The spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Saxony-Anhalt

Main image: Dessau-Wörlitz © Kulturstiftung Dessau-Wörlitz Michael Deutsch

For something to be awarded UNESCO World Heritage status it has to be pretty special, and the German State of Saxony-Anhalt has not one, not two, but six such awards. As Anna Hyman discovered they are all very different, and all worthy of their awards.


The small town of Quedlinburg nestles at the foothills of the Harz mountains. It is worthy of a visit any time of the year but on a snowy winter’s day it becomes even more magical.

Church of St Servatius, Quedlinburg © DZT Michael Bader

Half-timbered buildings (over 1000 – many of them delightfully crooked) line cobbled streets, winding alleyways and medieval squares. On one of the town’s two hills stands a castle and an abbey church.

The town dates back to the 10th century and has been recognised as the birthplace of the German nation ever since 919 when the Saxon Duke Heinrich was elected as Germany’s overall monarch.

Incidentally the town was subsequently ruled by Abbesses for 800 years, following on from Mathilde (Heinrich’s widow) the founder of its convent.

Located as it was on an important trading route Quedlinburg grew in prosperity thanks in part to the rich deposits mined from the Harz mountains, and its wealthy, regal families.

Today it is recognised as being one of the best preserved medieval and renaissance towns in Europe – hence its UNESCO status.

In the town there is the cute-looking white and black Fachwerkmusuem, a museum devoted to the history of half-timbered buildings; for art lovers the Lyonel Feininger Gallery is a must, and do climb the hill to admire the 16th century castle and lovely Romanesque architecture of the Collegiate Church of St Servatius.

Whilst it may not have UNESCO World Heritage status a ride up the Brocken (one of the peaks of the Harz mountains) on the famous narrow-gauge steam railway is a definite ‘must do’.

Quedlinburg in winter

Dessau and Bauhaus

Anybody fascinated by modern architecture should make a beeline for Dessau. The city is set in a pretty landscape between the rivers Elbe and Mulde and is the home to the largest number of Bauhaus buildings in the world. 

Bauhaus was originally founded by the architect Walter Gropius in Weimar in 1919 to create a new architectural and artistic movement; one involving mass production and functionality through geometric, abstract and, somewhat austere, designs. Gropius and his colleagues certainly achieved their aim. In 1925 the movement left Weimar and moved to Dessau where it had space to expand and develop.

Bauhaus © WelterbeRegion Anhalt-Dessau-Wittenberg, Uwe Weigel, 2020

In 1996 the Main Bauhaus building along with the seven ‘Master Houses’ were awarded UNESCO World Heritage status and were joined in 2017 by the ‘Houses with Balcony Access’ – an example of early 20th century social housing. The influence of the Bauhaus movement lives on to this day in many walks of life and has spread its somewhat radical influences in art, design and architecture throughout the world.

The Bauhaus Museum Dessau itself houses a huge and fascinating collection of Bauhaus objects -some 50,000. On display are a selection of items ranging from furniture to ceramics all displayed in contemporary Bauhaus style.

Fascinating as the museum is allow time to visit the close-by ‘Masters House’ of Walter Gropius on Ebertallee, where three pairs of semi-detached houses appear to seamlessly interlock to become one. Built in 1925-26 it became home to some of the leading painters of the day – think Feininger, Kandinsky and Klee. In Dessau itself seemingly every other house is an example of Bauhaus inspiration.

Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Wörlitz

Dessau has another UNESCO World Heritage site – the enchanting Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Wörlitz. It covers some 142 km² and includes seven palaces and parks with gardens, lakes and forests landscaped in the English style stretching from Messau-Mosigkau in the west to Rehsen in the east.

Dessau-Wörlitz © Kulturstiftung Dessau-Wörlitz Michael Deutsch

Allow a full day, or preferably more, to appreciate it all but do wear sensible footwear as many of the paths are gravel. If walking gets too much enjoy the scenery from a 45-minute gondola ride on the lakes and canals.

The Garden Kingdom dates from 1765, the idea of Leopold III Friedrich Franz, Prince of Anhalt-Dessau who was inspired by his travels through Europe including England and Scotland. All-in-all it is a delightful tribute to the Enlightenment paying homage to the likes of Palladio, Capability Brown and Rousseau.

Whilst some existing palaces and grounds were incorporated into the scheme others including the Wörlitz Palace, considered to be the first building of German Classicism, were specially designed for it.

