Neuschwanstein—Castle of Dreams

Born in Nymphenburg Palace—the “Castle of the Nymphs”—in Munich, Bavaria, and growing up in the Gothic Revival fantasy castle of Hohenschwangau in the Bavarian Alps, is it any wonder that the creator of Neuschwanstein Castle—King Ludwig II—was prone to day-dreaming?

All around him was picture perfect scenery—glistening lakes, snow-capped mountains, and deep alpine forests.

Hohenschwangau Castle. Credit xlibber,flickr
Hohenschwangau Castle. Credit xlibber,flickr

And he was immersed in a medieval tribute to Bavarian heraldry—particularly the legend of the Knight of the Swan.

Hohenschwangau Castle. Credit Sailko
Hohenschwangau Castle. Credit Sailko

The swan looms large in Bavarian folklore. Hohenschwangau means “Upper Swan District”.

Celebrated in the medieval German romance “Parzival” and later in the operas Lohengrin and Parsifal by Richard Wagner, the Knight of the Swan is a medieval tale about a mysterious rescuer who comes in a swan-drawn boat to defend a damsel, his only condition being that he must never be asked his name.

Lohengrin rescues a damsel in distress
Lohengrin rescues a damsel in distress

This was the stuff to set a young man’s imagination alight and to dare to dream of building the most beautiful castle in the world—Neuschwanstein.

Castle Neuschwanstein against the Bavarian Alps, Germany. Derivative works based on photo by Dmytro Balkhovitin
Castle Neuschwanstein against the Bavarian Alps, Germany. Derivative works based on photo by Dmytro Balkhovitin

All it would take was money and time.

Join us as we explore the beauty and history of Neuschwanstein Castle.

Press play button to add musical atmosphere to your journey.

Our story begins in 1864 when the 18-year-old Ludwig II succeeded his father, King Maximilian II, to the throne of Bavaria.

Ludwig did what all kings do and set about planning an ambitious series of palaces and castles.

But Ludwig was different. He was a dreamer with a big imagination.

The inspiration for the construction of Neuschwanstein came from two journeys he took in 1867 — one in May to the reconstructed Wartburg Castle in Germany, another in July to the Château de Pierrefonds in France.

Wartburg Castle, Thuringia, Germany. Credit Vitold Muratov
Wartburg Castle, Thuringia, Germany. Credit Vitold Muratov
Château de Pierrefonds, Oise, France. Credit Alexicographie
Château de Pierrefonds, Oise, France. Credit Alexicographie

Neuschwanstein can be said to be a combination of these two styles—the Romanesque Palas (the main building housing the great hall) and tower of Wartburg and the numerous ornamental turrets of Pierrefonds.

As an adolescent, Ludwig and his friend read poetry aloud and staged scenes from the Romantic operas of Richard Wagner, which appealed to his fantasy-filled imagination.

He commissioned stage designer Christian Jank to create concepts for Neuschwanstein because Jank had worked on scenery for Richard Wagner’s opera Lohengrin.

Concept for Neuschwanstein Castle by Christian Jank, c.1883
Concept for Neuschwanstein Castle by Christian Jank, c.1883

Employing about 200 craftsmen, Neuschwanstein’s construction site was the biggest employer in the region for two decades.

Neuschwanstein Castle during construction, 1882
Neuschwanstein Castle during construction, 1882
Neuschwanstein upper courtyard under construction, c. 1886
Neuschwanstein upper courtyard under construction, c. 1886
Neuschwanstein Castle, c. 1895
Neuschwanstein Castle, c. 1895
Neuschwanstein Castle. Maëlick, flickr
Neuschwanstein Castle. Maëlick, flickr
Neuschwanstein Castle, c. 1895
Neuschwanstein Castle, c. 1895
Neuschwanstein Castle. Credit Taxiarchos228
Neuschwanstein Castle. Credit Taxiarchos228

Built in the 1860s, Marienbrücke (Mary’s Bridge) is a bridge overlooking Neuschwanstein Castle.

Popular with tourists as a good vantage point for photographs, the bridge spans a large gorge with a waterfall beneath.

View of Neuschwanstein Castle from Marienbrücke (Mary's Bridge). Credit Robert Böck
View of Neuschwanstein Castle from Marienbrücke (Mary’s Bridge). Credit Robert Böck
Neuschwanstein Castle, c. 1895
Neuschwanstein Castle, c. 1895
Neuschwanstein Castle and Lake Alpsee in the Bavarian Alps. Credit Dmytro Balkhovitin
Neuschwanstein Castle and Lake Alpsee in the Bavarian Alps. Credit Dmytro Balkhovitin

The western Palas supports a two-storey balcony with a view on the Alpsee lake.

