Baroque Architecture: Grandiosity, Magnificence, and Drama

Called Era of Contrasts, Baroque produced the most magnificent castles and churches in Europe. Absolute power and the church demonstrated their power in the form of Baroque architecture. What defines the Baroque architecture, and can we even learn something from it for modern building?

During the Renaissance period, builders looked back to the past. They used the ancient knowledge of antiquity and further developed the ideas and ancient techniques. As a result, they created impressive structures. It was often a matter of demonstrating the majesty and power of the respective ruler.

In the following era, this effect was reinforced again. The 17th and 18th century was marked by revulsion and rebellion. Wars of succession, revolutions against the absolutistic rulers: In this era of contrasts, vanitas and memento mori were directly opposed to the opulent high spirits, carpe diem.

Many monarchies teetered dangerously toward their precipice. The people questioned the God-given ruling power of the royal houses. The Catholic Church was also significantly tarnished after the Reformation by Martin Luther. Reason enough to reach out more to the people to gain their trust? Far from it.

Rather, the claim to power of absolutism and the Catholic Church should be emphasized as clearly as possible. No wonder, then, that the most magnificent castles and churches were built in this era. So what defines the architectural style of the Baroque period?

Features of Baroque Architecture

Anyone who stands in front of a Baroque building, knows about the spacious grounds around the main building(s). Symmetrically landscaped gardens present elaborate water features that are a work of art in themselves due to hydraulic systems.

Instead of showing simplicity or humility, the Baroque impresses with a strong inclination towards opulence. Whether art or architecture: Everywhere you look, you can see the elaborate decorations, ornate sculptures, and sumptuous materials, such as marble and gold.

Facade and interior design have always been characterized by curved dynamic lines and almost theatrical productions on detailed frescoes or in the form of elaborate decorations. The Counter-Reformation was promoted by the Catholic Church by all means, including art and architecture. Many of these productions also showed ecclesiastical motifs. As if she would simply mute critical voices, if they only shouted loud enough for grandiosity.

Baroque buildings can often be recognized by their facade. Strong symmetry and a central, emphasized entrance give the first impression. The next thing you notice are domes, as large as possible, and high towers, which should demonstrate the power of the monarchy and the church to the outside world.

Furthermore, the almost inflationary use of gold and marble is noticeable. Moreover, there is the strong color scheme of the buildings. Visitors to these buildings often search in vain for restrained pastel colors or harmonic earth tones.

Inside, additional illusionistic artworks, mirrors, and stuccoes on ceilings and walls make the visitors feel lost and dead at the same time: a pure demonstration of force. The masterful use of light and shadow, achieved by large windows, further enhances this effect. A certain dramata runs through the entire structure.

Examples of Baroque Architecture

Many well-known buildings from the times of absolutism and Counter-Reformation were built in the distinctive Baroque style. We present some of them in detail to you, and look at the special features of them. Each region shows special characteristics and interpretations of the Baroque style. However, they have one thing in common: grandiosity, magnificence, and a penchant for drama.

Palace of Versailles

Versailles, France

We start with probably the most famous building of this era. The Palace of Versailles has been taken numerous times as a model for other palaces and a prime example of high palace architecture. It is hard to surpass in elegance and grandiosity, although its beginnings were relatively modest.

This small hunting castle was built in 1623 for the French King, Louis XIII. The size alone caused ridicule and spite from the rest of the nobility. So it was extended into a castle with three wings between 1631 and 1634. When Versailles was named as the future seat of government of King Louis XIV in 1667, something had to change.

Between 1678 and 1697, the castle was expanded three times, turning into a vast palace complex. The Sun King used about three percent of the state budget for the water supply and water features of the palace complex alone.

Particularly famous is the Hall of Mirrors with a length of 75 m (246 ft) and a width of 10 m (33 ft), including 30 ceiling frescoes, dedicated to the king, and a total of 357 mirrors. To date, Versailles has been the scene of special events several times. On June 29, 1919, a peace treaty between Germany and France was signed here.

Nowadays, extraordinary parliamentary sessions take place behind the gilded gates of the palace, and distinguished guests are received here. In June 2021, the luxury hotel "Grand Contrôle" opened in an adjoining building.

Sanssouci Palace

Potsdam, Germany

Built by order of Frederick the Great, Sanssouci Palace is a true piece of art. This was where the Prussian king preferred to withdraw with his dogs. Understandable, as the single-story castle and the famous terrace vineyards below are a real eye-catcher.

The name of the castle – without concerns – comes from the king's ferent wish to create a place where he would have only serenity and peace. The one-story structure was only planned as a summer residence, but Frederick the Great stayed here most of the time of his life.

Once the hill, on which the complex stands today, was terraced for vine growing, Frederick the Great had the castle built on the site between 1745 and 1747. He strictly rejected a basement or an additional floor. In contrast to many other baroque buildings, hardly any renovations have taken place here. In the 19th century, the western wing of the court waitress and the easterly wing for the kitchen and cellar were only added.

The Baroque predilection for curved lines and domes is particularly evident here. The love for his castle was so great that Frederick the Great wanted to be buried in a tomb on the uppermost terraced terrace. However, this wish was finally fulfilled in 1991, when his remains were transferred there.

Dresden Zwinger

Dresden, Germany

Also in Germany, there is a palace building whose name has always caused uncertainty: the Dresden Zwinger. That doesn't sound comfortable or aesthetic, which is probably because it was originally a square between the inner and outer defensive wall of the city. Here, the invading enemy was trapped in that part of the fortification ("Einzwingen" in German). So that's where the name comes from. Today, only the remains of the ramparts in the Zwinger moat eaves memory of this past.

