Hannover has an exceptional woman to thank for the greatest treasure that the city possesses: the Baroque garden in Herrenhausen was created by Electress Sophie (1630-1714).
The story of Grosser Garten began in the year 1666 with a commission by Duke Johann Friedrich to lay out a pleasure garden to the south of the modest palace. Most of its pleasures, though, were initially the enjoyment of the fruit that grew there. It was only when the Duke's brother, later to become Elector Ernst August (reigned 1679-1698) came to the throne in Hannover that Herrenhausen began to bloom and attained its greatest splendours. Electress Sophie found her life's work at Herrenhausen; between 1680 and 1714 nothing was undertaken here that was not at her express command. In Holland, where she grew up, she had developed an enthusiasm for its kitchen- and ornamental gardens, and on her travels in Italy she was inspired by its extravagant splendours. At Versailles she discovered Baroque forms, and Louis XIV demonstrated the fountains and water features – by which she was however less impressed.
The work of three decades
Over three decades, master gardener Martin Charbonnier laid out Grosser Garten according to Sophie's wishes: rare plants were purchased in Holland and Hamburg, wagonloads of orange trees were delivered, renowned sculptors carved statues, and the waters of the Graft framed the garden on the Dutch model. Grosser Garten was the setting for the extravagant festivities of court society, with gondola rides on the Graft, Venetian nights and ostentatious masked balls.
Meeting place of the arts and sciences
Herrenhausen in Sophie's times was the stage of European high politics and meeting place of the arts and sciences. Here, Tsar Peter the Great danced with Sophie; here, George Frideric Handel composed and played; here, the high aristocracy of Europe was entertained, and here the polymath Leibniz pondered on philosophy and science as he paced the garden.
Music, dance and theatre at Herrenhausen – this tradition thrives today with drama in the hedge theatre, concerts, festivals, world-class small-scale performing arts and international fireworks competitions to enliven Grosser Garten in Herrenhausen all year round.