Fantasy castles aren’t confined to picture-books and fairytales.
Castle-building died out in Europe in the 1500s, and very few new castles were built for the next 300 years. But, from 1820 onwards, castle-construction enjoyed a renaissance.
During the 1700s, rapid industrialisation and technological process had left many people longing for the good old days, where life was simpler (sound familiar?!).
Castles were a link back to grand legends, amazing myths and Medieval values, when kings ruled unchallenged and the gentry didn’t live in fear of getting their heads chopped off (the French Revolution of 1789 terrifed nobles across Europe).
This was the age of ‘castle romanticism’. Building fantasy castles was a conscious link back to the grandeur of the times-gone-by. Castles were already immortalised in legend and fairy-tale, and, by building majestic fantasy castles, the rich nobility made a link between themselves and glorious stories.
They were making themselves immortal by building jaw-dropping ‘fantasies in stone’.
Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany: The Greatest of the Fantasy Castles
Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, South Germany, is probably the most famous castle in the world. This phenomenal fantasy palace looks although it’s fallen from the pages of a book of fairytales. It was commissioned by ‘mad’ King Ludwig, and its theatrical appearance is partly because it was designed by a stage-designer!
Neuschwanstein was built from 1862-1892, although it’s technically unfinished. Ludwig referred to his castle-building exploits as “fantasies in stone”, and, of all the fantasy castles in the world, this is surely the most impressive.
Although the castle looks ridiculously overblown today, Neuschwanstein was actually planned to be a perfect reconstruction of a Medieval castle. In Ludwig’s words, he wanted it “in the genuine style of the old German knightly fortresses”. Everything – from the castle battlements to its position on a rocky outcrop – was chosen to mirror Medieval defensive designs.
The decadance of the palace interior was, surreally, designed to be a stage for performances by Wagner. Ironically, this was another mis-fire on King Ludwig’s part – Wagner never even visited the castle.
Nowadays, the castle attracts more than a million visitors a year, and is rightly the best known fairytale castle in the world. Allegedly, it was inspiration to Cinderella’s Castle in Walt Disney World.
Mad King Ludwig’s Childhood Home: Hohenschwangau Castle, in Bavaria
Literally across the hills from Neuschwanstein lies Hohenschwangau Castle – a fantasy castle that was the childhood home of King Ludwig.
I guess you can’t blame a man for turning insane and lavishing a fortune on building fantasy castles, after he spent his childhood living in something from a fairytale!
Since Medieval times, there had always been a castle in the spot where Hohenschwangau now stands – although, by 1800, the castle was extremely decrepit.
In 1832, the land was purchased by Ludwig’s father, King Maximillian II of Bavaria, and, from 1833 onwards, he set out to renovate and rebuild the castle. It’s said that he “wanted something as if from a legend”.
The rebuilding of the castle was essentially quite sympathetic to the ruins, but the architectual style was quite different – a NeoGothic style which exaggerated the turrets, towers and fortifications. The straight lines and sharp angles of the castle were meant to evoke the spectacular cliffs that surround the castle in it’s home valley.
King Ludwig grew up in Hohenschwangau – a real little prince in a real castle. When he became king, he chose to build Neuschwanstein on the opposite side of the valley to Hohenschwangau – and, indeed, from his chambers in this castle, he could use a telescope to spy on the building progress of Neuschwanstein across the valley.
The two fantasy castles are literally a stone’s throw from each other.
Segovia Alcazar, Spain: An Authentic Fortress Turned into a Fantasy
The Alcazar of Segovia (in Castile y Leon, central Spain) is a little unlike the other fantasy castles on this page, because the majority of the castle was built in Medieval times. The great hall, curtain walls and windows are original features dating from about the c14th.
However, have a close look at the photo to the left here, and scroll down to the one below.
You see those amazingly perfect pointy turrets, and the perfect rectangular tower with the circular battlements? It all looks a bit too picture-perfect to be true, doesn’t it?!
Indeed. Although the stone-work of the Alcazar is authentic, the roofs, windows and some turrets are modern additions. In 1862, a huge fire ripped through the Alcazar, and destroyed the existing wooden towers, roofs and also some of the accommodation within the castle.
During the 1860s and 1870s, the burned-out bits of the castle were re-built. However, those rebuilding weren’t faithful to the original design – and took inspiration from Mad King Ludwig’s fantasy castles projects in Germany.
Resultantly, they installed the shiny witches-hat style turrets, the twirling spires, and the overblown Torre de San Juan at the back of the castle.
The Alcazar of Segovia was transformed from a being a fiercely defensive fortress to a fairytale kingdom just in a matter of years. Quite a change of fortune! Indeed, urban legend has it that this castle was, too, inspiration for Cindarella’s Castle in Walt Disney World – quite an accolade!