The eccentric architecture of 'Mad' King Ludwig

Josh Ferry Woodard 

His extravagant spending eventually cost him his kingdom, but 'mad' King Ludwig II's beautiful works of architecture are still standing today. Here are our favourites of his awe-inspiring projects.  

Who was 'mad' King Ludwig II?

King Ludwig II (Painting by Gabriel Schachinger)
King Ludwig II (Painting by Gabriel Schachinger)

King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1864-1886) was an eccentric man who shied away from public life and focused all of his attention, and his royal revenues, on a series of increasingly extravagant architectural projects.

Ludwig loved the fantasy-filled operas of Richard Wagner and it was these romantic acts of theatre that inspired many of the king’s most amazing fairytale feats. As Ludwig’s influence in the real-life Kingdom of Bavaria waned, his architectural projects grew ever more grandiose.

Disillusioned with Ludwig’s expensive escapist fantasies, his cabinet had the king diagnosed as mentally ill and subsequently deposed from power. Just days later Ludwig was found dead in nearby Lake Starnberg.

There is little doubt that King Ludwig II was an eccentric man. But today medical experts refute the claim that he was in fact ‘mad.’ Here are six of his most beautiful projects.

Read more: 6 magical fairytale films



1. Neuschwanstein Castle

 Neuschwanstein Castle

The most famous of Ludwig’s ventures is the fairytale Neuschwanstein, which translates as “New Swan Castle.”

Perched on a rugged Bavarian hill, overlooking the crystal clear Lake Alpsee, this Romanesque Revival palace was inspired by the Swan Knight in Wagner’s Lohengrin. If you think it looks familiar, that may be because it served as the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. It is a truly magical sight to behold.

Neuschwanstein cost around 6.2 million marks and took 17 years to build. Standing 3,330 feet above sea level, with a sumptuous array of turrets, towers, gables, balconies and pinnacles, the fairytale castle is an enchanting embellishment to the stunning Alpine foothills.

The plush interior is filled with romantic murals depicting scenes from Wagner and impressive artworks alluding to the divine right of kings. Chandeliers, mosaics, oak panels and stained glass windows can be found in many of the rooms.

Ludwig built the castle to live out a fantasy life as the self-professed ‘Swan King,’ based on his romanticised image of the Middle Ages deriving from Wagner’s operas. However, the king only managed to spend 11 nights in the lavish palace before his deposition.


2. Neo-Gothic Bedroom at Neuschwanstein

Neo-Gothic Bedroom at Neuschwanstein
Image via The Rococo Roamer

The magical Neuschwanstein Castle is blessed with some truly tremendous rooms, such as the expansive Hall of the Singers, the picturesque winter garden, and the fantastical grotto, but perhaps the most remarkable is the bedroom.

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde provides the leitmotif for the room, which features a silver-plated swan washstand carrying fresh water from an alpine stream, a series of beautiful murals and a neo-Gothic oaken bed with blue silk embroideries.

The dark brown bed’s intricate panels and pinnacles were carved by 14 artisan craftsmen over a period of four-and-a-half years.

As previously mentioned, the king only enjoyed 11 nights’ sleep in his bedroom. And it was here that his controversial arrest took place in the early hours of the morning on 12 June 1886.


3. Venus Grotto at Linderhof Palace

Venus Grotto at Linderhof Palace

20 years before his arrest, Ludwig’s ego was dealt a significant blow when he sided with Austria in the Seven Weeks’ War. Bavaria and Austria were defeated by Prussia, which forced Ludwig to cede some of his powers to the Prussian Kingdom and prompted a shift in self-image.

The ‘Swan King’ became the ‘Moon King’—the inverse of Ludwig’s idol Louis XIV, the ‘Sun King’ of France.

Louis XIV was a proponent of absolute monarchical rule and, in order to assert his own divine right, Ludwig alluded strongly to the French king when planning Linderhof Palace. Statues and images of Louis, as well as his ‘Sun King’ icon, can be found throughout the Rococo villa.

