Turns out Bavarian kings were a little castle happy, especially King Ludwig II, who built the world famous Neuschwanstein Castle. But I’ll back up a little bit and start in Munich where we saw the Nymphenburg Palace and the royal Residenz. I have to admit I was a little disappointed with Nymphenburg. It seems they are doing some restoration work, so much of the furniture and art had been removed, and the gardens were not really being maintained. Once upon a time though, the gardens were considered some of the greatest in Bavaria. The palace itself was a gift from the prince-elect Ferdinand Maria to his wife Henriette Adelaide in thanks for bearing him their first son, Ludwig I. Quite the gift! It served as a favorite summer retreat for the Bavarian royalty for a couple hundred years.
The Residenz in the heart of Munich was the official royal palace of the Bavarian monarchs. It is a huge complex consisting of 130 rooms and ten courtyards, and takes over a little more than a large city block! The first buildings were put in place in 1385 and reached more or less it’s full size in 1619. It now is open for viewing by the public and also houses the treasury of the Bavarian monarchy (think crown jewels). I might have been a little gold-leaf overdosed by the time we finished.Below is an elaborate piece of art in the treasury depicting St. George killing the dragon. Decorated with countless precious and semi-precious stones, it was originally built to hold a relic of some kind. I can’t even imagine how long this would take to make.
I have to say it all really made me think of Versaille, which in some way comes as no surprise because King Ludwig II was borderline obsessed with French culture and the splendor of the likes of King Louis XIV. In fact, he built a small palace in the countryside that just oozes with French court extravagance. Called Linderhof, it was Ludwig’s personal retreat away from all the people and duties he so disliked. Nobody is really sure if he was just extremely shy and introverted, or had some sort of mental disorder (hence the popular name “mad King Ludwig”), but it got to the point that he actually had his dining room table built on hydraulics so that the servants could set and plate his dinner. Once finished, they could raise the table up one floor to where Ludwig could eat his dinner without even the bother of having a servant around. He never had dinner guests, but once in a while would request more table settings, and servants would report that they could hear him speaking with imaginary guests such as Louis XIV and his favorite mistresses, like Mme de Pompadour.
Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed any pictures but I found this one online because you really need to see this.
The outside is quite charming though, with Italian terraced gardens and a gravity fountain that went every twenty minutes or so.
Ludwig was a huge supporter and patron of the composer Richard Wagner. He loved to see Wagner’s operas, but of course disliked the crowds that came with it. Thus, he built an underground grotto complete with a lake and stalactites and stalagmites where he had operas performed for his singular viewing pleasure. It is meant to represent the Venus grotto from the first act of Wagner’s “Tannhäuser.”
Along with Linderhof, Ludwig had the great Neuschwanstein Castle commissioned. It was every ideal medieval castle dream come to life for Ludwig, for along with the French court, he also admired medieval romanticism and desired a castle to reflect that. Neuschwanstein embodies that romanticism as well as Ludwig’s immoderate enthusiasm for Wagner’s operas. Each room inside is themed after a different legend and corresponding opera. For example, the bedroom is covered in paintings and tapestries reflecting the tragedy of Tristan and Isolde. Again, no pictures allowed inside but it was no less impressive than any of the other castles and palaces we saw. Unfortunately, Neuschwanstein was not finished before Ludwig’s deposition as king and his mysterious death. Work stopped and as a result, many of the rooms are still not completed and therefore not open to the public.
From there we walked up to Mary’s bridge, a very small and slightly frightening span across a huge gorge overlooking the castle (let’s just say the wooden boards making up the walkway were a little flexible…).
As for poor Ludwig, he never got to see his dream castle completed, and while he was never actually declared clinically insane, his younger brother was, and it was by these means that his opponents found reason to depose him as king. He was mysteriously found dead the next day with his doctor…
It is a sad end to an eccentric life, but despite being called mad king Ludwig he was much beloved by his people during his life, and even in his legacy, Bavaria was improved by means of the tourism dollars that started soon after his death to see his many castles. Not only that, but because of it’s remote location and the unlikely chance of bombing, Nazis used the unfinished rooms in the castle to store many treasures and works of art; thus, much that would have been lost in Munich was safely stored away until the end of the war.
Last but not least, Disneyland found it’s icon in sleeping beauty’s castle based on Neuschwanstein, and where would we all be without the magic of Disney;) I’m kidding, but it really is amazing what a worldwide cultural icon this eccentric king’s dream has become.