Is Neuschwanstein the most beautiful castle of them all?
Mirror mirror on the wall… what is the most beautiful castle of them all?
Located on a rugged hill above the village of Hohenschwangau, a small village in Bavaria, Germany, rests the inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle: Neuschwanstein Castle. For history and travel enthusiasts, nothing sparks inspiration and imagination like this castle, as it appears like a window into a fairy tale land.
The construction of the castle, which was supposed to be built for the Bavarian king Ludwig II, also known as the “mad king” or the “fairy tale king”, started in 1869, but was unfortunately never completed. King Ludwig II expected the castle to be finished in three years so that he could live there, meant as a private residence. However, the castle was not built as rapidly as he expected, and unfortunately, he didn’t live long enough to see his dream become a reality. However, he did manage to sleep in the unfinished castle for 11 nights. At the time of king Ludwig’s death in 1886, the palace was far from being finished. After his death in 1886, the castle opened its doors to the public, and the construction of the castle was continued, but many of the initial plans were either not realized or finished in a simplified form.
The building of this monumental castle had a political reason, as in 1866 Bavaria was forced to accept a defensive and offensive alliance with Prussia, which meant the removal of king Ludwig’s right to arrange his army in case of war. From that moment on, Ludwig II was not a sovereign ruler anymore, and this limitation became the biggest misfortune in his life. As a result, from 1867 onwards he began building castles and palaces, which were supposed to represent his kingdom and where he could be a real king.
The inspiration and design of the castle is inspired by the architectural fashion known as ‘Burgenromantik’, or castle romanticism in English, and by the operas of Richard Wagner. King Ludwig II greatly admired the famous composer which he befriended, and had Christian Jank (an opera set designer) create the design for the castle. The name Neuschwanstein, which means ‘New Swan Stone’, actually derives from one of Wagner’s opera’s characters, the Swan Knight. The castle was supposed to be a monument to the culture and concept of monarchy prevailing in the Middle Ages, which king Ludwig II greatly admired, and he wanted to recreate. It is built and furnished in a stunning medieval style, and the bedroom alone required 14 carpenters to work for over four years to complete it.
During World War II, Neuschwanstein Castle (or New Hohenschwangau Castle) was used to store thousands of important artworks that were looted by Nazis. Hitler planned to open a museum after the war, and the artworks were supposed to be exhibited there. Because the castle was located far away from the frequently-bombed capital of Berlin, it was thought to be the ideal storage facility to hide the art. After the liberation of Paris, soldiers recovered artworks inside the castle, and in the surrounding woods. If you’re interested to learn more about this historical story, we’d recommend watching the movie The Monuments Men with George Clooney and Matt Damon.
Today, Neuschwanstein isn’t just a relic from a past era, it creates the backdrop of a lively community and adds charisma and a unique flavour to the landscape, which since its opening has attracted more than 61 million people from around the world. Over 1.3 million people visit the castle each year, and it remains to be one of the top attractions in all of Germany each year. That number of visitors is ironic, by the way, since the castle was meant to be for one person only.