Along the Elbe and first documented in 1233, Pirna was a thriving Middle Ages town based on favourable river trading rights which profited the Electors of Saxony and through their significant investment grew into a Renaissance jewel.

Although subdued in the Thirty Years War, and later Seven Years War, the town flourished again in the 1700s when it was painted by the court painter, Bernado Bellotto, commissioned by the King of Saxony Freidrich August II.

Pirna from the Elbe

Bellotto practised painting with the help of a camera obscura. A nephew and pupil of Canaletto (whose name he used as his own in Germany), his eleven views of the town are on display at Dresden’s Old Masters Gallery.

Bellotto’s style was characterized by elaborate representation of architectural and natural vistas, and by the specific quality of each place’s lighting. The constantly changing light on this stormy day would have no doubt thrilled the Venetian.

The town boasts Medieval, Renaissance, late Gothic and Baroque buildings, some of them public places most of them merchants’ or private homes.

Devils, angels and dragons are a common decoration and one house, remarkable for its two story Renaissance oriel window supported by devils carries the inscription ‘Ich wolds so haben was fragstu darnach’ I wanted to have it like that, why do you ask? Quite!

At the top of the town, we admired rooftop views from the terraced gardens of the castle, continuously built from the 1600s and throughout the 1900s. A fortress, a hospital, a care centre, it now holds the town archives and is an entertainment venue. It’s beer garden, on the old sentry walkway, dates to 1740.

Pirna didn’t escape the madness of the 20th century. A moving memorial commemorates the victims of so called ‘euthanasia’. 13,720 mentally ill people and at least 1,031 prisoners were murdered in the strictest secrecy in the town between June 1940 and August 1941. At the time Saxony, like neighbouring Bavaria and Sudentenland was a stronghold of Nazi Germany.

Today, Pirna is a busy and enterprising town with, seemingly, a festival or major event taking place every week.

With stormy skies and the ever changing light, we enjoyed looking back to it from across the water at our motorhome stopover. Every half hour we heard the blast of the steamship that plies the summer waters up and down between Dresden and the Bastei. A beautiful spot on the Elbe!

Evening settles at Pirna