“Königsplatz” in Munich as an Example of “Greek” Architecture in Bavaria

by Joachim Friedl (University of Regensburg)

Near the center of Munich there is a square that looks like a perfect imitation of Greek architecture. Königsplatz (in English “King’s square”) is the most impressive construction of all of the Greek buildings that were erected in Bavaria in the 19th century [Figure 1]. One has to wonder: Why were these almost perfectly Greek looking buildings erected in Munich? What purpose were they made for? What function was the square about to fulfill? And is the square linked to the rule of King Otto of Greece, the son of King Ludwig I of Bavaria? To answer these questions, one should examine the geographic and urban planning conditions of Königsplatz and then focus on the buildings that surround the square.

Königsplatz München

Fig. 1: Königsplatz München

Königsplatz in Munich is situated in the south of the so-called Maxvorstadt, a district that was built during the reign of Max I Joseph, who since 1799 was Elector of the Roman Empire and from 1806 to 1825 the first King of Bavaria. Maxvorstadt was built in order to methodically expand the city of Munich to the northwest in the year 1810. This was done with regard to certain aspects of urban planning. In this context, Crown Prince Ludwig, the later King Ludwig I, gave the order to transform the old road which connected the Residenz – the city palace – and Schloss Nymphenburg – the palace outside of the town – into a splendid boulevard. This improvement was created as a physical representation of Bavaria’s promotion from the rank of an electorate to a kingdom in 1806. Today, the new boulevard is called Brienner Straße. The boulevard is named after a battle against Napoleon Bonaparte that took place in 1814 and to whose victorious outcome the Bavarian army contributed. To this day, the street remains one of the noblest avenues in Munich.

In the overall planning of Brienner Straße, Königsplatz was meant to open up the checkboard-like street system of Maxvorstadt [Figure 2]. Furthermore, it was intended to form a city limit, as Königsplatz was the last urban complex before the rural area which surrounded Munich. The following map from 1812 depicts the situation very well [Figure 3]: The area around Königsplatz is developed only a little, leaving space for urban buildings, while the area outside of the square is undeveloped. The Propylaea, whose features are characteristic of a city gate, is the clear symbol of the city limit.


Fig. 2: Brienner Str.

03_Stadtplan 1806

Fig. 3: Map from 1812

Karl von Fischer was the architect responsible for the initial building activities of Brienner Straße. Already in this early period, he designed Königsplatz as an example of the precision of Greek architecture. The reason for this was King Ludwig’s philhellenic beliefs. For the king, the Greek styles were the only possibility for the square’s layout. King Ludwig wanted to create a complete representation of his social and public beliefs. As such, there is a large ensemble around Königsplatz which symbolizes all what Ludwig perceived as the main elements of the state, that is, religion, art, royal rule and the military. All of these aspects were considered in the design of the square. These elements were displayed in an order that was representative of a specific political belief system which sought to stabilize the state, the monarchy and Ludwig’s reign.

The whole complex consists, or consisted of, the St. Bonifaz abbey in the south as a symbol of religion, the Glyptothek, the antiquities collection, and the two pinacothecas located a few hundred metres north of Königsplatz as a symbol of art. The Türkenkaserne – Turkish barracks – where Ludwig’s lifeguard regiment was based, were also in the north. The barracks were destroyed in World War II and they were not rebuilt afterwards [Figure 2]. Königsplatz is the centerpiece of this complex. Since the construction of Königsplatz lasted almost 50 years, the plans changed several times. Nevertheless, the overall impression is quite consistent.

The first building – the Glyptothek – was begun on the northern side in 1816 and was completed in 1830. It was designed by Leo von Klenze, the favorite architect of King Ludwig. From the very beginning, ancient sculptures were to be shown to the public in the Glyptothek. The building is characterized by a central avant-corps with Ionic columns [Figure 4]. The pediment frieze shows Athena as the protector of the plastic arts, such as pottery (on the far right) or stone masonry (middle of the left half) [Figure 5]. The walls are divided by niches with figures of important ancient statesmen and artists such as Hephaistos (on the very left), Daedalos (on the very right side), Phidias or Pericles [Figure 6 and 7]. The interior of the Glyptothek shows both typical Greek elements including doorways [Figure 8] as well as Roman style domes [Figure 9]. One of the most famous objects of antiquity, the Barberini Faun, which Ludwig had bought in Rome in 1810, is shown here [Figure 9].

Ionische Glyptothek - München

Fig. 4: Ionische Glyptothek

05_Glyptothek Giebel

Fig. 5: Glyptothek (gable)


Fig. 6: Phidias (Glyptothek)


Fig. 7: Perikles (Glyptothek)

08_Glyptothek Munich Eastern portal

Fig. 8: Glyptothek, Eastern Portal

09_Interior, Glyptothek Munich - DSC07359

Fig. 9: Glytothek, Roman Dome

The second building, which was erected from 1838 to 1845, was the antiquities collection (in German Antikensammlung) on the southern side of the square [Figure 10]. The architect for this construction was Georg Friedrich Ziebland. Originally, the building was used as an “Art and Industry exhibition building for the promotion of art and crafts”. Since 1967, it has housed the Museum of Antiquities Collection, displaying antique art such as the Dionysus cup, a kylix from the 6th century BC [Figure 11]. The exterior is modeled on a Corinthian temple, which can be seen in the Corinthian columns. The tympanum shows Bavaria, or the personification of the state of Bavaria, recognizable from the two lions, the heraldic animal of Bavaria [Figure 12].

