Eighteenth-century Dresden was one of the loveliest cities in Europe. The capital of Saxony since the Middle Ages, under the rule of Prince-Elector Augustus the Strong (who ruled 1694-1733) Dresden was a leading center of art, culture and technology. All of these came together in some surpassingly lovely architecture, including a large Lutheran church in central Dresden’s Neumarktplatz (New Market Square).
The Dresdner Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) was begun in 1726 and completed in 1743; it represents in stone something akin to what the music of J.S. Bach does in notes and staves: the apotheosis of the German Late Baroque style. (It is poetically appropriate that Bach, on a visit to Dresden in 1736, gave a recital on the Frauenkirche’s superb Silbermann organ.)
The church’s most distinctive feature was its unconventional 96 m-high dome, called die Steinerne Glocke or “Stone Bell”. An engineering feat comparable to Michelangelo’s dome for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Frauenkirche’s 12,000-ton sandstone dome stood high resting on eight slender supports. Despite initial doubts, the dome proved to be extremely stable. Witnesses in 1760 said that the dome had been hit by more than 100 cannonballs fired by the Prussian army led by Friedrich II during the Seven Years’ War. The projectiles bounced off and the church survived.