The history of palace construction began with Augustus the Strong. He had a very special hobby: He collected orange trees and other Mediterranean container plants. So in 1709, he commissioned the construction of an orangery on Zwingerplatz, which would serve as a winter quarters for the tender plants.

Later, court parties were also held there, typical of the Baroque period, not only as the amusement and entertainment of court society, but superficially as a means of displaying wealth and imperial power. The expansion into a Baroque palace complex took several years. From 1712 to 1728, numerous accommodations and areas were added, including a long gallery and the crown gate.

In the World War II, the Zwinger was almost completely destroyed. The reconstruction and renovation work lasted until 2017, in fact. Then, the orange trees moved back, completing the palace building in its old splendor. Even today, the inner courtyard is a true oasis of calm in the middle of the city.

Schönbrunn Palace

Vienna, Austria

We leave Germany and take a look at the neighboring country, Austria. Here is a Baroque castle, a landmark of the capital, Vienna: the Schönbrunn Palace. Like most famous Baroque buildings, it was built as a hunting castle in the 17th century, under Leopold I. After 1743, Empress Maria Theresa had it expanded into a sumptuous residence.

The facade in particular reveals the already mentioned claim to power of the Habsburg dynasty as a typical feature of the Baroque period. The emperor Josef II ordered in the 1780s that all buildings of the state of Austria and the house of Habsburg be painted in this special ocher shade. Today, it is still referred to as "Schönbrunn yellow".

Schönbrunn is a place steeped in history. In 1762, the European powers negotiated the reorganization of Europe, known as the Congress of Vienna, in the rooms of the castle. Napoleon Bonaparte resided here and signed the Peace of Schönbrunn with Austria in 1805.

At the end of the monarchy after World War I, Schönbrunn was converted into a public museum, but sustained heavy damage during World War II, and has been carefully restored.

Today, Schönbrunn is one of the most beautiful Baroque complexes in Europe. The complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and includes both the Schönbrunn Palace, the Schönbrunn Zoo, the Gloriette pavilion, the Desert hHouse, and the famous Neptune Fontain.

Royal Palace of Madrid

Madrid, Spain

If you want to visit the Royal Palace of Madrid, you should take sun glasses. And not just because of the sun, as the outer walls of the palace are made of granite and limestone: bright white, so bright that it is almost blinding. With the ground area of 135,000 m² (1,453,128 ft²) and 3,418 rooms, the Royal Palace secures the position as the largest royal palace in Europe.

Before the royal palace was built here, there was the Alcázar fortress on the same site. Although it was considered the official residence of King of Spain, it was hardly worthy of the title. So it was almost lucky that the entire castle burned down on Christmas Eve 1734. A replacement was needed, typical of the Baroque, of course, as magnificent as possible!

Philip V commissioned the new building, and in 1738, the work began that was finished in 1764. The result is an opulent Baroque building with influences of the Italian Renaissance. Only specialists of the time built this architectural piece of art. Like most Baroque residences, the Royal Palace was extended. King Charles III commissioned the reconstruction and further expansion of the palace.

Numerous sculptures of various members of the royal family as well as historical figures can be found throughout the palace grounds. It is still the official residence of the Spanish royal family. Today, the Palace is a museum. It is also used for receptions, ceremonies, and official occasions. The Kings of Spain have their residence in the Zarzuela Palace.

Conclusion: Baroque Architecture

We can summarize that there are similar motifs in the Baroque architecture to those of the Gothic and Renaissance buildings. Above all, the architecture should demonstrate the power. Distinctive features of the Baroque style are the bright colors and opulent decorations made of gold, marble, and other expensive materials.

Wealth, power, and fame: these were the guiding principles behind the majority of magnificent Baroque buildings. In our modern construction industry, we often think a little differently, of course. However, what can we take for today's construction industry from the builders of the Baroque period?

What can we learn from the Baroque period?

Visual harmony in architecture was capitalized in the Baroque period. The aesthetic decorations nested in the curved, organic lines, creating a dynamic overall picture that is eye-catching. In the days of absolutism, a building was an art, and that became more than clear in each of these buildings. A little more aesthetics, especially for facades of public buildings, would also be desirable today. Undecorated concrete cubes don't look pretty, no matter from which perspective.

To ensure that the Baroque buildings could function as such, a number of professional groups worked together. It also included artists, such as painters and sculptors, as well as horticulturists and engineers, who took care of the hydraulic systems for irrigation. Only together could they succeed in creating a self-contained, unique facility. They had the big picture, the goal in mind.

This way of thinking is missing in the construction industry today. Many professional groups work side by side on the same construction project, which ultimately fails, or where problems arise if no clear agreements are made. We could prevent this by involving all parties involved in the planning process from the very beginning.

Baroque builders were also better positioned in terms of durability and sustainability. The use of durable materials, such as sandstone, kept the building fabric stable even under centuries of load. Renovations were also not a problem. No buildings were demolished in order to build new ones, but the existing buildings were used.

Unfortunately, in our modern world, far too many structures are simply demolished. Not because they had reached the end of their lifetime, but simply because they were unwilling to work on a solution with the existing structures as a basis. A little more creativity, flexibility, and innovative thinking would certainly lead to beautiful converted buildings. Without having to further pollute our environment unnecessarily.


As a copywriter in marketing, Ms. Ruthe is responsible for creating creative texts and gripping headlines.