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Neuschwanstein: N47 33 26,57 E10 44 56,78
Linderhof (Palace): N47 34 17,96 E10 57 38,81
King’s House Schachen: N47 25 11.11 E11 06 45.60
Herrenchiemsee (New Palace): N47 51 37,74 E12 24 6,84
“The real world is an illusion”.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols
With his gradual withdrawal from political life and escape into an ideal poetic world, King Ludwig II of Bavaria (r. 1864-1886) is one of the most fascinating ruling personalities of the 19th century. Prevented by foreign and domestic political constraints from putting his idealized vision of his role as king into practice, with Neuschwanstein Castle and the palaces of Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee in their unspoilt natural settings the monarch created artificial alternative worlds in which he could immerse himself in far-distant places and past eras. Neuschwanstein (1868-1886), which is inspired by the operas of Richard Wagner, features themes from the composer’s work in various rooms as well as in the building’s outward appearance (Tannhäuser, Tristan, Lohengrin, Parsifal, Der Ring des Nibelungen), and, together with the spectacular alpine backdrop, enabled Ludwig II to experience this poetic world in tangible, visual form. In Linderhof (1870-1878) the king assembled a “theme park” consisting of an 18th-century style palace, Oriental buildings (Moorish Kiosk, Moroccan House and the Turkish Hall in the King’s House on Schachen) and recreated stage sets from Wagner’s world (Venus Grotto, the Hermitage of Gurnemanz and Hunding’s Hut); “a few paces,” he said, transported him into “a different time and place”. Herrenchiemsee Palace (1878-1886), modelled on the Versailles of Louis XIV and Louis XV, was built by Ludwig II on an island secluded from the outside world, so that he could retreat undisturbed into the realm of the Bourbon Kings.
As private creations of the king, his buildings had nothing whatsoever to do with the requirements of state representation and court ceremony. Their main function was rather to simulate literary and ideal fantasy worlds as realistically as possible using architecture, art and technology in order to produce an all-encompassing experience, a perfect illusion. Ludwig II created artificial worlds from various eras (Medieval, Baroque and Rococo) and distant places (Wartburg, Versailles, Orient, Blue Grotto in Capri) with all the means at his disposal, which enabled him to immerse himself in a virtual world removed from the constraints of his duties as monarch. Ludwig II ultimately foundered because of the contradictions between this imaginary world and a rapidly changing society which made new demands on the monarchy.
The worldwide fame and lasting attractiveness of Ludwig II’s castle and palaces not only for people from the European cultural region, show that these buildings have become universal icons of the fairy-tale world, independently of their historical and local significance (as evident, for example in the worldwide reproductions of Neuschwanstein). The 19th century was characterized by tension between withdrawal (escapism, romanticism) and progress (technology, better world) which was expressed in the search for and creation of earthly paradises and artificial parallel worlds. As the basic theme of the century, this made its first appearance at international exhibitions where “imaginary journeys” and earthly paradises were simulated by architectural and technological means. Hardly any of these displays, however, have been preserved. In the 20th century this visual need was expressed in films, today it is more in evidence in virtual computer or theme worlds. As dreams in stone and reproductions of past epochs, the palaces and parks of Ludwig II give us a unique insight into 19th-century culture which has otherwise only been preserved in pictures and descriptions, but is at the same time an important source of modern cultural phenomena.
Neuschwanstein Castle, Linderhof (with Schachen) and Herrenchiemsee Palaces are buildings which are associated worldwide with Bavaria and the former Bavarian monarchy. Scarcely any other monuments have appealed so massively and enduringly to the imagination of people from every culture. These three buildings were not erected as the residences of a constitutional monarchy. With these, King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845– 1886) created an alternative world on the periphery of his kingdom in unspoilt settings (mountains, remote valley, island) that enabled him to simulate past epochs and far-distant places. In the brief period of only 20 years during the bourgeois age, fantastic imitations of past or exotic worlds were created: Neuschwanstein (1868-1886) as the Castle of the Holy Grail inspired by the opera world of Richard Wagner, Linderhof (1870-1878), a “theme park” embracing the Bourbon world, Orientalism and the opera sets of Wagner, and finally Herrenchiemsee (1878-1886), a reproduction of Versailles in every detail as a celebration of absolutism.
