Nordkirchen Palace is situated in the western part of Germany's Muensterland and is part of the village of Nordkirchen. The palace comes across as a huge building with a phantastic outlay and it is little wonder that the place is also called "Little Versailles". Apart from the architecture of the buildings, Nordkirchen Palace offers a lot to the visitors, there are a number of gardens, a large sculpture programme ponds, ditches and woodland, which all belongs the this phantastic place, that is open to the public.
What really makes the difference at Nordkirchen Palace is not just the fact that the palace is moated but how the building fits into the landscape garden, the baroque parterre garden that complements the northern facade, the sculpture the visitor meets vitually again and again.
This article describes the palace with outbuildings and the gardens with the sculpture.
The baroque Water Palace of Nordkirchen is situated in the middle of a large landscape garden in Westphalia, in the rural district of Coesfeld. Actually the palace lies hidden behind large park areas and, it is very hard to catch a glimpse of the palace buildings when driving past in a car. There is a large visitor car park directly beside the entrance to the parks. From the car park it is only a few minutes walk until the visitor arrives at the outer palace moat. From there you will have a first view of the northern facade of the palace. The building in the middle is the so-called Corps de Logis or simply the main building.
A first glimpse at the palace conveys impressions of the French royal palace at Versailles. Little wonder if one considers the dimensions of the palace complex at Nordkirchen. Nordkirchen Palace is the largest complex of its kind in all of Westphalia. Of course, there is widespread use of the nickname Westphalian Versailles. Honestly, Nordkirchen is not that big. But the impression on the visitor is huge.
The original water castles belonged to the Morrien Family, who upon extinction of the male line, sold the place to the Bishop of Muenster, Prince-Bishop Friedrich Christian von Plettenberg. He quickly started building of the palace, but died year before completion. His nephew and heir managed to finalise the palace. It must be said, that the Plettenberg family was not just anyone. They belonged to the finest nobility in Westphalia at that time. On top of that, the Plettenberg family had always been close acolytes of the catholic church.
Construction of the palace lasted for over 30 years and could only be completed in 1734. It should be mentioned that the efforts to build the place led to massive debts on the part of the principal.
Following you will find extensive photographic coverage showing the palace complex. This article is a virtual walk-about across the palace complex.
We start our virtual tour around the parks of Nordkirchen Palace from the car park which is situated at the northern edge of the palace complex at Schloss Strasse directly after the roundabout. Besides, parking is free. The other good news is that the park is open to the public 24/7 and entrance is free.
Directly from the car park an alley leads down to the direction of Burgallee and the smaller Oranienburg castle. As we intend to go directly to the palace we take the Northern gate which is in about 100 m distance from the car park. From there it is another 200 m until wie arrive at the alley cross where three alleys meet. At that point, for the first time we see the vast bulk of the palace building. That view is what people know of Nordkirchen Palace because that is most publicised view of the palace.
However, we are looking at the northern facade of the Nordkirchen Palace and that is the very rear side of the building complex. The main entrance to the palace is from the southern side.
From the alley cross we can decide which way to go. Either left or right it doesn't matter. Easily the visitor will find his way around the palace island.
Nordkirchen Palace sits on an island enclosed by two moats which are separated by a dam. In the south of the palace that dam forms the outwork on which there are outbuildings. It should be mentioned that the palace island consists of two parts, the outer bailey and the inner bailey, the latter is home to the majority of the palace buildings.
There is no entry to the palace from the northern side. Access to the palace is possible from the east, the west and the south. The southern access is the main entrance to the palace and also the southern axis which provides the visual axis from the palace to the south and this axis, with its imaginary elongation to the north, finds its continuation in the northern visual axis.
We can circumvent the entire palace complex alongside the outer moat and by walking over the dam between inner and outer moat.
Access to the palace is over the southern alley that leads over two bridges and goes through three gates. After the first gate the first bridge crosses the outer moat and connects to the outwork, then leading to the second bridge which spans over the inner moat and leads the visitor to an area of the palace ground called outer bailey. The outer bailey directly adjoins to the inner moat and the second gate sits on the revetment wall. This second gate is called the "Lion Gate".
