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Perched atop a mountain in Schwangau, Bavaria, Neuschwanstein Castle overlooks serene lakes, dramatic mountains, orange-roofed towns, and Hohenschwangau Castle, the birth-place of Neuschwanstein's fairy-tale king, Ludwig II.
Romantic in the extreme, the castle contains elaborately decorated rooms; just the bedroom, comprised of intricately carved wood furniture and paneling, took four and a half years to complete. So romantic, so reminiscent of the haunts of fairy tale princes and princesses is Neuschwanstein, that the Disney corporation chose it as the model on which to base the construction of the Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland.
Neuschwanstein was built by King Ludwig II in the late 1860s as a refuge from public life, and in part, it is his history that has made it one of the most popular castles in Europe. Each year, 1.3 million visitors pour through the castle gates and up the steep entrance road to see the rooms and grounds where Ludwig, called "Crazy King Ludwig" by his detractors and the "Fairy Tale King" by his supporters, spent his days.
Obsessed with the operas of Richard Wagner-especially Wagner's swan knight Lohengrin-Ludwig commissioned artists to fill the castle with scenes from Wagner's operas and had a small grotto built between the drawing room and the conservatory where opera singers would perform for him while he rowed past the artificial waterfall in a shell-shaped boat.
A known eccentric and recluse, Ludwig was rumored to have once invited his horse to dine with him. His behavior did not sit well with many government officials, and though he was loved by the Bavarian people, his cabinet eventually decided to conspire against him, hiring doctors who had never met or examined the king to declare him insane and therefore incompetent to continue his rule.
Several days after Ludwig's removal from office-and he did not go quietly-Ludwig and one of the doctor's who had declared him insane were found dead in a shallow lake. The cause of death remains to this day a mystery; it is alleged that no water was found in Ludwig's lungs and no wounds upon his body. The castle was opened to the public for viewing just weeks after his death.
For more information on the castle, opening hours, and admission fees, visit the Neuschwanstein website.