King Ludwig II of Bavaria spent years dreaming about Neuschwanstein Castle, with its ornate decor, and views to die for.
Nestled deep in the German Alps, atop a rolling hill, sits Neuschwanstein Castle, its imposing silhouette looking like something straight out of a fairy tale. Surrounded by cliffs, a moat, and a picturesque little town, the castle appears untouched by time and stands as an everlasting testament to the fantastic imagination of King Ludwig II.
As the region emerged from the Anglo-Prussian war, Bavarian King Ludwig II was forced to concede his power to the Prussian king. As a result, he became reclusive, retreating into a world of fantasy and fairy tale for the rest of his life.
He began to dream of his childhood home, Schloss Hohenschwangau, a castle just miles from where Neuschwanstein Castle would one day stand. His childhood home was comfortable, and he was allowed the freedom to do as he pleased. He had an inclination for play-acting and musical dramas, and later became a fan and friend of composer Richard Wagner.
Stripped of his power, he also began to dream of a place where he could be king all the time, and rule a kingdom of his own forever. In 1866, he decided that place would be Neuschwanstein Castle.
As he broke ground, he described his vision in a letter to Richard Wagner. He said he wanted to “rebuild old castle ruin of Hohenschwangau… in the authentic style of the old German knights’ castles,” complete with “guest rooms with a splendid view of the noble Säuling, the mountains of Tyrol, and far across the plain.”
There were to be splendid, ornate rooms, filled with the finest things he could find, a hall made specifically for music, and a massive courtyard to breathe in the mountain air.
“This castle will be in every way more beautiful and habitable than Hohenschwangau,” he said.
It seems that Ludwig’s vision was achieved.
Built high on a hill, taller than everything around it but the mighty Bavarian Alps, Neuschwanstein Castle was a breathtaking sight, then and now. Made of bright white limestone, the sun bounces brilliantly off of the facade. The turrets are all a deep blue, mirroring the skies they touch above them. From every angle, it looks like something fit for a fairy tale.
And, indeed, the real-life fairy tale king himself agreed. During a trip to Europe with his wife, Walt Disney visited Neuschwanstein castle and was as charmed by the scene as everyone else. According to The Orange County Register, Disney used Neuschwanstein as the inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty’s castle.
Unfortunately, though the castle was everything Ludwig dreamt of come to life, he only lived in it for eleven days. Before construction was finished, Ludwig died mysteriously. He was last seen leaving for a walk around the grounds of a neighboring castle, one day in June 1886, a walk from which he never returned. He was found in the middle of the night in the waters of Lake Starnberg.
His death was ruled a suicide by drowning, though there was more evidence that he was strangled than that he had killed himself. After all, his life’s work was far from being completed, and after dreaming of it for years he would, of course, have wanted to see it through to completion.
Shortly after Ludwig’s death, Neuschwanstein Castle was opened to the public. Only 14 rooms were finished at the time, and are still the only rooms on display for tours. The rooms are as ornate as Ludwig promised they would be, with ceilings covered in gold, 13-foot chandeliers, floor mosaics, velvet upholstery, and larger than life paintings from the greatest artists of the time.
Ironically, the only thing missing from Neuschwanstein is a throne, the only piece of furniture that never made its way into the palace. The throne room is ready, adorned in paintings and gold leaf, but the throne itself is missing, perhaps a testament to the absence of the fantastic and imaginative king who had perished before he could ever sit in his fairytale castle.