Fans of the series can discover more about Victoria and her much loved husband, Prince Albert including authentic details about their early lives and family background by visiting their ancestral home in Thuringia, Germany. Victoria and Albert were cousins, descended from the Ernestines – a noble lineage going back to Ernest, Prince Elector of Saxony and Count of Thuringia in the 1400s. Explore the region’s historic towns and the many magnificent palaces, fine art collections and gardens which were built and frequented by the royal couple’s forebears. The Ernestines had immense influence and wealth as by marriage to various monarchs they came to rule over much of Europe from Belgium to Britain and from Bulgaria to Denmark.
Did you know?
2019 is the 200th birthday of Prince Albert and a series of celebratory events will be held at Friedenstein Palace
As a child, Prince Albert visited Gotha regularly when he stayed with his favourite grandmother, Karoline Amalie of SaxeGotha-Altenburg, who lived in a little palace close to Schloss Friedenstein. In 1845, he finally brought Victoria to stay with the Duchess, and to experience the town and his childhood haunts for herself. Victoria wrote in her diary that she enjoyed her time there very much, saying she ‘felt so at home.’ Visitors to Gotha can trace the couple’s footsteps and see where she danced, walked in parks and listened to music.
Regal palaces and gardensThe impressive Friedenstein Palace was built in the mid-17th century by the Ernestine dukes and its amazing art collections and ornate staterooms can be seen when visiting the extensive historic complex today. A highpoint of a tour is the Festive Hall where Victoria and Albert danced during balls that enlivened their stay.
The Palace also houses the Ekhof Theatre, which dates back to the late 1600s, and still works with the original stage machinery. Every summer, performances take place in the theatre during the Ekhof Festival.
Within the Palace’s Park is the Ducal Museum, built in 1864 by Ernest II, Albert’s brother, it houses large art, oriental and natural history collections. And, surrounding the palace, are extensive colourful gardens with an orangery and lakes that were landscaped in the ‘English style’ between 1766 and 1788.
The young Victoria had a tempestuous relationship with her mother, but she was very close to her Aunt Adelaide – the wife of King William IV. Adelaide was born in Meiningen, close to Gotha.The grand Elisabethenburg Palace in Meiningen, where Adelaide spent her childhood and where Queen Victoria visited Adelaide’s brother in 1845 – is now a focus for the town’s culture and heritage and includes the Meiningen Thuringian State Archive, the Max Reger Music School and the Schlossstuben restaurant. Groups can also learn about the famous Meiningen Court Theatre in the museum in the grand ducal riding hall.
Erfurt, the capital of Thuringia and where Martin Luther studied in 1501, has many historic attractions.
Dating back to 1100, the Old Synagogue is the oldest to survive in central Europe. In the museum the Erfurt Treasure – gold and silver from the 1300s – includes a rare Jewish wedding ring. Tours can be booked.
Also in Erfurt’s Old Town is the Merchants Bridge. Europe’s longest inhabited bridge with 32 houses is a rare survival from the Middle Ages. Nearby, is the Goldhelm Chocolate shop – the perfect place to learn how to make chocolate as well as sampling a glass of local wine!
On the edge of the Old Town is the Petersberg Citadel, a late 17th century fortress. A tour of the watch tunnels and passages in the walls can be combined with a stop at a distillery within the fortress grounds or a Thuringian buffet dinner.
Did you know?
Such was the royal family’s fondness for Gotha, that Victoria’s second oldest son, Alfred, became Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 1893, and moved permanently to the town.
The Ernestine duke and prince elector, Johann Friedrich I, chose Weimar as the capital of his duchy in 1552 but it was a later duchess, Anna Amalia and her son, Duke Carl August, whose extensive musical, artistic and literary interests resulted in the town becoming one of Europe’s most important cultural centres. Anna Amalia founded a library, and it now houses one million historical documents and books including an original Luther Bible. The library is just one of several important buildings, palaces and gardens in the town that, known as Classical Weimar, is now a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. The artist Lucas Cranach the Elder, composers J.S. Bach, Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt are linked to Weimar and architect Walter Gropius started the Bauhaus movement there in 1919.
Composer J S Bach was born in Eisenach, and a house from his period is now a museum that uses modern interpretative techniques and displays to tell his story. Interactive elements include hourly concerts performed on historic instruments, ‘sound chairs’ for listening to Bach’s music and an immersive multimedia presentation to listen to and watch famous recitals.
Wartburg Castle has presided over Eisenach for a thousand years and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site with many works of art and historical artefacts displayed. When Luther lived in exile in the castle in 1521 he translated the New Testament into German.
Thuringia’s Top Four
There are many links to the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family and connections with other Ernestines throughout Thuringia, but there are many other historic towns, castles and buildings for groups to visit. Four not to miss are:Friedenstein Palace – Gotha
March to November, Tues–Sun 10.00 to 17.00 The Old Synagogue Museum – Erfurt
Open all year, Tues–Sun 10.00 to 18.00 The Bach House Museum – Eisenach
Open daily from 08.30 to 17.30 Classical Weimar Town Centre
Attractions have varying opening times.