Castle of the Week 23 – Schloß Neuschwanstein

Neuschwanstein Castle in the Bavarian Alps in Germany really has no place in the histories here as it a fantastical imitation of a medieval castle built in the 19th century. However it is probably one of the most famous castles in the world, and the one used by Walt Disney as the prototype for his Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland.

There were already some old castle ruins in a spectacular spot overlooking the Pollat Gorge and dense forests when King Ludwig II of Bavaria decided to build the ultimate fairy tale castle. King Ludwig, also known as Mad King Ludwig but probably just somewhat eccentric, had grown up in nearby Hohenschwangau Castle. He wasn’t interested in being royal, preferring to live an isolated life in the mountains. Building romantic story-book castles was his passion.

He began it in 1869 and it was still unfinished when he died in 1886. The walls were brick covered with slabs of limestone. It was to be equipped with conveniences revolutionary for the time. There were flushing toilets and running water throughout, a hot water system for the kitchen and bathrooms and a warm air heating system for the whole castle.

King Ludwig was a patron of the composer Richard Wagner and many of the rooms were built around the legends used by Wagner in his operas. The huge Byzantine throne room was the Grail-Hall of Parsifal and was inspired by the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (Istanbul); Parsifal also inspired the Singer’s Hall; on the third floor is a winter garden and stalactite grotto from Tannhäuser and the great chamber from Lohengrin.

The rooms are a fantasy with everything painted, carved or decorated and the colours are bold. Styles are inconsistent – Gothic, Moorish and Romanesque are all in evidence. Swans are another theme within the castle – Neuschwanstein means new swan rock – and swans were Ludwig’s favourite animal. When he died, only the exterior and fifteen of the sixty-five rooms had been completed.

In 1886 Ludwig ran out of money. He could no longer fund his castle obsession and was dethroned on the grounds of his supposed insanity. He was arrested and, in all likelihood, committed suicide although some believed he was murdered. He was found drowned together with his doctor in a lake at the foot of the mountains.

The castle is still owned by descendants of King Ludwig although it is open to the public for guided tours.

Write-up provided by GillB. Pictures courtesy of Castles of the World