Commanding a view of the bluish-green Alpsee lake and girded by dark forests, King Ludwig's (sometimes referred to as Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria) fairy-tale marble castle Neuschwanstein rises from a lofty rock west of Hohenschwangau in Bavaria, Germany. The very image of the castle makes you want to start planning your trip to Germany.
Neuschwanstein Castle also known as New Swan Stone Castle is a 19th century Romanesque Revival palace. The castle was built by Ludwig II, as a retreat and homage to Richard Wagner, the King's inspiring muse. The King was an immense devotee of Richard Wagner, even going as far as naming the castle after a character in one of Wagner's operas--the Swan Knight.
The conception of the palace was outlined by Ludwig II in a letter to Richard Wagner, dated May 13, 1868;
“ It is my intention to rebuild the old castle ruin at Hohenschwangau near the Pollat Gorge in the authentic style of the old German knights' castles... the location is the most beautiful one could find, holy and unapproachable, a worthy temple for the divine friend who has brought salvation and true blessing to the world. ”
Neuschwanstein Castle provides a fascinating glimpse into the king's state of mind. Ludwig aimed to build Neuschwanstein in Bavaria in the authentic style of old German knights' castles and the foundation stone of the castle was laid in Germany in September 5, 1869. Neuschwanstein was designed by Christian Jank, a theatrical set designer, rather than an architect, which says much regarding Ludwig's intentions and explains much of the fantastical nature of the resulting building. The architectural expertise, vital to such a perilously-sited building, was provided first by the Munich court architect, Eduard Riedel, and latterly by Georg Dollman and Leo Von Klenze.
Loved by the people but hated by his ministers Ludwig was removed by power due to intrigue within his own cabinet. The King himself was rarely concerned with matters of state and was sometimes thought to suffer from hallucinations. However, what frightened the cabinet were the rumors of their possible removal. Under Bavarian law, a King could be removed from power if he were found unfit to rule. The cabinet produced this report and Dr. von Gudden, Ludwig was declared insane, deposed and interned in Berg Palace, which is not far from Neuschwanstein. On 13th June 1886 he was found drowned in Lake Starnberg along with von Gudden, the psychiatrist who certified him. Was it suicide, accident or murder? The exact circumstances of his and von Gudden's deaths remain unexplained. This bit of mystery makes the atmosphere of Neuschwanstein one of the most intriguing of the castles in Germany.
Ludwig did not allow visitors to his castles, but after his death the castle was opened to the public; in part due to the need to pay off the debts Ludwig incurred financing its construction. Since that time over 50 million people have visited the Neuschwanstein Castle. About 1.3 million people visit annually, with up to 6,000 per day in the summer. The palace has appeared in several movies, and was the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty Castle at both Disneyland Park and Hong Kong Disneyland.
The castle was given to the state of Bavaria by the Crown Prince Ruppreht in the year 1923, unlike the nearby Hohenschwangau Castle, which is owned by the head of the house of Wittelsbach, currently Franz, Duke of Bavaria. Till date more than €14.5 million have been spent by the Free State of Bavaria in the renovation, maintenance as well as visitors service since the year 1990.
The palace comprises a gatehouse, a Tower, the Knight's House with a square tower, and a Palas, or citadel, with two towers to the Western end. The effect of the whole is highly theatrical, both externally and internally. The king's influence is apparent throughout, and he took a keen personal interest in the design and decoration. An example can be seen in his comments, or commands, regarding a mural depicting Lohengrin in the Palas;
"His Majesty wishes that … the ship be placed further from the shore, that Lohengrin's neck be less tilted, that the chain from the ship to the swan be of gold and not of roses, and finally that the style of the castle shall be kept medieval."
The suite of rooms within the Palas contains the Throne Room, Ludwig's suite, the Singers' Hall, and the Grotto. Throughout, the design pays homage to the German legends of Lohengrin, the Swan Knight. Hohenschwangau, where Ludwig spent much of his youth, had decorations of these sagas. These themes were taken up in the operas of Richard Wagner.
Many rooms bear a border depicting the various operas written by Wagner, including a theater permanently featuring the set of one such play. Many of the interior rooms remain undecorated, with only 14 rooms finished before Ludwig's death. With the palace under construction at the King's death, one of the major features of the palace remained unbuilt. A massive keep was planned for the middle of the upper courtyard but was never built, at the decision of the King's family. The foundation for the keep is visible in the upper courtyard.
The finished rooms include the throne room, which features a glass gem-encrusted chandelier; all Twelve Apostles and six canonised kings are painted on the wall that surrounds the dais for the throne, and Jesus behind the dais - the actual throne was never finished. This reflects Ludwig's view of himself as king, by the grace of God. The King's master suite includes a four-post bed hand carved of wood, the canopy of which is carved as the cathedral towers from every cathedral in Bavaria, a secret flushing toilet and a running sink in the shape of a swan. The hand carved wood was very detailed and adorned the entire room, causing the master suite to take 10 years to complete.
The palace also includes an oratory, accessible from the dressing room and the master suite, which features an ivory crucifix, a room made to look like a cavern, a full kitchen equipped with hot and cold running water and heated cupboards, servants' quarters, a study, a dining room and the Singers' Hall. The Singers' Hall is a venue for performances by musicians and playwrights. The King built it for Wagner as a place to write and perform plays. The King died before watching a performance in the Singers' Hall, but it has been used since the King's death.
The pictures of some of the finished rooms such as Living Room, Study, Dressing Room, Dining Room and Kitchen.
Despite its medieval look, the construction of Neuschwanstein required the modern technology of the day, and the palace is a marvel of technological structural achievements. The structure uses steam engines, electricity, modern venting, a modern water system on all floors, and heating pipes.
It is now almost forgotten that Ludwig II was a patron of modern inventions and that he pioneered the introduction of electricity into public life in Bavaria. His new palaces were the first buildings to use electricity (e.g. the Venus Grotto at Linderhof) and other modern conveniences. Through his building activities, Ludwig kept many particular crafts alive, the knowledge and expertise of which would have died out otherwise, and he provided work and income to artisans, builders, plasterers, and decorators.