Munich’s Greek-style museum quarter offers virtually limitless hours of entertainment
The abundance of cultural and artistic world heritage on display on Königsplatz certainly contributes to the richness of life in Munich—an endowment that was by no means accidental. Indeed, it was always the intention of King Ludwig I (1786–1868), Bavaria’s great royal lover and patron of the arts, to transform Munich into a European capital of intellect, art and culture.
It was during a trip to Italy in 1804 that Ludwig began pursuing his goal in earnest, by collecting antiquities, which would be displayed on his return home. As soon as he was back in Bavaria Ludwig called on architect Leo von Klenze (1784–1864) to build an exhibition venue in a partnership that was to transform the face of Munich. The ensuing building spree lasted nearly 50 years and produced Königsplatz, the Glyptothek, the Hofkirche, the Propyläen, Ludwigstrasse, the Alte Pinakothek, Ludwigskirche, St. Bonifaz Monastery, the Ruhmeshalle behind the Bavaria statue as well as important additions to the Residence.
Klenze envisaged Munich as an “Athens on the Isar.” When standing at the center of Königsplatz’s impressive expanse, one can’t help but appreciate the architect’s skill in executing his vision. With balanced proportions and an unmistakable air of magnificence, Königsplatz does indeed recall the glory of ancient Greece.
Presiding over Königsplatz is the Propyläen (1846–62), a gargantuan monument-like structure of Doric columns with a somewhat ambiguous purpose. Originally intended as yet another gateway into the city, the Propyläen was confronted with tough competition by older and more established city gates, notably Isartor, Sendlinger Tor and Karlstor.
During its construction the Propyläen was given a new purpose as a war memorial to commemorate the Greek War of Independence (1821–29), in which 30,000 Bavarian soldiers died. The memorial highlighted the solidarity between Greece and Bavaria, which ironically was seriously strained the year the Propyläen was dedicated (1862) as Ludwig’s first son, Otto, was dethroned as King of Greece. Today the Propyläen serves as a dramatic backdrop for open-air concerts and film performances.
The Propyläen forms the western border of the Königsplatz while the Glyptothek and the Staatliche Antikensammlungen
(State Collection of Antiquities) mirror one another to the north and south, respectively.
The Glyptothek (1816–30) was constructed in Ionian style, according to blueprints drawn up by King Ludwig and Leo von Klenze in an exchange of more than 500 letters. The Glyptothek museum houses King Ludwig’s finds abroad—namely Greek and Roman sculpture—as well as a sunny café in its inner courtyard.
The Staatliche Antikensammlungen (1838–45), modeled on a Corinthian temple, originally served as the city’s art museum, and was used for a number of different exhibitions. Today the building houses a collection of antiquities second only to those at the British Museum in London and the Louvre in Paris. On display are ancient Greek vases, jewelry, bronze work as well as Etruscan sculptures and statues.
Though created as a civic center of culture and enlightenment, Königsplatz did not escape the ravages of World War II, when, ironically, it was transformed into a center of terror—the administrative offices of the Nazi regime. The Nazis paved over the grassy lawn to create a parade ground and erected additional buildings and so-called honor temples in and around the square, perverting both the spirit and balanced proportions of the plaza. It is therefore not surprising that, by the end of the war, some 40 to 90 percent of the buildings on Königsplatz had been destroyed.
Though provisional repairs were made in the years immediately following the war, it wasn’t until the early 1970s that final restoration work was completed. And it was only in 1988 that the parade ground concrete was removed and replaced by the original green lawn we enjoy today. Indeed, Königsplatz has now been fully restored to its former splendor and purpose. It is a place of enjoyment, learning and enlightenment—a true Munich highlight, in fact.
The Glyptothek and the Staatliche Antikensammlungen are open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm, with extended opening hours until 8 pm on Thursdays. On Sunday entrance is free to the Königsplatz museums, the Alte Pinakothek, Neue Pinakothek, and the Pinakothek der Moderne, all of which are within a few minutes’ walk of one another. For more information, visit www.antike-am-koenigsplatz.mwn.de
© MF Owen/Oct. 04