Neuschwanstein castle is one of the most known buildings of Germany that inspired many generations of visitors including Walt Disney. But who was responsible for its construction?
Neuschwanstein Castle was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria and was built by the architects Eduard Riedel, Georg von Dollmann and Julius Hofmann. Construction started in 1869 but could never be completed.
The castle was never built as a defensive structure but as a retreat for King Ludwig II and as a place to show his admiration for german composer/theater director Richard Wagner.
Who was King Ludwig II of Bavaria?
To this day King Ludwig II of Bavaria is probably the most famous Bavarian king who ever lived. But why is he so famous?
Ludwig archived his international prominence mostly through his mysterious and untimely death, more on that here, and his fondness for majestic architecture.
The most famous of these castles is Neuschwanstein castle in southwestern Bavaria but there are 3 other similar impressive (and less crowded) castles. Click here to read more about the other castles Ludwig II built.
Ludwigs extensive activity in the construction of extravagant castles earned him the nickname „Fairy tale king“.
But who was the fairy tale king and why did he build Neuschwanstein castle?
Ludwig was born on August 25th, 1845 as the first son of Crown prince Maximilian II of Bavaria. After Ludwigs’ father Maximilian became king of Bavaria in 1848 he arranged a strict daily routine that would prepare his heir for the hardships of royal duties. Between the 10th March 1864 and the 8th June 1886 Ludwig II was king of Bavaria.
The relationship between Ludwig and his parents wasn`t close. Large parts of Ludwigs’ odd behavior as an adult were actually attributed to his childhood.
While the royal court recided in Munich young Ludwig spent most of his childhood at Castle Hohenschwangau. Castle Hohenschwangau was located next to the place where Ludwig would later build Neuschwanstein. The interior of Hohenschwangau was heavily decorated with scenes from popular heroic German sagas. The main motives were scenes from Lohengrin, the Knight of the swans.
These childhood memories of heroic sagas were probably one of the reasons why Ludwig was drawn to the composer and theatre director Richard Wagner. And also why he would later build Neuschwanstein castle in a medieval-themed style.
Ludwigs` childhood ended in 1864 when the 18-year-old had to succeed his deceased father, Maximilian II, as king of Bavaria.
During his first years as king, Ludwig was extremely popular among the population. He also kept his fathers` advisors and ministers around him.
But his eccentric behavior soon became a problem. Ludwig was quite shy and more interested in arts and music than in representing the monarchy. He preferred solitude over the public appearances in the residence city of Munich that were expected of him.
His eccentric behavior increased as his power declined.
Both the Austro-Prussian War, the Franco-Prussian War, and the following creation of the German Empire restricted his power even more than the Bavarian parliament already had.
Click here to learn more about the creation of the German Empire in 1871 and why the German Empire was founded in Versailles, a suburb of Paris.
Over time king Ludwig II started to try to escape his royal life with only extremely limited real power by shifting into his own fantasy world.
In order to be able to feel like the absolute (French) kings, he admired Ludwig started designing and commissioning castles that could act as a stage for his fantasies of him being a truly powerful and politically important king.
The most famous of these castles was Neuschwanstein castle.
The construction of Neuschwanstein castle began in early September of 1869. Ludwig II did not use the public Bavarian funds. He decided to pay for the castle with his own money and the accumulation of massive debt.
By the way, the massive accumulation of debt would be one of the reasons why Ludwig would lose his kingship! You can find more on that in my article here.
The castle was placed on two medieval ruins on a hill right across Ludwigs’ childhood home Castle Hohenschwangau. Young Ludwig had often climbed that hill and was not only fascinated by the ruins but also by the beautiful views the hill had to offer.
He decided to create a castle on top of the hill that would be the perfection of a medieval castle.
Well, at least what he thought to be a real medieval castle…
Ludwigs` idea of the Middle Ages didn`t really have a lot to do with the real middle ages. Do you wonder in which three periods the middle ages are usually separated? And which of the three comes closest to king Ludwigs’ Ideal of the Middle Ages?