Oranienbaum © DZTJürgen Blume

Call in to the Gothic House to view the collection of stained glass; cross the bridge to Stone Island inspired by Southern Italy (complete with a replica of Vesuvius); visit the Dutch-style Oranienbaum Palace; the charming Luisium Palace – Princess Louise’s home; and time allowing visit the splendid rococo Mosigkau Palace with its gallery hall hung with paintings from Flemish and Dutch masters, including van Dyck, Rubens and Jan Brueghel.

Luther Memorials and Eisleben and Wittenberg

To follow the history of the Reformation and Martin Luther head for Eisleben and Wittenberg where the Luther memorials in both towns make up another World Heritage site.

Eisleben Luther’s birthplace © DZT Christof Herdt

Martin Luther was born in Eisleben in 1483 and also where he died in 1546.  It’s a charming medieval town with some imposing town houses and a market square dominated by the bell tower of St Andrews, the church where he preached and where his funeral service was held. Luther was baptised in the Gothic church of St Peter and St Paul, close to the house where he was born and which is now a museum chiefly devoted to his life and early years work.

But it is the town of Wittenberg on the river Elbe that arguably is most closely associated with Luther. At its heart is the delightful old quarter close to the house where he lived. The house is well worth a visit crammed as it is with fascinating insights into his everyday family life. Allow time to visit the herb garden.

Wittenberg – Castle Church © DZT Christof Herdt

Away from the house look out for Luther’s Oak where Luther’s supporters burnt a pile of Church doctrine writings, and where Luther himself added to the flames with the Papal Bull – the document which threatened him with ex-communication should he not recant his writings.

Incidentally inside the Castle church is a painting depicting Luther receiving the Cup at the Last Supper painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder. It is also the church where Luther nailed his famous Ninety-five Theses to the main door. He is buried beneath the pulpit.

Nebra Sky Disc

The Nebra Sky Disc, arguably the oldest representation of the night sky is thought to date back to the Bronze Age.

Made from bronze and with a green-blue patina the disc about 30cm in diameter is inlaid with gold shapes resembling a moon and sun floating in a star-studded sky. Along with several bronze artifacts, it was discovered buried on the Mittelberg Hill at Nebra, a small town near Halle. It bears evidence of having been altered several times and nobody is sure exactly of its purpose or what it was meant to represent.

Whatever its origins and meaning it is nevertheless beautiful and definitely worthy of its place on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.

Nebra Sky Disc © Oberhausen_-_Gasometer – Frank Vincentz

On a site close to where it was found there now stands the Nebra Ark Visitor Centre, a rather striking building in its own right, with a planetarium and where special presentations, talks and events are held.

To see the original Nebra Sky Disc head some 40km to the State Museum of Prehistory in Halle – a city well worth a visit in any event.

Naumburg Cathedral

The four towers and green spires of Naumburg Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul visible from miles away dominate the Naumburg skyline. This impressive and massive building in part dates back to 1028 but most of it from the 13th century.

The chief influencer for its beautiful interior is an unidentified stone mason known today as the Naumburg Master. And what a Master. The sculptures and carvings are realistically glorious: some faces and bodies are contorted with pain or grief; others show laughing people, relaxing and enjoying life whilst others go about their everyday chores.

One statue that draws me like a magnet is the exquisite statue of Uta von Naumburg. She stands on the north side of the west choir next to her husband Ekkehard, one of the ‘founder’ statues. She has been described by the Italian academic Umberto Eco as ‘the most beautiful woman of the Middle Ages’. It has also been said that she was the inspiration for the Evil Queen in Walt Disney’s Snow White.

The sculpture ‘The Passion of Christ’ on the Western Rood Screen depicts the dying Christ on the cross with either side of him the anguished grief-stricken figures of Mary his mother and John the favourite disciple.

Admire the sculptures but also look up at the cathedral’s glorious Romanesque vaulted ceiling – the largest in central Germany; and visit the crypt to admire the crucifix. On a sunny day the Elizabeth chapel glows with colour from the glorious stained-glass windows.

Time allowing join one of the guided tours – one takes visitors up one of the towers for the stunning views but also to see the lifelike gargoyles. There are also guided tours of the delightful cathedral garden sheltering behind its strong medieval walls. Another tour includes a wine tasting and an explanation of the role that wine plays in the life of the cathedral. Children have not been forgotten either – there are creative activities for them.

Enjoy Saxony-Anhalt’s wonderful UNESCO World Heritage sites, but also take the time to linger and explore the rest of this fascinating German State.

More information

Saxony-Anhalt: or email


Our sincere and very grateful thanks to the German National Tourist Board in London, and to Saxony-Anhalt Tourism itself for their help and assistance.