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October 2006

The Green Vault Reopens in Dresden

In 1723, Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, began renovating his treasure chambers to give the enviable royal jewel collection a worthy home in Dresden. When the eight glittering Baroque rooms were finished in 1730, Augustus opened the doors to the public, thereby creating Europe's first public museum--a display that was irrefutable evidence of his wealth and absolute power. Like many architectural jewels of the former "Florence of the Elbe," the treasure chamber was destroyed by Allied bombing on February 13, 1945. The treasures themselves survived in mountain caves and the Koenigstein fortress, but were seized by the Red Army Commission and brought back to Russia after the war. In 1958, the jewels returned to Dresden, but they had no home worthy of their previous glory until the city began a € 45 million restoration of the treasure chambers in 2001.

This September, the Historic Green Vault finally reopened in the Dresden Residenzschloss, as part of the 800th year anniversary of Dresden's founding. The fantastical mirrored and gilded Baroque rooms look almost exactly the way they did when Augustus died in 1733. Amber clocks, gilded silver sculptures and bejeweled creations by Faberge idol Dinglinger stand freely on console tables, with no security cameras or glass cases to be seen. Preserving this time capsule, however, requires the aid of some distinctly modern technology: Visitors enter over a moving doormat that scrubs dirt from their shoes and pause in an air lock chamber before entering the Historic Green Vault. The greatest treasures require even more protection, and are housed in the New Green Vault. Here, the sleek modern display cases and security systems protect Augustus's most elaborate possessions from the occasional tourist's elbow. Opened in September 2004, its ten rooms showcase such pieces as a 50-carat green diamond, a cherry pit carved with 185 faces and a jeweled and enameled miniature of the court of Emperor Aureng Zeb, crafted by Dinglinger.

The New Green Vault is open daily 10 am-6 pm, and the Historic Green Vault is open daily 10 am-7 pm. Both are closed on Tuesdays. Entry to the New Green Vault costs € 6 or € 3.50 for students and children. Entry to the Historic Green Vault costs € 10, including an audio guide. Children under 6 are free. Entry to the Historic Green Vault is restricted to 100 visitors per hour and is only possible with reserved tickets. Tickets may be purchased online here, at the Visitor Center in the Dresden Residenz castle, at VVK outlets on Theaterplatz and Prager Strasse in Dresden, or by calling (0351) 49 19 22 85. Same-day tickets are available at the Schatzkammer, but only 25% of the daily allotment are reserved for that purpose. Since demand is high--over 15,000 tickets have already been sold--reservations are recommended.

The reopening of the completed Green Vault is only the latest step in the renewal of Dresden, which found new life after reunification and the city's 800th anniversary: The Frauenkirche, the Albertinum Gallery, the Royal Porcelain collection and the main train station are other city landmarks that have been or will be renovated soon. This dynamic period of restoration is a great time to visit "Florence on the Elbe." Dba flies from Munich to Dresden for around € 200 round-trip. The 6-hour train ride with the Deutsche Bahn costs around € 90 each way.

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