Neuschwanstein Castle is a 19th-century Romanesque Revival palace on a rugged hill above the village of Hohenschwangau near Füssen in southwest Bavaria, Germany. The palace was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria as a retreat and as a homage to Richard Wagner. Contrary to common belief, Ludwig paid for the palace out of his personal fortune and extensive borrowing, not with Bavarian public funds.
The palace was intended as a personal refuge for the reclusive king, but it was opened to the paying public immediately after his death in 1886. Since then over 60 million people have visited Neuschwanstein Castle. More than 1.3 million people visit annually, with up to 6,000 per day in the summer. The palace has appeared prominently in several movies and was the inspiration for Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle and later, similar structures.
The municipality of Schwangau lies at an elevation of 800 m (2,620 ft) at the south west border of the German state of Bavaria. Its surroundings are characterized by the transition between the Alpine foothills in the south (towards the nearby Austrian border) and a hilly landscape in the north that appears flat by comparison. In the Middle Ages, three castles overlooked the village.
One was called Schwanstein Castle. In 1832, Ludwig's father King Maximilian II of Bavaria bought its ruins to replace them by the comfortable neo-Gothic palace known as Hohenschwangau Castle. Finished in 1837, the palace became his family's summer residence, and his elder son Ludwig (born 1845) spent a large part of his childhood here.
Vorderhohenschwangau Castle and Hinterhohenschwangau Castle sat on a rugged hill overlooking Schwanstein Castle, two nearby lakes (Alpsee and Schwansee), and the village. Separated only by a moat, they jointly consisted of a hall, a keep, and a fortified tower house. In the 19th century only ruins remained of the medieval twin castles, but those of Hinterhohenschwangau served as a lookout place known as Sylphenturm.
The ruins above the family palace were known to the crown prince from his excursions. He first sketched one of them in his diary in 1859. When the young king came to power in 1864, the construction of a new palace in place of the two ruined castles became the first in his series of palace building projects. Ludwig himself called the new palace New Hohenschwangau Castle – only after his death was it renamed Neuschwanstein. The confusing result is that Hohenschwangau and Schwanstein have effectively swapped names: Hohenschwangau Castle replaced the ruins of Schwanstein Castle, and Neuschwanstein Castle replaced the ruins of the two Hohenschwangau Castles.
Concept and ethos
Neuschwanstein embodies both the contemporaneous architectural fashion known as castle romanticism (German: Burgenromantik), and Ludwig II's immoderate enthusiasm for the operas of Richard Wagner.
In the 19th century many castles were constructed or reconstructed, often with significant changes to make them more picturesque. Palace-building projects similar to Neuschwanstein had been undertaken earlier in several of the German states and included Hohenschwangau Castle, Lichtenstein Castle, Hohenzollern Castle and numerous buildings on the River Rhine such as Stolzenfels Castle. The inspiration for the construction of Neuschwanstein came from two journeys in 1867: One in May to the reconstructed Wartburg near Eisenach, another in July to the Château de Pierrefonds, which Eugène Viollet-le-Duc was transforming from a ruined castle into a historistic palace.
The king saw both buildings as representatives of a romantic interpretation of the Middle Ages as well as the musical mythology of his friend Richard Wagner. Wagner's operas Tannhäuser and Lohengrin had made a lasting impression on him.
In February 1868, Ludwig's grandfather Ludwig I died, freeing the considerable sums that were previously spent on the abdicated king's appanage. This allowed him to start the architectural project of building a private refuge in the familiar landscape far from the capital Munich, so that he could live his idea of the Middle Ages.
The building design was drafted by the stage designer Christian Jank and realized by the architect Eduard Riedel. For technical reasons the ruined castles could not be integrated into the plan. Initial ideas for the palace drew stylistically on Nuremberg Castle and envisaged a simple building in place of the old Vorderhohenschwangau Castle, but they were rejected and replaced by increasingly extensive drafts, culminating in a bigger palace modelled on the Wartburg. The king insisted on a detailed plan and on personal approval of each and every draft. His control went so far that the palace has been regarded as his own creation rather than that of the architects involved.
Whereas contemporary architecture critics derided Neuschwanstein, one of the last big palace building projects of the 19th century, as kitsch, Neuschwanstein and Ludwig II's other buildings are now counted among the major works of European historicism. For financial reasons a project similar to Neuschwanstein – Falkenstein Castle – never left the planning stages.