Ludwig II, the “only true king of the century” (Paul Verlaine), has gone down in history as the “fairy-tale king”. The discrepancy between the uncompromising creation of his artistic world and the altered duties of a monarch in a pragmatic, rising bourgeois society was his downfall. King Ludwig II was himself the patron, creator and provider of ideas, who, like a theatre director, designed the concept, supervised it meticulously and carried on perfecting it right to the end. All his creations were built for the same purpose and with the same methods: they were produced with all the illusionistic, artistic and technical means at his disposal, like the displays that were making their appearance in the world exhibitions of the day and in opera productions. They are a unique example of a worldwide 19th-century phenomenon, “imaginary journeys” to far-off places and past eras conjured up by artistic and architectural means. At the same time they must be seen as one of the origins of our modern entertainment culture as reflected in films, theme parks and virtual worlds. The king’s dream buildings are an established feature of the modern memory of the world. This is demonstrated in particular by the portrayal of Neuschwanstein in today’s mass media, where it has become the ultimate, universally understandable icon of the fairy-tale world.
As dreams in stone, these three unique royal buildings from the 19th century reflect themes from German and European history and culture. The intellectual world of Richard Wagner, Medieval and Baroque history are vividly and elaborately recreated. Here the cultural history of the 19th century is uniquely expressed in architecture, literature, music and art, which are assembled to form a synthesis of the arts such as was only to be found in large public shows and world exhibitions. Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee today symbolize to perfection this 19th-century phenomenon which was widespread in the Western world, and thus provide a rare insight into a largely vanished part of cultural history of which only pictures and written descriptions remain today. There is virtually nowhere else where this was manifested on such an elaborate scale and nowhere else where it has been preserved as a whole in all its original detail. They are not however just outstanding examples of a past epoch of cultural history. A look at our modern media-dominated world enables us to appreciate their significance independently of the era in which they were built.
Criterion (i): King Ludwig II, creator of dreams in stone
Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee fulfill independently and as a whole the requirement of being the unique artistic achievement of a creative spirit. Ludwig II personally selected architects, artists and set designers to ensure his ideas were realized to perfection. As masterpieces of human creativity, these buildings are less to be regarded as the achievements of separate individuals, even though these persons were usually at least locally well-known. The fascinating dreams in stone of the past or far-distant places and the overall concept combining architecture and the applied arts to recreate historical models and the Wagnerian opera world are evidence of the creative force and intentions of the patron himself. To realize his imaginary world Ludwig II, as the sole creative genius, proceeded methodically from the study of the models and original settings (e.g. Versailles, Wartburg, Capri), to their transformation into stage sets (e.g. Venus Grotto, Hall of Mirrors, State Bedchamber). The resulting construction was always subject to personal scrutiny to make sure his instructions had been followed and had to be changed when the desired effect was not achieved, whether on an overall scale or with respect to the smallest decorative element (as shown by the demolition of the former Neuschwanstein castle and changes in the plan for the Throne Hall). This creative method has more in common with that of a modern stage director than that of a contemporary patron.
No other patron or ruler of the 19th century produced buildings of such variety and perfection, which is why the castle and the two palaces are artistic masterpieces of their day. With the high standard set by the king, the fully preserved furnishings (e.g. furniture, tapestries, chandeliers and porcelain) of the three royal buildings are still the best of their kind from the 19th century.
In all three buildings, the heroic or historical world was reproduced in every detail so that Ludwig II could fully immerse himself in it, and he attached particular value to “real style”, instructing his architects to make intensive studies of historical models (Neuschwanstein as a building “in the genuine style of the old German knights’ castle”). But it was not only the buildings that had to be as authentic as possible, he also carefully chose the location of his creations and integrated them into the surrounding landscape (Neuschwanstein) or separated them (the island location of Herrenchiemsse) from the “profane, everyday world”.
Criterion (iii): The royal castle and palaces provide a unique insight into an important cultural phenomenon of the 19th century: the spectacular scenic displays at the world exhibitions
The 19th century was dominated worldwide by the industrial revolution that had started in England and the radical social and cultural change that resulted from it. These changes did not happen overnight, but over long periods of time, during which the latest technology of the day and a conservative consciousness of history existed side by side. The world exhibitions (Exposition Universelle Internationale, Exposition Mondiale) which were first held in the mid-19th century and have still lost none of their attractiveness today epitomize the dialectic between art and technology at this time; here scenes were deliberately staged with theatrical effects to transport visitors with all the available artistic and technical means into distant worlds and past ages.
Ludwig II was fascinated by the ideas and the staging of the displays at the world exhibitions, where there was a symbiosis between innovative technology and historical or exotic presentations. The acquisition of the Moorish Kiosk – made in 1867 for the World Exhibition in Paris – and its reconstruction and integration into the park surrounding Linderhof Palace show that Ludwig II was a “child of his time”. The desire to travel both geographically and in time that was prevalent in the 19th century and is reflected by the world exhibitions was closely related to Ludwig II’s ideas and creations (e.g. the Turkish Hall in Schachen, Blue Grotto and Oriental buildings in Linderhof): the object was to bring home the world (or the past) and the exotic (the Orient), cutting across all cultural divides, and participate in universal cultural history.
