Ludwig II was King of Bavaria between 1864 and 1886: while his reign did not see military success, he left behind an incredible architectural and artistic legacy. He lived an eccentric life but one that remains shrouded in mystery.
An intense history
At just 19 years old, Ludwig II of Bavaria succeeded to the throne. His introverted personality did not suit his role as head of state, and within two years of his coronation, Bavaria had lost a war against Prussia. By 1870 the region was united with Prussia in the new German Empire under Otto von Bismarck. Little by little, Ludwig withdrew from politics and his royal duties, instead embracing the arts and architecture.
He was obsessed with Richard Wagner, and his patronage is considered to have saved the composer's career. Huge festivals were organised and majestic concert halls built, all in honour of Wagner, but the young King's passion went further. He began to lose himself in the fairytale worlds of the opera, even dressing up as characters.
Ludwig's desire to live in a fantasy world spread to architecture, and he began building magnificent castles and palaces around Munich, both for his own retreats and - of course - as stages for Wagner. Unfortunately, the King's dreamy construction projects were expensive, and he managed to bankrupt the state of Bavaria as well as racking up vast personal debts.
Eccentric he may have been, but there had been no evidence supporting his "madness" until his government saw no option but to find a way to oust him from power. In 1886, he was declared insane; forced to resign as King, and kicked out of his home at Neuschwanstein Castle. Not long afterwards, he and his psychiatrist were found dead in Lake Starnberg, in the grounds of Berg Castle. The reasons behind his mysterious death remain unknown: it was ruled as a suicide, but many believe it was murder...
The Mad King's Castles
Ever wondered what all those Disney castles were inspired by? The magnificent palaces constructed under the orders of Ludwig II were eccentric, dream-like, straight out of a fairy tale... just like him:
- Neuschwanstein Castle: known worldwide for its romantic architecture, the dramatic hilltop palace is one of Germany's most photographed sites and one of the most visited castles in Europe. Discover the castle that inspired Walt Disney on a day trip from Munich!
- Herrenchiemsee: an enormous palace complex located on an island in the Chiemsee Lake, Ludwig built this elegant residence after visiting Versailles. It was his final and largest project, but it was never finished. Nevertheless, its lavish interiors and elegant gardens are well worth a visit.
- Schloss Linderhof: built on the site of one of his father's hunting lodges, and also inspired by the Palace of Versailles, Linderhof may be the smallest of Ludwig's castles, but it is equally as grand as its larger counterparts. Why not explore it for yourself on an excursion from Munich that also visits Neuschwanstein?