The palace can be regarded as typical for 19th century architecture. The shapes of Romanesque (simple geometric figures such as cuboids and semicircular arches), Gothic (upward-pointing lines, slim towers, delicate embellishments) and Byzantine architecture and art (the Throne Hall décor) were mingled in an eclectic fashion and supplemented with 19th century technical achievements. The Patrona Bavariae and Saint George on the court face of the Palas (main building) are depicted in the local Lüftlmalerei style, a fresco technique typical for Allgäu farmers' houses, while the unimplemented drafts for the Knights' House gallery foretell elements of Art Nouveau. Characteristic for Neuschwanstein's design are theater themes: Christian Jank drew on coulisse drafts from his time as a scenic painter.
The basic style was originally planned to be neo-Gothic but was primarily built in Romanesque style in the end. The operatic themes moved gradually from Tannhäuser and Lohengrin to Parsifal.
The palace complex is entered through the symmetrical Gatehouse flanked by two stair towers. The eastward-pointing gate building is the only structure of the palace whose wall area is fashioned in high-contrast colours; the exterior walls are cased with red bricks, the court fronts with yellow limestone. The roof cornice is surrounded by pinnacles. The upper floor of the Gatehouse is surmounted by a crow-stepped gable and held Ludwig II's first lodging at Neuschwanstein, from which he occasionally observed the building work before the hall was completed. The ground floors of the Gatehouse were intended to accommodate the stables.
The passage through the Gatehouse, crowned with the royal Bavarian coat of arms, leads directly into the courtyard. The courtyard has two levels, the lower one being defined to the east by the Gatehouse and to the north by the foundations of the so-called Rectangular Tower and by the gallery building. The southern end of the courtyard is open, imparting a view of the surrounding mountain scenery. At its western end the courtyard is delimited by a bricked embankment, whose polygonally protracting bulge marks the choir of the originally projected chapel; this three-nave church, never built, was intended to form the base of a 90-metre keep, the planned centrepiece of the architectural ensemble. A flight of steps at the side gives access to the upper level.
Today the foundation plan of the chapel-keep is marked out in the upper-courtyard pavement. The most striking structure of the upper court level is the so-called Rectangular Tower (45 metres). Like most of the court buildings, it mostly serves a decorative purpose as part of the ensemble. Its viewing platform provides a vast view over the Alpine foothills to the north. The northern end of the upper courtyard is defined by the so-called Knights' House. The three-storey building is connected to the Rectangular Tower and the Gatehouse by means of a continuous gallery fashioned with a blind arcade. From the point of view of castle romanticism the Knights' House was the abode of a stronghold's menfolk; at Neuschwanstein, estate and service rooms were envisioned here. The Bower, which complements the Knights' House as the "ladies' house" but was never used as such, defines the south side of the court yard. Both structures together form the motif of the Antwerp Castle featuring in the first act of Lohengrin. Embedded in the pavement is the floor plan of the planned palace chapel.
The western end of the courtyard is delimited by the Palas (hall). It constitutes the real main and residential building of the castle and contains the king's stateroom and the servants' rooms. The Palas is a colossal five-story structure in the shape of two huge cuboids that are connected in a flat angle and covered by two adjacent high gable roofs. The building's shape follows the course of the ridge. In its angles there are two stair towers, the northern one surmounting the palace roof by several storeys with its height of 65 metres. With their polymorphic roofs, both towers are reminiscent of the Château de Pierrefonds. The western Palas front supports a two-storey balcony with view on the Alpsee, while northwards a low chair tower and the conservatory protract from the main structure. The entire Palas is spangled with numerous decorative chimneys and ornamental turrets, the court front with colourful frescos. The court-side gable is crowned with a copper lion, the western (outward) gable with the likeness of a knight.
Had it been completed, the palace would have had more than 200 interior rooms, including premises for guests and servants as well as for service and logistics. Ultimately, no more than about 15 rooms and halls were finished. In its lower stories the Palas accommodates administrative and servants' rooms and the rooms of today's palace administration. The king's staterooms are situated in the upper stories: The anterior structure accommodates the lodgings in the third floor, above them the Hall of the Singers. The upper floors of the west-facing posterior structure are filled almost completely by the Throne Hall. The total floor space of all floors amounts to nearly 6000 square metres.
