Built on a rock ledge, it comprises 65,000 square feet, took 23 years to build, and is one of the most photographed structures in Europe.
Welcome to Neuschwanstein Castle in southwest Bavaria. Medieval, you say? Nein. To the surprise of many people I met there, construction of this grand example of Romanesque-Revival architecture began in 1869–the same year Ulysses Grant became the 18th President and celluloid was patented in the United States.
Neuschwanstein was the brainchild of King Ludwig Otto Friedrich Wilhelm II, who, in 1864, at age 18 reluctantly became king of Bavaria. At the time, Bavaria was one of many independent German states that were eventually absorbed into the German Reich, leaving Ludwig more or less a puppet king. But what Ludwig lacked in political moxie, he made up for in dazzling design flair. For starters, Ludwig hired a stage designer rather than an architect to design Neuschwanstein. Together they conceived the castle’s signature profile and most of the opulent Wagnerian-themed rooms and halls, many of which remain unfinished. The opulence of the ones that were completed rival those of Versailles (Louis XIV being one of Ludwig’s principal idols). Although 14 carpenters worked for more than four years to make the woodwork just to furnish his bedroom, Ludwig himself only spent 11 nights in the castle. In 1886 he was dethroned and was eventually discovered floating in three feet of water with another dead guy.
Ludwig was universally lambasted for extravagant spending. To this day, though, Neuschwanstein continues to be one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe with up to 1.3 million visitors per year. Certainly, its magic wasn’t lost on one American entrepreneur who based his theme park on Ludwig’s architectural vision.