Sanssouci is the name of the former summer palace of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, in Potsdam, near Berlin. It is often counted among the German rivals of Versailles. While Sanssouci is in the more intimate Rococo style and is far smaller than its French Baroque counterpart, it too is notable for the numerous temples and follies in the park. The palace was designed by Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff between 1745 and 1747 to fulfill King Frederick's need for a private residence where he could relax away from the pomp and ceremony of the Berlin court.
The palace's name emphasises this; it is a French phrase (sans souci), which translates as "without concerns", meaning "without worries" or "carefree", symbolising that the palace was a place for relaxation rather than a seat of power. The palace is little more than a large, single-story villa—more like the Château de Marly than Versailles. Containing just ten principal rooms, it was built on the brow of a terraced hill at the centre of the park. The influence of King Frederick's personal taste in the design and decoration of the palace was so great that its style is characterised as "Frederician Rococo", and his feelings for the palace were so strong that he conceived it as "a place that would die with him".
Because of a disagreement about the site of the palace in the park, Knobelsdorff was fired in 1746. Jan Bouman, a Dutch architect, finished the project. Sanssouci and its extensive gardens became a World Heritage Site in 1990 under the protection of UNESCO; in 1995, the Foundation for Prussian Palaces and Gardens in Berlin-Brandenburg was established to care for Sanssouci and the other former imperial palaces in and around Berlin. These palaces are now visited by more than two million people a year from all over the world.
Ethos of Sanssouci
The location and layout of Sanssouci above a vineyard reflected the pre-Romantic ideal of harmony between man and nature, in a landscape ordered by human touch. Winemaking, however, was to take second place to the design of the palace and pleasure gardens. The hill on which Frederick created his terrace vineyard was to become the focal point of his demesne, crowned by the new, but small, palace—"mein Weinberghäuschen" ("my little vineyard house"), as Frederick called it.
Twenty years following his creation of Sanssouci, Frederick built the New Palace (Neues Palais) in the western part of the park. This far larger palace was in direct contrast to the relaxed ethos behind Sanssouci, and displayed Frederick's power and strength to the world, in the Baroque style.
Architecture of Sanssouci
It was no coincidence that Frederick selected the Rococo style of architecture for Sanssouci. The light, almost whimsical style then in vogue exactly suited the light-hearted uses for which he required this retreat. The Rococo style of art emerged in France in the early 18th century as a continuation of the Baroque style, but in contrast with the heavier themes and darker colours of the Baroque, the Rococo was characterized by an opulence, grace, playfulness, and lightness. Rococo motifs focused on the carefree aristocratic life and on light-hearted romance, rather than on heroic battles and religious figures. They also revolve around natural and exterior settings; this again suited Frederick’s ideal of nature and design being in complete harmony.
Interior of The Palace
In the Baroque tradition, the principal rooms (including the bedrooms) are all on the piano nobile, which at Sanssouci was the ground floor by Frederick's choice. While the secondary wings have upper floors, the corps de logis occupied by the King occupies the full height of the structure. Comfort was also a priority in the layout of the rooms. The palace expresses contemporary French architectural theory in its apartement double ideals of courtly comfort, comprising two rows of rooms, one behind the other.
The Terraced Gardens
The panoramic vista of the garden of Sanssouci is the result of Frederick the Great's decision to create a terraced vineyard on the south slope of the hills of Bornstedt. The area had previously been wooded but the trees were felled during the reign of the "soldier-king" Frederick William I to allow the city of Potsdam to expand. On 10 August 1744, Frederick ordered the bare hillside to be transformed into terraced vineyards. Three wide terraces were created, with convex centres to maximise the sun light (see plan). On the partitions of the supporting walls, the brickwork is pierced by 168 glazed niches. Trellised vines from Portugal, Italy, France, and also from nearby Neuruppin, were planted against the brickwork, while figs grew in the niches.
Following the terracing of the vineyard and the completion of the palace, Frederick turned his attention to the landscaping of the greater vicinity of the palace and thus began the creation of Sanssouci Park. In his organisation of the park, Frederick continued what he had begun in Neuruppin and Rheinsberg. A straight main avenue was laid out, ultimately 2.5 km long, beginning in the east at the 1748 obelisk and extended over the years to the New Palace, which marks its western end.