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 an 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 villages.
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.
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.
The effect of the Neuschwanstein ensemble 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 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.
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 6,000 square metres (65,000 sq ft).