterprise took about three years. It seems that the emperor and his family visited the castle for the first and only time in 1865. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71 and uprisings in Paris brought Arenenberg Castle back into royal interest. Empress Eugénie and her son escaped to Great Britain. After the French defeat at Sedan, Napoleon III found a first exile in Kassel, Germany. (France was a republic.) The emperor first planned to move back to Arenenberg, and then decided shortly to join his wife and son in England where he died on January 9th, 1873.
His family continued to spend the summers at Arenenberg Castle. Eugénie had three rooms for her personal use built onto the existing terrace with magnificent oriels to the lakeside. She insisted on keeping the given Biedermeier and Empire style and to copy it in the new rooms. After the death of her only child, the crown prince Loulou, she lost all interest in the estate. The castle was more and more neglected. In 1905, the empress decided to give Arenenberg Castle to the Swiss canton Thurgau. She ordered to have all items precious to her removed from the premises and left it to her gardener’s daughter to redecorate the rooms after her own taste. The change in ownership took place officially in May 1906. Eugénie stated explicitly that she wanted the estate to be open to the public and that a museum should be installed in the castle. Thus the Napoleon Museum was founded in Arenenberg.
Since then, the canton Thurgau has renovated buildings according to modern times and necessities, sometimes causing massive changes outside the museum. Over the past years and presently different administrations, the building surveillance with extensive scientific help through the Napoleon Museum and the preservation of monuments and historic buildings are trying to reconstruct the “empirial” state of 1906. Thanks to a considerable amount of documentation this project is quite successful.

 A Brief History of the Palace

Documents indicate that a palatial country estate built along an east-west axis on the promontory called Arenenberg and located between Ermatingen, Mannenbach, and Salenstein has been around since at least the middle of the 15th century.
Arenenberg was a “Constance Estate,” in other words, under the ownership of different patrician families from that venerable city who had taken up residence in Thurgau.
In 1817, Johann Baptist von Streng sold the family property to Hortense de Beauharnais who was dwelling in Constance at that time.
Hortense had the late gothic palace rebuilt in the empire style by the Constance master builder John Baptist Wehrle from 1817-1820.  She completely redesigned Arenenberg in the French fashion.  Even the interior was decorated with wallpapers, furniture, statues, and paintings commemorating Napoleon I.
After the death of Hortense, her son Louis Napoleon sold the palace in 1837.
In 1855, he repurchased the estate as Emperor Napoleon III.
Out of gratitude, Eugénie donated the manor to the Canton of Thurgau in 1906.  The Canton has been managing the palace grounds with the Napoleon Museum and the BBZ (Educational and Advisory Center) since then.
The Napoleon Museum Thurgau at Arenenberg Palace and Park, which was founded in 1906, is the only museum in the German-speaking realms dedicated to Napoleonic history.  Just like in the past, it continues to be an open, friendly house in which today’s visitors feel as welcome as if they were the guests of Hortense.

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