Europe and possibly the world’s largest collection of treasures, objects d’art, cabinets of curiosity, baroque contraptions, and general royal weirdness are all held in Germany’s Grünes Gewölbe (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.
But the moniker “Grünes Gewölbe” did not derive from the Dresden Green diamond. The green in 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 percent 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 firebombing of Dresden and the 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.
Reconstruction was started on Dresden Castle in the 1960s. While restoration is still ongoing in parts of the castle, many parts of it have reopened. The new interior of the Green Vault produced two separate museums, the New Green Vault and the Historiches Grünes Gewölbe (Historic Green Vault), which contain 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.
On November 25, 2019, masked burglars broke into the museum and stole dozens of artifacts, including the 49-carat Dresden White Diamond, an Order of the White Eagle breast star made for the King of Poland, a diamond-encrusted sword, and a number of other jewels and trinkets. The thieves took more than 30 items valued at an estimated €113 million, making it one of the biggest jewel thefts in history. In May 2023, five men were convicted for their roles in the heist. Most of the stolen jewels have been recovered, though some important pieces are still missing.