Updated: Mar 10, 2021
Every year, 1.4 million people visit the 19th century Romanesque Revival style Schloss Neuschwanstein (literal translation: New Swan Stone Castle). Nestled in the Bavarian Alps, perched atop a steep hill, Germany’s most iconic castle, Schloss Neuschwanstein, gleams snow-white against the picturesque background of high mountains and the Pöllat Gorge. Its proud towers and deep-blue turrets rise above the village of Hohenschwangau in southwest Bavaria. It looks like it has been plucked out of a storybook; a fairy-tale. Marienbrücke, a bridge hanging over a waterfall, offers the most iconic views of the castle. It is named after Queen Marie of Prussia, the mother of King Ludwig II.
Schloss Neuschwanstein. Photo: Harald Tedesco via Pixabay
“It is my intention to rebuild the old castle ruin of Hohenschwangau near the Pöllat Gorge in the authentic style of the old German knights’ castles, and I must confess to you that I am looking forward very much to living there one day; there will be several cosy, habitable guest rooms with a splendid view of the noble Säuling, the mountains of Tyrol …” ~ Extract from a letter from Ludwig II, King of Bavaria (1864-1886) to composer, Richard Wagner
The castle was built in the 19th century, as a private retreat for King Ludwig II to escape public life and retreat into a private fantasy world, after losing his power as a sovereign ruler in the Austro-Prussian war. Neuschwanstein was Ludwig’s imagined kingdom, where he could live out his dreams of being a true king. The construction of the castle began in 1868 and was modelled after medieval legends.
It was intended to be a better reproduction of his childhood home, Hohenschwangau Castle; a neo-Gothic, medieval-inspired castle, decorated with scenes from medieval legends and poetry. The pictures on the interior walls of the castle are covered in artwork displaying stories of love and guilt, repentance and salvation, kings and knights, poets and lovers. The main figures presented through the artwork are the poet Tannhäuser, the swan knight Lohengrin and Ludwig’s father, the Grail King Parzival. Additionally, the motif of swans is dotted throughout the castle’s interior, as they were the heraldic animal of the Counts of Schwangau and represented purity.
The idyllic, medieval castle and picturesque surroundings are rumoured to be the real-life inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland and the castle in Disney’s 1950 film Cinderella. Whilst the castle appears to be medieval on the surface, it was equipped with modern technology such as water, central heating, telephones and a lift.
In 1886, Bavaria’s “fairy-tale king”, Ludwig II, mysteriously died. The body of the king was found in Lake Starnberg. It was officially ruled a suicide by drowning, but there was no water found in his lungs. Consequently, there is speculation that he was assassinated by enemies.
After his death, the castle was named Neuschwanstein (originally called New Hohenschwangau Castle, after Ludwig’s childhood home, Hohenschwangau Castle) and the castle was opened seven weeks later to the public. Ludwig never saw the completed Neuschwanstein Castle, but his vision has inspired many and drew millions of visitors to the dreamy castle. Despite its original purpose as a private refuge, now the public walk through the lavish rooms, including a grotto and conservatory, Singer’s Hall, Lohengrin, and the throne room and take in the breath-taking views of the Tyrolean Mountains and Hohenschwangau Valley. To this day, the castle is still not completed, but nonetheless is one of the most charming castles in Europe, and perhaps the world.