Neuschwanstein Castle

Turrets and spires, winding stairways and carved wooden chambers, even a golden chandelier -- Germany's Neuschwanstein has everything you could hope for in a fairy-tale castle. (So much so, in fact, that Walt Disney seems to have borrowed heavily from the design for his Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland.)

An architectural fantasy created by "Mad" King Ludwig II, it perches on a forested knoll above a lake, and its theatrical appearance is no accident. Ludwig blasted away part of a mountain peak for the castle's dramatic setting and worked on the drawings with a stage designer rather than an architect. Starting work in 1869, the king yearned to create a dreamlike castle and also to evoke the atmosphere of the Wagnerian operas he loved.

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Neuschwanstein Castle was the fantasy of King Ludwig II, inspired by romantic German legends and the Palace of Versailles.
©Corbis
Featured on countless calendars and tourist brochures, Neuschwanstein
was the fantasy of King Ludwig II. See more pictures of famous landmarks.


Fourteen laborers spent nearly five years just carving the woodwork in the king's chamber, including an elaborate bed canopy and panels fashioned to look like Gothic windows. A mural portrays the legend of Tristan and Isolde -- one of the castle's many painted scenes from the myths that inspired Wagner's operas.

Ludwig's romantic extravagance is on view everywhere: columns sculpted to resemble palm trees, a royal study where the only fabric used is hand-embroidered silk, a floor made with 2.5 million pieces of marble, and a gilded chandelier that weighs nearly one ton -- not to mention an artificial grotto with stalactites and a rushing waterfall. The windows in the castle frame views that are like pages from a storybook, complete with dark forests, mist-shrouded lakes, and majestic peaks.

To build Neuschwanstein Castle, Ludwig paid out a fortune -- his own as well as the state's. To stop the lavish spending, his alarmed ministers eventually had the king declared insane and removed him from the throne. A few days later, Ludwig drowned under mysterious circumstances, and his fairy-tale castle remained unfinished. The monarch had spent only a few months there, living out his romantic dreams.

Here are links to dozens of other world-famous landmarks:

Abu Simbel, EgyptEiffel Tower, FranceThe Leaning Tower of Pisa, ItalyRoman and Georgian Bath, England
The Alhambra, SpainEllora Caves, IndiaMachu Picchu, PeruSt. Mark’s Basilica, Italy
Angkor Wat, CambodiaThe Forbidden City, ChinaMont-St.-Michel, FranceSt. Paul’s Cathedral, England
Arc de Triomphe, FranceThe Golden Pavilion, JapanNeuschwanstein Castle, GermanySt. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, Italy
Borobudur, IndonesiaThe Great Buddha, JapanPalace of Versailles, FranceShwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar
Chartres Cathedral, FranceThe Great Wall of China, ChinaThe Pantheon, ItalyStonehenge, England
Christ the Redeemer Statue, BrazilGuggenheim Museum, Bilbao, SpainThe Parthenon and the Acropolis, GreeceSydney Opera House, Australia
CN Tower, CanadaHagia Sophia, TurkeyPetra, JordanThe Taj Mahal, India
The Colosseum, ItalyHouses of Parliament, EnglandPompeii, ItalyThe Temple at Karnak, Egypt
The Dome of the Rock, IsraelThe Kaaba and Al-Haram Mosque, Saudi ArabiaPotala Palace, ChinaThe Terra-cotta Army, China
Easter Island Statues, ChileKrak des Chevaliers, SyriaThe Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx, Egypt
Edinburgh Castle, ScotlandThe Kremlin and Red Square, RussiaPyramids of the Sun and Moon at Teotihuacán, Mexico


To learn more about Germany and other vacation destinations, see:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jerry Camarillo Dunn, Jr., has worked with the National Geographic Society for more than 20 years, starting as a staff editor, writer, and columnist at Traveler magazine, then writing travel guides. His latest work is National Geographic Traveler: San Francisco. Dunn’s Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: The Rocky Mountain States has sold more than 100,000 copies. His travel pieces appear in newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and The Boston Globe. Jerry Dunn's stories have won three Lowell Thomas Awards from the Society of American Travel Writers -- the highest honor in the field. He also wrote and hosted a pilot episode for a travel show produced by WGBH, Boston's public television station.