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Dresden, Germany

Green Vault

The largest treasure hoard in Europe is contained in a castle that was bombed out during World War II. 

Europe and possibly the world’s largest collection of treasures, objects d’art, cabinets of curiosity, baroque contraptions, and generally royal weirdness is all held in Germany’s Grünes Gewölbe or Green Vault.

Originally the private collection of Augustus the Strong, ruler of Saxony (modern day Dresden), the Green Vault has everything from ornate silverware with polished coral handles to nearly microscopic portrait reliefs of royalty carved in cherrywood or ivory (you have to look through a magnifying glass to see them). There are Venetian wind-up automatons that pour wine and various other ornate cabinets and contraptions. The collection even includes such contested items as the solid gold drinking bowl of Ivan the Terrible. The literal crown jewel of the Green Vault is the impossibly rare Dresden Green; a massive, naturally irradiated, green diamond from India. The diamond is on par with the Hope Diamond and the Mountain of Light in the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. It is an internally flawless hunk of beautiful green carbon mounted in a hat clasp and no picture will do it justice.

The moniker “Grünes Gewölbe” did not derive from the Dresden Green diamond however. The green in the the vault’s name came from malachite columns that had been painted green at the base and crown as well as green velvet wall coverings in some parts of the treasure rooms. In 1945 over 90% of Dresden was destroyed in a vicious fire bombing by the British RAF. During this attack the Dresdener Residenzschloss (Dresden Castle), which held much of the collection, was obliterated. Sadly many great works of art and treasure were lost in the fire bombing of Dresden and original “greens” of the Green Vault were lost with them. However in the early years of World War II a majority of the treasure in the Green Vault was moved to the Königstein Fortress and survived the destruction of the Dresden Castle.

In the 1960’s reconstruction was started on Dresden Castle and as of 2013 the renovations have finally been completed. The new interior of the Green Vault produced two separate museums, the New Green Vault and the Historiches Grünes Gewölbe (Historic Green Vault), containing a staggering 4,000 items between them. However, the original green color for which it was named is only present in the magnificent diamond that highlights the end of the tour. The Green Vault itself is a real hidden gem of Europe and Eastern Germany.