Alps from a balcony of the Neuschwanstein castle in Germany. Credit Stanhua, flickr
Alps from a balcony of the Neuschwanstein castle in Germany. Credit Stanhua, flickr

The entire Palas is spangled with numerous decorative chimneys and ornamental turrets, the court front with colourful frescos.

Schloss Neuschwanstein Courtyard. Credit Jay, flickr
Schloss Neuschwanstein Courtyard. Credit Jay, flickr
Detail of Frescos in Neuschwanstein Courtyard. Credit Hedwig Storch
Detail of Frescos in Neuschwanstein Courtyard. Credit Hedwig Storch
Neuschwanstein Tower. Credit Ιακώβ
Neuschwanstein Tower. Credit Ιακώβ
Neuschwanstein's Castle roof detail. Credit Oliver-Bonjoch
Neuschwanstein’s Castle roof detail. Credit Oliver-Bonjoch
Neuschwanstein Castle, Lower Courtyard. Credit Bbb
Neuschwanstein Castle, Lower Courtyard. Credit Bbb
Neuschwanstein corridor. Credit Lokilech
Neuschwanstein corridor. Credit Lokilech
Study, Neuschwanstein Castle, c. 1895
Study, Neuschwanstein Castle, c. 1895

Fitted with several of the latest 19th-century innovations, the palace had a battery-powered bell system for the servants, telephone lines, hot-air central heating, running warm water, and automatic flush toilets.

Music room, Neuschwanstein Castle, c. 1895
Music room, Neuschwanstein Castle, c. 1895
Drawing room, Neuschwanstein Castle, c. 1895
Drawing room, Neuschwanstein Castle, c. 1895
Dining room, Neuschwanstein Castle, c. 1895
Dining room, Neuschwanstein Castle, c. 1895
Bedroom, Neuschwanstein Castle, c. 1895
Bedroom, Neuschwanstein Castle, c. 1895

The Throne Hall occupies the third and fourth floors and is surrounded by colorful arcades, with paintings of Jesus, the Twelve Apostles, and six canonized kings.

Throne room, Neuschwanstein Castle, c.1895
Throne room, Neuschwanstein Castle, c.1895
Neuschwanstein Throne Room. Credit Lokilech
Neuschwanstein Throne Room. Credit Lokilech
Neuschwanstein Castle Interior. Credit Schoenitzer
Neuschwanstein Castle Interior. Credit Schoenitzer
Neuschwanstein Castle Interior. Credit Schoenitzer
Neuschwanstein Castle Interior. Credit Schoenitzer

Ludwig’s imagination paid off: Neuschwanstein is magical from any angle and in any season.

Neuschwanstein Castle in winter. Credit University of Denver, flickr
Neuschwanstein Castle in winter. Credit University of Denver, flickr
The upper castle courtyard of Neuschwanstein in winter. Credit Benreis
The upper castle courtyard of Neuschwanstein in winter. Credit Benreis

His architectural and artistic legacy includes many of Bavaria’s most important tourist attractions.

Even more ambitious than Neuschwanstein was another fairy tale castle planned to replace the ruins of Falkenstein Castle in Pfronten, Bavaria.

The fairytale dream concept for Falkenstein Castle of Ludwig II and Christian Jank, 1883
The fairytale dream concept for Falkenstein Castle of Ludwig II and Christian Jank, 1883

But work on Falkenstein never got underway because, by the 1880s, Ludwig’s debt had skyrocketed to 14 million marks.

With no end in sight to his extravagant building projects, the Bavarian government decided to act.

In June of 1886, King Ludwig II was deposed on the grounds of mental illness.

Taken to Berg Castle on the shores of Lake Starnberg, south of Munich, Ludwig took an evening stroll along the lake shore with his personal physician, Bernhard von Gudden.

Allegedly drowned, and possibly murdered, both were found dead that same night.

To this day the details of their deaths remain a mystery.

Only the swans and time know the real story, and they promised to keep it quiet.

Swan on Lake Starnberg. Credit Boschfoto
Swan on Lake Starnberg. Credit Boschfoto

Ludwig’s dream lives on, not only in Bavaria but all around the world thanks to Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle which took its inspiration from Neuschwanstein.

Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland, Anaheim, CA. Credit Tuxyso
Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland, Anaheim, CA. Credit Tuxyso

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