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The German Versailles: The Magnificent Castles of Sanssouci Park

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Photos: Wolfgang Staudt/flickr

Though much smaller than the palace of Versailles, the Sanssouci Palace is often considered the German rival to that French royal escape. Located in Potsdam, Germany, 26 miles from central Berlin. The original palace at Sanssouci was constructed for the Prussian king Frederick the Great in the 1740s, with architectural input from the thoroughly Prussian Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff, who was fired by Frederick over landscaping disagreements. In fact, the king was so thoroughly involved with the project that it was "a place that would die with him." At just ten rooms, the original palace is minuscule next to Versailles, but Frederick never intended to use his palace for entertainment, but rather as a refuge from the pressures and obligations of the German court. To that end, he commissioned vast gardens, which would later become known as Sanssouci Park, and a far more elaborate "New Palace." Further generations of royals to build summer residences in Potsdam, creating a sprawling regal compound.

? Twenty years after the completion of his first country palace at Sanssouci, Frederick the Great commissioned this, the Neues Palais, a sprawling entertaining pavilion that could accommodate the needs of a full royal court. Eager to impress after victory in the Seven Years War, Frederick built more than 200 rooms into this Baroque monstrosity. Used primarily to entertain visiting dignitaries, the huge "New Palace" fell into disuse after Frederick's death until 1859, when the palace became the primary residence of Emperor Frederick III.

? Even as the New Palace lingered in dusty disuse, King Friedrich Wilhelm IV was busy building his own country home, dubbed the Orangerieschloss—Orangery Palace—on Sanssouci Park. Begun in 1851, the grand castle took 13 years to complete. The vast interiors included apartments especially outfitted for Russian Tsar Nicholas I and his wife, Alexandra Feodorovna, frequent visitors.

? Outbuildings featured prominently in the royal designs, offering luxurious stop-offs on a long garden walk. Begun in 1755, the Chinese House is a particularly opulent example, and, thanks to the financial constraints of the Seven Years War, took nine years to complete. Gilded figures surrounding the entrance made this quite the ode to the style of the day.

? In the mid-1800s, King Frederick William IV began work on a religious addition to the Sanssouci, the Church of Peace. The magnificent waterfront basilica boasts an impressive 138-foot bell tower that looms over the park. William IV was later buried in the church, along with several other members of the House of Hohenzollern.