The buildings of Ludwig II with their technical sophistication (e.g. encased steel constructions and novel electric lighting in Neuschwanstein und Linderhof) and in particular their theatrical effects (e.g. illuminations or artificial grottos) have a great deal in common with the grandiose spectacles at the world exhibitions. The Moorish Kiosk (1867) and the Moroccan House (1873, 1878) in Linderhof, the oldest surviving structures from world exhibitions (the Eiffel Tower was only built in 1889), enable us in particular to experience this epoch close up. They are unique examples of a worldwide phenomenon of this epoch (imagining and reconstructing far-distant places and past eras) of which we otherwise only have written descriptions and photos and which can be considered as the origin of our modern media and entertainment culture.
Criterion (iv): The royal castle and palaces as a synthesis of the arts recreating past eras and far-distant places: paradise on earth, a topic that dominated the 19th century
The dreams in stone of the politically powerless ruler Ludwig II reproduce to an unusual degree of perfection great eras of the past and far-distant worlds. With these, King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845–1886) created an alternative world, earthly paradises on the periphery of his kingdom in unspoilt settings (mountains, remote valley, island) that enabled him to immerse himself in past eras and far-distant places: Neuschwanstein (1868 - 1886) as the opera world of Richard Wagner in stone, Linderhof (1870-1878), a “theme park” embracing the Bourbon world, Orientalism and the opera sets of Wagner, and finally Herrenchiemsee (1878-1886), a reproduction in every detail of Versailles as a celebration of absolutism.
Of incomparable quality and sophistication, the buildings of King Ludwig II are 19th-century syntheses of the arts combining architecture, art, painting, sculpture and scenic representation, a category that is not yet represented on the World Heritage List. With their monumental character and the variety and sophistication of the arts employed, the royal buildings are a unique illustration of this epoch. The various categories represented here (castle, palace, pavilion, grotto and gardens), the high quality of the furnishing and the incomparable integration into the landscape make the royal castle and palaces proposed for the World Heritage List masterpieces of their time.
Escaping into the past and “travelling” to the exotic, as yet uncivilized world, was a phenomenon of this period that was reflected in all the arts. The 19th century was marked by tension between withdrawal (escapism, romanticism) and progress (technology, better world), which found expression in the search for earthly paradises and their painstaking reproduction using all the available artistic and technological means. Ludwig II’s buildings are an exceptional illustration of this cultural phenomenon and enable us to explore this basic motif of the 19th century.
Criterion (vi): The royal castle and palaces are manifestations of European intellectual history from the Middle Ages to the second half of 19th century.
As the dreams in stone of Ludwig II, these unique royal buildings of the 19th century illustrate German and European intellectual history. The intellectual world of Richard Wagner and the Medieval and Baroque eras are elaborately recreated. The Venus Grotto (Linderhof) from Tannhäuser, Hunding’s Hut from Die Walküre, the Hermitage of Gurnemanz from Parsifal and finally Neuschwanstein Castle in its entirety are architectural stage sets from the operas of the great musical genius Richard Wagner, which are part of our world musical heritage.
The Orient, medieval legends and 18th-century Absolutist pomp are rendered as authentically as possible in buildings and parks. The fascinating integration of the royal buildings into the landscape is an effect that cannot be described, but only experienced (“L’esprit du lieu”). Scarcely any other creations have appealed as massively and enduringly to the imagination of people from every culture as Ludwig II’s royal buildings. His fantastic productions are monuments in stone to the 19th century world of the arts. Here cultural and intellectual history is reflected in the unique combination of architecture, literature, music and art and the boundaries between dream world and reality are erased. These dreams in stone of Ludwig II generate an atmosphere of wonder in a way that goes beyond rational understanding or analysis. The creations of Ludwig II are an established part of the memory of world in the 20th and 21st centuries. Unlike any other part of our architectural heritage in Bavaria, Germany or even the whole world, these buildings reconstruct a past epoch in a way we can understand and at the same time represent a universal intellectual world.
The royal palaces of Ludwig II are complete artistic creations, built ex nihilo, that have been preserved from the 19th century. The quality and variety of the architecture and the consistent design of the furnishings make them a unique documentation of the period. In addition to the fully preserved building substance and furnishings, Ludwig’s world of ideas is also preserved in letters and sketches. The comprehensive collection of plans from various stages of the projects and studies of historical buildings and architectural forms from the time of Ludwig II provide an extraordinary insight into an intellectual world now remote from us.
Because they were turned into museums at an early stage, the three buildings have been preserved almost in their entirety. They have been carefully conserved and maintained from the beginning by the Free State of Bavaria, so that their historical value has been retained undiminished to this day.
