Just an hour’s ride from Munich, our tour operator Grey Line took us deep into the southern Bavaria, a land of manicured fields, painted houses, and characteristic onion-domed churches. Here, we got to admire fairy-tale castles – Linderhof Royal Castle, Hohenschwangau Castle – a place where Bavarian King Ludwig II grew up, and just a 20-minutes hike away, the monumental Neuschwanstein, the King’s castle of dreams. The castles are hugely popular, and they are tourable only by appointment, so our organized tour was the most convenient way to experience these magnificent German landmarks.
Hohenschwangau Castle; Photo by Johannes Plenio
Born in Munich in 1845 Ludwig was the eldest son of Maximilian II of Bavaria and his wife Princess Marie of Prussia. From a very young age, Ludwig was constantly reminded of his royal duties to come. Knowing one day that he would be a king, Maximilian put him into a strict regime of study and tutoring in the hope of molding him into a strong and capable ruler, which happened a lot earlier than anyone was expecting. In 1864 Ludwig II acceded to the throne at the age of 18 without any experience of life or politics.
In the Middle Ages, three castles overlooked the villages. One was called Schwanstein Castle. In 1832, Ludwig‘s father King Maximilian II of Bavaria bought its ruins to replace them with the comfortable neo-Gothic palace known as Hohenschwangau Castle. Finished in 1837, the palace became his family’s summer residence, a place where Ludwig spent a large part of his childhood. Here he would enjoy spending his time reading poetry and discovering his love of classical music and opera. Even as a child he would lock himself away from the outside world, the habit that would go on to be the main cause of his troubles in later life.
Ludwig II of Bavaria began his building activities in 1867/68 by redesigning his rooms in the Munich Residenz and laying the foundation stone of Neuschwanstein Castle. He had castles and palaces built to reflect all his dreams and desires. That’s how he became known as the Fairy-tale king – a fascinating figure to this day. Longing for the natural beauty and emotion of an earlier time, he built his medieval fantasy on the top of the hill, not for defensive reasons, but because he liked the view.
The 19th-century Romanesque Revival set against the dramatic backdrops of the Bavarian Alps
King Ludwig II’s Neuschwanstein Castle is widely known as the real-life inspiration for Disney‘s Sleeping Beauty palace. Even though it looks medieval, it was built in the 19th-century as a retreat and in honor of Richard Wagner.
“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 […]; you know the revered guest I would like to accommodate there; the location is one of the most beautiful to be found, holy and unapproachable, a worthy temple for the divine friend who has brought salvation and true blessing to the world. It will also remind you of “Tannhäuser” (Singers’ Hall with a view of the castle in the background), “Lohengrin'” (castle courtyard, open corridor, path to the chapel) …”
— an excerpt from Ludwig II‘s, letter to Richard Wagner, May 1868
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 historic palace. The building design was drafted by the stage designer Christian Jank and realized by the architect Eduard Riedel. Ludwig II paid for the palace out of his personal fortune and by means of extensive borrowing, rather than Bavarian public funds.
The castle’s interior is decorated with misty medieval themes – brave knights, fair maidens and scenes from Wagnerian operas. Ludwig II personified this Romantic age. He intended to sit on a gold-and-ivory throne in the company of six historic kings who were made saints. The religious King was fascinated by all the things Byzantine.
This room is based on the plan of a Byzantine church, and the one-ton chandelier is shaped like a Byzantine crown.
In the summer of 1886, just a few months after he moved into Neuschwanstein, Ludwig II who was already planning to build an even more extravagant castle – was declared insane and unfit to rule. He was removed from his throne and two days later he was found dead in a lake. Ludwig was only 40 years old. His death has been the subject of intrigue and investigation for over a century and it is one of the most enduring mysteries in German history. People still debate: Was it murder or suicide?
During his lifetime he was criticized for his expensive building projects but today they serve as major tourist attractions that bring billions of euros of tourism to the country each year. In fact, within six weeks of his funeral, tourists were already paying to visit them – and they are still coming. Since then more than 61 million people have visited Neuschwanstein Castle. More than 1.3 million people visit it annually, with as many as 6,000 per day in the summer.
Royal Castle Linderhof
Linderhof is the smallest of the three royal castles and the only one which was completely finished in 1878. Although Linderhof is much smaller than Versailles, it is evident that the palace of the French Sun-King Louis XIV, King Ludwig‘s role model, was its inspiration. Everything inside the castle is very opulent: the large, continuous mirrors, the furniture, ornamented with rosewood veneer and bronze figures, the ostrich down carpet or the fine Carrara marble sculptures.
Royal Castle Linderhof – Mirror Room
Royal Castle Linderhof – Bedroom
On this amazing day trip of Gray Line Sightseeing, with magnificent scenes everywhere, you may also visit Oberammergau, which is a cute little Bavarian town, whose residents perform an epic rendition of the Passion Play, using only local villagers as the cast of the play. The next play is scheduled to take place this year.
Vukota Brajovic and Vesna Filipovic for Fashionela