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The Castle of Mad King Ludwig

When you first set eyes on the formidable Neuschwanstein Castle, you are bound to feel enveloped by the air of romanticism it gives off. For a moment, you could well be in some setting from a knightly novel or a fairy-tale. This is how we think Walt Disney must have felt, as it inspired him in his design of the castle for the cartoon version of The Sleeping Beauty.

The artificer of this colossal architectural undertaking of medieval inspiration was Ludwig II of Bavaria, as a tribute to his childhood home, Hohenschwangau Castle. Situated in Schwangau, the latter was a ruined fortress rebuilt by his father, Maximilian II of Bavaria, thereafter becoming home to this unusual figure in Bavarian history.

Solitude, Romanticism and Wagner

The biography of Ludwig II of Bavaria, the son of Maximilian II of Bavaria and Princess Marie of Prussia, was clearly a product of the times, with the king’s reign in decline as protagonist, and romanticism and historicism as the backdrops to a king who yearned to have reigned in former times and who ended up alone and isolated in a permanent state of nostalgia, during which he fritted away the family fortune on building huge castles or acting as the patron to Richard Wagner, his great friend and icon.

Born in 1845, he was crowned king at the early age of 18, long before he was able to fulfil his dreams. The tensions at the time between Austria and Prussia and the end of the Bavarian Alliance led to a progressive decline in his power and his interest in politics. In 1886, his eccentric behaviour and melancholic bent prompted him to be declared unfit to rule. The day after he was deposed, he died in strange circumstances while strolling in the vicinity of Lake Starnberg in the company of Dr Gudden, his psychiatrist.

A good way to learn more about the life of this enigmatic figure is by watching the film ,Ludwig, by the great Luchino Visconti. It traces the life of Ludwig II and also features a stunning Romy Schneider as the Austrian Empress Sissi, his beloved cousin and close friend, who ended up nicknaming him “Mad King Ludwig”.

The “New Swan Stone”

During his reign and in keeping with the family tradition of building castles, Ludwig II of Bavaria commissioned a total of three castles – Linderhof, Herrenchiemsee and Neuschwanstein. The latter became the most popular of them and it is there he ended up living during the latter years of his life, although it hadn’t actually been completed. Sited near Füssen in the Pöllat Gorge and very near his childhood residence, it was originally named “New Hohenschwangau Castle”. After the king’s death, the name was changed to Neuschwanstein, meaning “New Swan Stone”.

Incredible as it may sound, particularly on account of its size, the castle was originally built as the king’s refuge, a place where he would live in solitude and give free rein to his passion for the Middle Ages, stories and Wagner. That makes it more of a fairy-tale stage than a residential palace. Who could have possibly told Ludwig II of Bavaria that the work he would end up being deposed for was to eventually become Germany’s most widely visited monument, chalking up 1.4 million visitors a year?

Neuschwanstein Castle is a landmark on one of Germany’s best known tourist routes, the Romantic Road (Romantische Strasse).The itinerary features a number of fantastic medieval castles, beautiful scenery, enchanting villages, splendid vineyards and a delicious cuisine. It starts at Würzburg, about 110 kilometres south-east of Frankfurt, and ends in Füssen, 82 kilometres south-west of Munich.

If you prefer to avoid doing the whole route and would instead like to just visit this wonderful castle, your best option is a getaway to Munich, which lies 120 kilometres away. Book your Vueling and discover this fairy-tale castle.


Text by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS

Images by Cezary Piwowarski