About Neuschwanstein Castle
A fairy-tale fortress built for an introverted and reclusive king, Neuschwanstein Castle was built in the 19th century for Bavaria’s notorious King Ludwig II and is now a prominent tourist attraction which draws vast numbers of visitors every year.
History of Neuschwanstein Castle
After Ludwig’s submission to Prussia in 1866 the king focused his attention on creating overtly extravagant palaces to which he could retreat and become an all-powerful ruler in his own alternative kingdom.
Completed in 1886, Neuschwanstein was inspired by Ludwig II’s declared desire to live somewhere designed “in the authentic style of the old German knights”.
Ironically the castle that Ludwig desired to be his own private sanctuary, built away from the public eye in a remote mountain setting, wasn’t completed until seven weeks after his death, when it was immediately opened to the public he so desperately wished to remove himself from. Today, Neuschwanstein boasts over one million visitors a year making it one of the most heavily visited castles in Europe.
Neuschwanstein dramatically upstages nearby Hohenschwangau castle, rebuilt by Ludwig’s father Maximillian II and beloved by Ludwig during his childhood. Although Neuschwanstein was inspired by Ludwig’s imagination and love of medieval legend the castle itself presents Romanesque rather than gothic architectural features, thanks to Eduard Riedal, the castle’s architect, who combined several motifs spanning hundreds of years of architectural history. It also contained very modern features for the time, such as a technologically advanced kitchen and tight-fitting windows made from steel.
The picture cycles decorating the interior walls of Neuschwanstein are in themselves reflective of Ludwig’s personality; inspired by Wagner’s operas they depict the sagas of Tristian and Isolde (on the walls in the bedroom), Lohengrin (in the Salon), and Parzifal (in the Singer’s Hall). Wagner’s influence on Ludwig is obvious; original designs for the castle were based not just on the existing Wartburg castle but also on stage sets from Wagner’s operas. The Singer’s Hall and the Festival Hall, (neither of which performed their suggested duties) were inspired by Wartburg Castle, the rest were representations of Ludwig’s own imagination.
The many rooms inside the castle reflect Ludwig’s passion for medieval kingship, such as the Throne Hall, which through its depiction of medieval poets and sagas exalts Christian kingship and absolute monarchy.
Rather than being a copy of any specific medieval castle, Neuschwanstein is an excellent example of historicism and combines many different architectural and decorative motifs, culminating in this beautiful, idealistic and extravagant monument to ‘Mad’ King Ludwig and justifying its position as one of the most photographed buildings in the world. It was also the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle.
Neuschwanstein Castle today
Guided tours take place regularly in English and German (this is currently the only way to visit the castle): book ahead, especially in the summer when Neuschwanstein can see up to 6000 visitors a day. You’ll need to book your ticket either online or at Hohenschwangau. The tour rounds off with a short film about the castle and its creator which is a nice summation.
The castle is undergoing restoration work until 2023 but remains open year round. Hours are slightly curtailed in the winter months. There’s a cafe on site which isn’t extortionate and several gift shops.
For a view of Neuschwanstein itself, walk up to Marienbrücke which sits atop the dramatic Pöllat Gorge – you’ll get some excellent photos. Legend has it this was one of Ludwig’s favourite viewpoints.
Getting to Neuschwanstein Castle
Neuschwanstein Castle is in the very south of Germany, close to the Austrian border. It’s about 1hr 40 minutes from both Innsbruck (Austria) and Munich (Germany) through scenic countryside.
Car is the easiest method of getting here, but otherwise trains from Munich to Füssen take about two hours: from there, you’ll need to get on a bus to Hohenschwangau / Alpseestraße. Lines RVA/OVG 73 (towards Steingaden / Garmisch-Partenkirchen) and RVA/OVG 78 (towards Schwangau) will take out there. From there, it’s a short walk to Neuschwanstein itself. Buy tickets in town before you set off!
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