Sunday, March 25, 2007

Ludwig, Wagner, Swans, and Castles

One of Ludwig's first royal acts was to become an official patron of Wagner, and he invited the composer to visit his court, despite Wagner’s controversial political past, and what was perceived as the “radicalism” of his operas.

Wagner’s Lohengrin, with its Swan Knight hero, had particularly captured the young king’s fancy, and no wonder - his childhood home, Schloss Hohenschwangau (below), was built by Ludwig's father, Maximilian, on the remains of the fortress Schwanstein (or “Swan Stone” Castle), which was first mentioned in records from the 12th century. Legend had it that a family of knights was responsible for its construction. After the demise of their order in the 16th century, the fortress changed hands several times, and had fallen into ruin by the time Maximilian ascended the throne.

Schloss Hohenschwangau, built on the ruins of the legendary Schwanstein.

Ludwig's awareness that his home was built on the ruins of this legendary fortress would eventually combine with his obsession with Lohengrin to produce his greatest architectural folly - the castle later known as Neuschwanstein ("New Swan Stone" Castle). Ludwig outlined his vision in a letter to Wagner, dated 13 May 1868; "It is my intention to rebuild the old castle ruin at Hohenschwangau near the Pollat Gorge in the authentic style of the old German knights' castles...the location is the most beautiful one could find, holy and unapproachable, a worthy temple for the divine friend who has brought salvation and true blessing to the world." The foundations of the building were laid on September 5, 1869 - although Ludwig would not live to see the project completed. Neuschwanstein was designed by Christian Jank, a theatrical set designer, which explains much of its fantastic decoration. Despite its faux-medieval appearance, however, the castle was built on a steel frame and came outfitted with every modern convenience. During Ludwig's life, the building was known as "New Hohenschwangau Castle"; it was only after his death that the name "Neuschwanstein" became popular, melding Ludwig's identity with that of the Swan Knights.

Neuschwanstein today.

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