Versailles and Winchester Castle served as architectural models when Prince-Elector Johann Wilhelm II of Duesseldorf – shortened to Jan Wellem in the Rhineland dialect – ordered the construction of his “Maison de Rétraite” at a prominent site on the Bensberg mountain terrace with a breathtaking view of the cathedral city of Cologne.
While he had at first conceived of the imposing structure as a hunting lodge for his second wife, Maria-Luisa of the Medici family, Johann Wilhelm changed his plans following a visit to Versailles and ordered his architects to build a castle whose dimensions already impressed visitors in his own time – including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
When the Prince-Elector died in 1716 without ever having used his “Rhenish Versailles”, his widow soon returned to Italy. She took the numerous artists, plasterers and painters with her. Thus the building remained unfinished and was used over the centuries as a military hospital, cadet school, boarding school and refugee centre. Then in 1997 the Aachener & Münchener life insurance company bought the seriously dilapidated building and, with an investment of 75 million Euros, remodelled it as a grand hotel of the international luxury class.