Cistercian monastery landscapes are a special kind of historical cultural landscapes. As such, they are a unique expression of European identity. As defined by UNESCO and the European Landscape Convention, the cultural landscape is a common work of man and nature in the course of history. Cultural landscapes represent the most comprehensive examples of built heritage, as they contain monuments, historical structures, villages, sometimes cities and natural elements that together create vast collection of relevant components spread through a territory.
Cistercian monastery landscapes reflect the forms and techniques of land use and settlement strategies employed by the Cistercian religious order, their adaptation to natural conditions and their strict spiritual guidelines. The historical cultural landscape is the bearer of this history, identity and of the vision the first Cistercians had for a place to cultivate and call home. For this reason, the local inhabitants believe that awareness raising, appreciation and preservation are essential goals for their landscape. The rich story of the Cistercian land-works is set with the background of magnificent scenery with soft rolling hills and charming little villages Lower Franconia in northern Bavaria, very close to world famous towns in one of the most representative regions of Germany.
In 1500, the Ebrach Monastery established a monastery office in Mainstockheim. The place was administered by the Margraves of Ansbach, the Ebrach Abbey and the Lords of Fuchs. The joint administration lasted until the place became a property of the government of Bavaria in the course of the secularisation process in 1806.
A year later, the courtyard went into private hands and subsequently changed owners several times. The Brandner family acquired the Ebrach Court in 1961. After extensive renovations, the retirement home “Ebracher Hof” was opened there and is now home to elderly people. The garden remains open to the public.
The Ebrach Abbot John Dressel built the Amtshof or tithe house from 1618 to 1630. The painted stucco decoration from the original period of its construction has been preserved in the chapel.
An impressive garden was created between 1727 and 1734 under Abbot Wilhelm Sölner von Ebrach. The courtyard is classified as a monument by the Bavarian State Office for Monument Protection. The rectangular complex with corner towers has richly structured Renaissance gables and an elaborate portal.
The work of the participants was centred on the historical garden of Ebrach Court. The architectural elements in the historical garden serve as identifying features which describe the progression of the uses given to the place by their subsequent owners. These kinds of elements are therefore key markers that document the history of the site within this cultural landscape. The relevance of their preservation is consequently relevant to secure the integrity and authenticity of the property.
Time has taken its toll on the place and a historical staircase needed urgent intervention. Work on this element was one of the main tasks. Firstly, the participants did a thorough documentation on the structure before initiating the work of deconstructing the staircase. During the process of inspection of the structure, it was observed that there could be a missing stair at the bottom. The participants excavated and discovered the previously undocumented staircase, which raised the question of whether the level of the garden had risen over the years or if this was part of the base for the staircase.
Once the structure was deconstructed, the participants helped to remove the foundation material behind the slabs of stone and removed protruding metals from these slabs to secure them from future damage. Additionally, stone conservation work was performed on damaged parts of the stone stairs. The activities on the staircase showcased for the participants not only an understanding of the Baroque period in the garden, but also about the techniques of conservation for such elements in this kind of garden.
As mentioned, the garden transitioned along the epochs of its owners, and some elements became centrepieces in this historical evolutionary process for this historical garden. During the 19th century, a statement of the time was the tea drinking culture and the spaces to socialise while consuming it. For this reason, a tea pavilion was built on the surrounding wall above the gate way.
Conservation works on the structure of the tea pavilion had been carried out in previous years, however they were not completed. The participants helped in continuing these interventions, particularly on the outside elements. They helped secure the covering of the ceiling above the gateway with clay plaster, refurbished the façade of the tea house by applying paint and worked on the interior of the tea pavilion.
As a way to reutilise spaces and readapt heritage structures along the changing nature of the sites and times, the final aim of the interventions is to turn the tea pavilion into a public information point about the Cistercian Cultural Landscape in general and the historical Ebrach garden in particular. The endeavour is still a work in progress; however the project provided the participants an educational opportunity to witness the challenges and obstacles in the field of heritage conservation, especially in the context of this site, as well as an occasion to learn how to deal with these challenges and to adjust to achieve results.
As part of the educational component of the project, the participants enjoyed an enriching experience getting to know the intricate and consequential history of the Cistercian movement in Europe. Through various lectures and visits to numerous sites dotting this landscape, the participants were able to understand the broad extent of the influence Cistercian monasteries had in forging landscapes and changing European history.
The project was organised by European Heritage Volunteers, in partnership with Cistercian Landscapes in Connecting Europe – Cisterscapes and Ebrach Court Mainstockheim and supported by the University of Bamberg / Digitale Denkmaltechnologien – Digital Technologies in Heritage Conservation and Steinrestaurierung Bauer-Bornemann.