The South Gate sits on the corner where the southern driveway to the palace crosses "Schlossstrasse". This southern driveway lies exactly on the axis that cuts through the middle of the Corps de Logis.
After the South Gate, the way leads to a bridge crossing the ditch before the outwork. On the outwork there are two outbuildings, one at each corner. A second bridge connect the outwork with the outer bailey, leading the visitor to the Lions Gate. The Lions Gate marks the begin of the palace area.
The name "Lions Gate" is derived from the lions on top of the gate posts. These lions prop up the coat of arms of the first lord of the palace, Count Ferdinand von Plettenberg (on the left post) and of his wife Countess Felicitas von Westerholt-Lembeck (on the right post). The stare of the lions is directed to the outside.
Both gate posts feature channelled pilaster, the rearside features an additional column supporting the entablature of the gate post. The entablature is shaped with Triglyphe and metope. A close-up for more details is following below.
After the lions gate the visitor crosses the outer bailey and walks towards the so-called women's gate or "Frauentor"
The next images show coverage of the women's gate and we shall look into the details of the gate itself. Still we are on the southern alley that is the driveway to the Corps de Logis, or main building of the castle, also is the southern axis that cuts directly through the centre of the palace.
The women's gate is the third gate before the visitor arrives at the so-called inner bailey or palace courtyard. The palace courtyard is also closed off toward the outer bailey by a brick wall. The brick wall marks the position on which used to be a moat separating inner and outer bailey. When construction works started on Nordkirchen palace in 1705, the old water castle was raized to the ground and the moat was filled with the debris, thereby enlarging the ground area for the new palace.
Now to the gate itself. The Women's gate consists of two gate posts. Both posts have a stylised gable on which the figure of a woman is seated holding the coat of arms of lord of the palace. As was the case with the lions gate, there are two coats of arms on display. On the left hand side there are the coat of arms of Count Ferdinand von Plettenberg and on the right hand side there are the coat of arms of his wife, Countess Felicitas von Westerholt-Lembeck.
Besides each gate posts, there is the figure of a woman placed directly on the wall, featuring virtue and marriage.
The rear and front sides of the posts feature two columns supporting the entablature and the gable.
There are gates situated on the west-east axis. On that axis, as on the south-north axis, the outermost gate lines up with the outer moat. In the west that is the Western Gate, which still has a wrought-iron gate wings in place. Over the gate wings the coat of arms of the Counts of Plettenberg is installed.
On each gate post the coat of arms of the Count of Plettenberg and of his wife the Countess of Westerholt-Lembeck is on display. A count's crown is placed over the coat of arms on each side of the gate.
Going through the gate will lead the visitor to the outer bailey and over the second bridge which leads to the second gate which lines up with the inner moat and is called the "Mars Gate".
The mars gate sits directly on the western wall of the palace island and exactly on the revetment wall in line with the inner moat. Also, the mars gate closes off the inner bailey of the palace against the western site of the complex.
The face of the gate is directed towards the courtyard. In alcoves on the inner side of each gate post there is a sculpture placed. One sculpture is the Roman god of war Mars and the other sculpture is the Roman goddess Venus. Mars is depicted with the symbols helmet, sword and shield. Venus is depicted with her symbols dove, shell, girdles and mirror.
As is the case in Roman mythology, Mars and Venus always appear as a couple, which originates in Greek mythology where Ares and Aphrodite are also lovers. It was customary in the Roman world to incorporate interesting gods into their own pantheon.
The gate posts are crowned with ornaments consisting of a suit of armour, helmet and weapons. In 2005 the originals had to be replaced be remakes.
The line of gaze of ornaments and sculptures is directed towards the courtyard. Visitors coming in from the outside only can see plain gate posts and the backside of the ornaments on top of the gate posts. The sculptures in their alcoves only reveal themselves to the visitor after he or she passed through the gate.
At the east side of the palace complex there are also two bridges granting access to the palace. The first bridge crosses the outer moat then giving access to the dam between the two moats and a second bridge leads over the inner moat to the palaces complex.
Compared to the splendour of the other gates, the eastern gates are rather austere. There is one major difference at the inner gate because a flight of stairs consisting of seven steps leads up to the courtyard. From the eastern bridges it is possible to see the wedding tower at the northeast corner of the palace.