The most impressive feature at Linderhof, however, is the Venus Grotto: an artificial dripstone cave complete with lake, waterfall, and gilt shell-shaped gondola.

Inspired by Wagner’s Tannhäuser, this breathtaking ode to escapism features what at the time was pioneering lighting technology to create a magical colour changing rainbow effect.


4. Moorish Kiosk at Linderhof

Moorish Kiosk at Linderhof

Another structure of outstanding brilliance at Linderhof is the Moorish Kiosk: a mock Arabic palace built for the 1867 World Exhibition in Paris.

Ludwig purchased the magnificent pavilion and had it rebuilt incongruously beneath the Bavarian Alps.

A lover of Arabic exoticism, it is said that Ludwig would sit on the opulent peacock throne while bare-chested young men, showered in pink, yellow and turquoise light from the mosaicked stained-glass windows, would fan him.

In artistic sanctuaries of imagination like the Venus Grotto and the Moorish Kiosk, Ludwig could escape the reality of his declining kingdom.


5. Herrenchiemsee New Palace

Herrenchiemsee New Palace
Image via Anton_Ivanov /

In 1870, with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, Ludwig was faced with a quandary. He was obliged to join forces with Prussia against the French but he was aware that victory would confirm Prussia as the dominant state in a combined Germany.

Prussia defeated France and, sure enough, a unified Germany was born, with Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismark at its helm. Bavaria became little more than a vassal, leaving Ludwig as a puppet monarch.

Ludwig grew increasingly detached from political affairs and retreated into his fantasy domains, where his divine right remained sacrosanct.

In a desperate attempt to place himself in the position of absolute power that he craved, Ludwig embarked on an eye-wateringly expensive project in the middle of Bavaria’s largest lake. Costing over 16.6 million marks, the New Palace at Herrenchiemsee was modelled almost exactly on King Louis XIV’s Palace of Versailles.

Rooms such as the grand Ambassador’s Staircase, the resplendent Hall of Mirrors and the gilded King’s Bedchamber were recreated in magnificent fashion. But whereas his earlier projects were influenced by theatrical stories, the deluded grandeur of Herrenchiemsee can be seen in itself as pure theatre.


6. Munich Residenz Winter Garden

Wintergarten Munich
The conservatory of King Ludwig II. Photographed in 1870

Although Ludwig spent most of his time at his fantastical palaces in the mountains, he did have some official duties to attend in Munich.

To make his city visits more enjoyable Ludwig had a fantasy Winter Garden built on the roof of the Munich Residenz royal palace. In characteristic fairytale style, the gardens were adorned with painted scenery, rainbow moonlight effects, a swan lake, and an Arabic tent.

Sadly, Ludwig’s Winter Garden was dismantled shortly after his death. However, visitors to Munich Residenz can still enjoy performances from the Bavarian State Opera at the National Theatre Munich, where the 15-year-old Crown Prince witnessed his first operatic performance–Wagner’s Lohengrin.

It was in this theatre that Ludwig’s fantasy-filled imagination was first inspired by the romantic works of Wagner that would later influence his tastes and shape his eccentric legacy.


How to visit the architecture

Both Neuschwanstein Castle (foot, bus or horse carriage) and Linderhof Palace (car, bus or taxi) can be accessed from the town of Hohenschwangau.

Hotel Müller offers excellent accommodation options in the shadow of the fairytale castle. Friendly staff, a delicious traditional Bavarian breakfast, complimentary wine and pleasant balcony space make for a very enjoyable stay.

Herremchiemsee New Palace is around an hour’s train journey and a short boat ride from Munich, while the Munich Residenz is situated in the city centre.

Maritim Hotel Munich offers luxury accommodation in the heart of Munich with elegant rooms, a late-night piano bar, a swimming pool and comprehensive fitness and spa suite.


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