You can find the answer here in my article where I go into depth about the 3 periods of the Middle Ages and the important events during each period.
Neuschwanstein is built in the architectural style of Castle Romanticism & Historicism and also shows many elements of Ludwigs’ fascination for the operas of Richard Wagner.
But more on that later.
Neuschwanstein was never created for defense purposes and yet it still resembles a medieval castle. The reason for that is that Ludwig, who as already mentioned had been obsessed with heroic german sagas since his childhood, admired the Middle Ages.
Or at least what he thought to be the Middle Ages. All of the sagas the king admired took place during the middle ages. But as it is usual for sagas they portrayed the Middle Ages in an overly romantic way.
And Ludwig wanted to create his „medieval castle“ just like the castles in the sagas.
So it is important to realize that Ludwigs’ imagination of the romantic middle age was only an image that didn`t have a lot to do with the actual reality of the middle ages!
You can find more information about the Middle Ages, the three periods that the Middle Ages are most commonly divided into, and the most important events of each period, here in my article.
The style of castle romanticism didn`t only inspire Ludwig. Neuschwanstein castle also amazed Walt Disney who used it as inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty Castle.
So in a way Walt Disney is responsible for the popularity of Neuschwanstein castle as a tourist attraction.
And you know what: It is well deserved! A few years ago I also visited it a few times.
Especially the interior and the Marienbrücke (a bridge with probably the best view of the castle) were truly memorable.
Almost as memorable as the masses of tourists that populate Neuschwanstein Castle by the way.
Speaking of the Interior of the castle: The castle interior was heavily influenced by the already mentioned German heroic sagas. Just a few examples:
(Unfortunately, I`m not able to provide you with pictures since taking photos inside the building was strictly forbidden at the times I visited. Sorry for that! But the Video further up shows a few images from the inside.)
The hall of singers and the Ballroom are covered with scenes from the two sagas Lohengrin and Parzival. It is important to note that neither the hall of singers nor the Ballroom was built for representative purposes.
Both of the rooms would have only been used by the king as monuments of the romanticized Middle Ages.
While the building resembled Ludwigs’ romanticized version of the Middle Ages both on the inside and the outside it was also equipped with the most modern technology of the time. Not only did Neuschwanstein castle have electricity and telephone lines, but it also had running warm water and toilets with automatic flushing.
The castle could not be finished before Ludwigs’ deposition and untimely death in 1886.
Actually, his death is still a mystery to this day, click here to check out my article on the contradicting reports we have about his death.
Ludwigs` successor, prince regent Luitpold, decided to finish construction in a simplified way so many of the originally planned features were discarded.
Examples of discarded features are the gardens and a 300 ft. High keep inside the upper courtyard of the castle.
Neuschwanstein Castle as a tourist attraction
Ludwig II had never planned to make his castle publically accessible. But his successor Prince-Regent Luitpold I opened it for the public only 6 weeks after Ludwigs’ death.
Opening the impressive castle for the public turned out to be a major success! In 1899, only 13 years after Ludwigs’ death, the entrance fees had already paid off the debts Ludwig accumulated for the construction.
Thanks to its` remote location it survived the air raids of World War II without damage. And in April of 1945, during the last days of World War II, an Order to blow up Neuschwanstein castle was ignored by the tasked SS-Officer.
Today Neuschwanstein castle is not only one of the most iconic buildings of Germany, it is also a major tourist attraction. Around 1.5 Million people visit the castle of Fairy tale king Ludwig every year.
Should you be interested in visiting the castle I would highly recommend you to book tickets in advance! I can tell you from personal experience that the lines for buying tickets at the castle are jaw-dropping. Plus the tickets for the day are often sold out before lunchtime.
Please feel free to check out the official website of Neuschwanstein castle here for more information about visiting Neuschwanstein castle.
Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.
Until next time