A church was also supposed to be built at this place as a symbol of religion. However, because Ludwig regarded the Greek classical style as too pagan, the church had to be erected at a different location. The Corinthian columns that were used in ancient Greece, mainly for religious purposes, are the relics of this original plan. The church, which represents religion as one of the pillars of state, is located south of Königsplatz, built directly behind the antiquities collection. It is dedicated to St. Boniface and serves as the church of the Benedictine abbey of the same name. For this church, Ludwig preferred an early Christian style [Figure 13]. Thus, a basilica was created between 1835 and 1850, similar to models of late antiquity such as St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome or St. Apollinare in Classe [Figure 14 and 15]. Therefore, Ludwig again enlisted the help of architect Georg Friedrich Ziebland, who specialized in so-called “Rundbogenstil”, a German variety of Neo-Romanesque art.


Fig. 10: Antikensammlung


Fig. 11: Dionysus cup (Antikensammlung)

Trojan wooden horse in front of the Staatliche Antikensammlungen at Kšnigsplatz in Munich, Germany

Fig. 12: Trojan wooden horse in front of the Staatliche Antikensammlungen at Kšnigsplatz in Munich, Germany

13_Abadía San Bonifacio, Múnich, Alemania2

Fig. 13: St. Boniface Church

Rom, Sankt Paul vor den Mauern (San Paolo fuori le Mura)

Fig 14: San Paolo fuori le Mura (Rome)


Fig. 15: Sant’Apollinare in Classe

The building that completed Königsplatz, and which is linked most closely to not only classical architecture but also with Greek-Bavarian history, is the Propylaea [Figure 16]. Initial discussions between Ludwig I and Leo von Klenze about this building took place in 1816. Concrete planning did not begin until in 1846 and construction lasted from 1854 to 1862. The Propylaea in Munich is modeled on the Propylaea of the Acropolis in Athens and was intended to complete the city to the west as a symbolic gate without military purpose. In addition to the Propylaea of the Acropolis, other gates that were erected in King Ludwig’s time were modelled after the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and the Porta del Popolo in Rome [Figure 17 and 18].


Fig. 16: Propylaea


Fig. 17: Brandenburg Gate (Berlin)


Fig. 18: Porta del Popolo (Rome)

The Propylaea has three meanings. First, it was to function as a simple gate as already mentioned. However, due to the long period between the conversations in 1816 and the completion of the Propylaea, the gate saw a significant change in meaning. Thus, the second purpose of the building is to glorify the Greek War of Independence from 1821 to 1829. The appearance of the work is subordinate to this. The friezes are laid out in chronological order from the beginning of the Greek Revolution to the reign of Otto. The sequence begins with the western frieze of the northern tower, showing the unification of Greece and the oath of the Greeks [Figure 19]. On the western gable one can see Hellas with the goddess of victory, Nike, who points to the successful outcome of the war against the Turks [Figure 20]. These battles fought by the Greeks, who were now united against the Turks, are depicted on the following two friezes on the southern tower. In the west, a battle against the Turks ashore is portrayed. In it, the Turks are presented with foreign hairstyles and weapons typically used by Asian armies in an effort that was surely meant to characterize them as non-Europeans and consequently as barbarians [Figure 21]. On the east side a naval battle is shown [Figure 22]. Plaques with the names of fallen Greeks are mounted in the passage in memory of the Greek War of Independence.

19_Propylaeen Muenchen-3

Fig. 19: Propylaea, western frieze

20_Propylaeen Muenchen-9

Fig. 20: Propylaea, western gable

21_Propylaeen Muenchen-5

Fig. 21: Propylaea, southern frieze

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Fig. 22: Propylaea, eastern frieze

The third meaning of the Propylaea is as a monument to the dynasty of Wittelsbach. Given this, the eastern gable is the iconographic highlight: Here King Otto is seen as a peacemaker, sitting on his throne, who brings the end of the war. He is surrounded by representatives of the Greek people including priests, scientists, artists, merchants, farmers, architects and shipbuilders. The scene symbolizes the positive development of Greece during the reign of Otto [Figure 23]. For this reason, the Propylaea is above all a statement about the monarchy and the Wittelsbach dynasty.

23_Propylaeen Muenchen-10

Fig. 23: Propylaea, eastern gable

A particularly ironic aspect of the construction of the Propylaea was that it was completed in 1862, the very year in which Otto had to give up the Greek throne. The opening ceremony took place just a few days before Otto returned to Munich.

In response to the questions posed at the beginning of this text one has to state that the reason for the Greek character of Königsplatz, with its three orders of columns – Doric at the Propylaea, Ionic for the Glyptothek and Corinthian for the antiquities collection all of which represent Greek architectural styles – was the philhellenism of King Ludwig I and his preference of ancient art in general. However, the decision regarding the style of the complex was taken absolutely independently from the purpose that the square should fulfil. This was not the only time during King Ludwig’s reign that the architectural appearance of a building was certain before its political statement was chosen. Only the Corinthian columns of Antikensammlung refer to the primary intent of founding a church at this place. Irrespective of the concrete architecture, the square had an important role for Ludwig in showing the elements of state with the intent of its stabilization.

Due to the fact that the decision for using Greek styles came from Ludwig’s personal will, and that the considerations for Königsplatz had already begun in the 1810s, it is clear that the plans for the construction were independent of any interrelationship between Bavaria and Greece. The relationship between the kingdom and the new state did not arise until the 1830s with the beginning of Otto’s reign. As the Propylaea, whose iconography refers to the Greek War of Independence and Otto as king, very clearly demonstrates, only the buildings that were erected after Otto had become King of Greece made reference to Otto’s Greek reign. At this historical moment, Ludwig I took the opportunity to glorify the Greek nation, and even more so, Otto and the Wittelsbach monarchy.

Picture credits