Neuschwanstein houses numerous significant interior rooms of German historicism. The palace was fitted with several of the latest technical innovations of the late 19th century. Among other things it had a battery-powered bell system for the servants and telephone lines. The kitchen equipment included a Rumford oven which turned the skewer with its heat and so automatically adjusted the turning speed. The hot air was used for a calorifère central heating system. Further novelties for the era were running warm water and toilets with automatic flushing.
The largest room of the palace by area is the Hall of the Singers, followed by the Throne Hall. The 27 metres by 10 metres Hall of the Singers is located in the eastern, court-side wing of the Palas, in the fourth floor above the king's lodgings. It is designed as an amalgamation of two rooms of the Wartburg: The Hall of the Singers and the Ballroom. It was one of the king's favorite projects for his palace. The rectangular room was decorated with themes from Lohengrin and Parzival. Its longer side is terminated by a gallery which is crowned by a tribune, modelled after the Wartburg. The eastern narrow side is terminated by a stage which is structured by arcades and known as the sängerlaube. The Hall of the Singers was never designed for court festivities of the reclusive king. Rather, like the Throne Hall it served as a walkable monument in which the culture of knights and courtly love of the Middle Ages was represented. The first performance in this hall took place in 1933: A concert commemorating the 50th anniversary of Richard Wagner's death.
The Throne Hall, 20 metres by 12 metres, is situated in the west wing of the Palas. With its height of 13 metres it occupies the third and fourth floors. Julius Hofmann modelled it after the Allerheiligen-Hofkirche in the Munich Residenz. On three sides it is surrounded by colorful arcades, ending in an apse that was intended to hold Ludwig's throne – which was never completed. The throne dais is surrounded by paintings of Jesus, the Twelve Apostles and six canonized kings. The mural paintings were created by Wilhelm Hauschild. The floor mosaic was completed after the king's death. The chandelier is fashioned after a Byzantine crown. The Throne Hall makes a sacral impression. Following the king's wish, it amalgamated the Grail Hall from Parzival with a symbol of the divine right of kings, an incorporation of unrestricted sovereign power, which Ludwig as the head of a constitutional monarchy no longer held.
Apart from the large ceremonial rooms several smaller rooms were created for use by Ludwig II. The royal lodging is on the third floor of the palace in the east wing of the Palas. It consists of eight rooms with living space and several smaller rooms. In spite of the gaudy décor, the living space with its moderate room size and its sofas and suites makes a relatively modern impression on today's visitors. Ludwig II did not attach importance to representative requirements of former times, in which the life of a monarch was mostly public. The interior decoration with mural paintings, tapestry, furniture and other handicraft generally refers to the king's favorite themes: the grail legend, the works of Wolfram von Eschenbach, and their interpretation by Richard Wagner.
The eastward drawing room is adorned with themes from the Lohengrin legend. The furniture – sofa, table, armchairs and seats in a northward alcove – is comfortable and homelike. Next to the drawing room is a little artificial grotto that forms the passage to the study. The unusual room, originally equipped with an artificial waterfall and a so-called rainbow machine, is connected to a little conservatory. Depicting the Hörselberg grotto, it relates to Wagner's Tannhäuser, as does the décor of the adjacent study. In the park of Linderhof Palace the king had installed a similar grotto of greater dimensions. Opposite the study follows the dining room, adorned with themes of courtly love. Since the kitchen in Neuschwanstein is situated three storeys below the dining room, it was impossible to install a wishing table (dining table disappearing by means of a mechanism) as at Linderhof Palace and Herrenchiemsee. Instead, the dining room was connected with the kitchen by means of a service lift.
The bedroom adjacent to the dining room and the subsequent house chapel are the only rooms of the palace that remain in neo-Gothic style. The king's bedroom is dominated by a huge bed adorned with carvings. Fourteen carvers worked more than four years on the bed canopy with its numerous pinnacles and on the oaken panelings. It was in this room that Ludwig was arrested in the night from 11 to 12 June 1886. The adjacent little house chapel is consecrated to Saint Louis, after whom the owner was named.
The servants' rooms in the basement of the Palas are quite scantily equipped with massive oak furniture. Besides one table and one cabinet there are two beds of 1.80 metres length each. Opaque glass windows separated the rooms from the corridor that connects the exterior stairs with the main stairs, so that the king could enter and leave unseen. The servants were not allowed to use the main stairs, but were restricted to the much narrower and steeper servants' stairs.