The buildings have been preserved in their original condition with respect to both the basic building structure and the furnishings and are regularly and competently maintained.
Their surroundings, like natural stage sets, had to be as original and untouched by human hand as possible, and have remained so to this day. This unity between the buildings and nature is immediately obvious and was deliberately planned to create an overall artistic effect. The natural surroundings are distinguished not by the direct human intervention but by the scenic combination with the architectural dream world, which in turn could not have been made reality without this natural setting. The scenery around the palaces, which is unchanged, is particularly important for a holistic experience of these dreams in stone and is comprehensively protected by legal regulations.
The royal castle and palaces of Ludwig II with their “legendary” scenic settings and the imagery of the architecture and furnishings are unique examples of European cultural history in the 19th century and globally incomparable syntheses of the arts.
They were modelled on outstanding architecture of the past (Versailles Palace and Wartburg, both UNESCO World Heritage sites) and not just copied but turned into novel “theme worlds” through the original ideas of the king.
The creations of Ludwig II are very difficult to classify according to the usual stylistic, artistic and architectural criteria. They only superficially fit the categories of historicism, eclecticism or other styles, which do not do justice to them. Other patrons of this period also used historical models, such as Leopold II of Belgium (1835– 1909), the Rothschilds (Europe) and the Vanderbilts (USA), but here the main focus was on social or political representation. The royal palace in Brussels (architect H. Maquet), Waddesdon Manor in England and Chateau de Ferrières in France (both designed by J. Paxton) and the stately homes Biltmore Estate and Marble House inspired by European models (both in the USA and by the architect Richard M. Hunt) testify to the eccentric prestige-consciousness of the respective patrons and the skill of the architects, but were not designed for immersion in another historical or far-distant world and are mostly austere, politically motivated copies.
Imaginative, historicizing creations such as Villa Achilleon on the island of Corfu (1889–91) document the fantasy of their creators and the age of historicism, but in no way match the sheer dimension and visual drama of Ludwig II’s royal buildings.
Even before Ludwig II, the romantic movement at the beginning of the 19th century inspired individual “pictorial and narrative buildings” in historical styles. The Bavarian monarch was particularly impressed by Lichtenstein Castle, Württemberg (from 1842) and the reconstruction of the Wartburg and Pierrefonds Castle in France (1858- 85), and this motivated him to create something even more dramatic with all the means at his disposal. The romantic Rhine Valley with the picturesque castles of Stolzenfels (1842) und Drachenburg (1882-84) illustrate the extent to which history was used as a status symbol in 19th-century society. Monarchs in Europe in particular typically resorted to the history and architecture of past eras to legitimize their rule, as testified by numerous well known examples such as Miramare Castle in Triest, Italy (1856-60), Peles Castle in Romania (1873-1913) and Sintra Castle in Portugal, which was completed in 1885. However, through the link with the motifs of Richard Wagner’s operas, the royal buildings of Ludwig II are more complex and based on more comprehensive concepts, making them superior to comparable architectural phenomena.
With respect to their function (creation of theme worlds), the way in which they were designed and built (in successive stages rather on the basis of a uniform master plan) and their original appearance, they differ fundamentally from comparable historic architecture from this era. With his buildings, Ludwig II created architectural stage sets as permanent residences or illusion machines. By this means he made perfect reproductions of far-distant worlds or long-forgotten eras with all the theatrical and dramatic means at his disposal. With his intensive, painstaking studies, his obsession with every detail of his imaginary world and insistence on the perfect rendering of his ideas, Ludwig II resembles a modern stage director or theatre artist and thus differs fundamentally from the typical patron of his day. In order to produce a perfect simulation of the past or far-distant worlds, he issued original directions for all the architectural and artistic components: architecture, proportions, material, lighting, layout, picture composition and colour etc. Through special effects (artificial grottos, waterfalls, illuminations, a table that is lowered from the dining room to be set by servants out of sight etc.), hyperrealism (surpassing the historical model through combination with other aspects) and exclusion of the everyday world (sole occupancy or occupancy at night, location in secluded or enclosed places), Ludwig II did everything in his power to produce comprehensively illusory experiences.
In this way the royal buildings are not comparable to conventional 19th-century palaces, but must be seen as uniquely preserved architectural testimonies of this epoch, which is characterized in particular by the search for and reproduction of earthly paradises in all the arts as an expression of the conflict between withdrawal (escapism, romanticism) and progress (technology, better world). This basic theme of the 19th century was most evident in the monumental scenes constructed at the world exhibitions, which have however no longer been preserved. The cultural significance of the Ludwig II’s creations cannot however be explained in terms of the 19th century alone. It is only in the context of modern medial worlds (theme parks, virtual reality) that we can properly appreciate their timeless value.