This section includes detailed descriptions and images of six of the world's most important castles.
Photo by David Iliff: Public Domain Image taken from wikipedia.org
Windsor Palace is the world's largest and oldest continuously inhabited castle. Occupying over 484,000 square feet, it is over 240 times the size of an average house. William the Conqueror built the first castle on the grounds between 1070 and 1086, but the castle that exists today was largely built by Edward of Windsor in 1350, who authorized the construction of a new keep, a large chapel, and new fortifications. From a distance, the castle appears dominated by a massive round tower in its center.
In 1475, King Edward IV authorized construction of St. George’s Chapel as a cathedral and royal mausoleum. The chapel became an important destination for pilgrims in the late medieval period and is probably the most famous of the structures within Windsor Palace. During the 1500’s and 1600’s, Windsor Castle was damaged as a result of various wars. In 1660, however, Charles II became interested in restoring the castle and laid out plans for “The Long Walk,” a three-mile long avenue running from south from the castle. Charles II also had the royal apartments and St. George’s Hall rebuilt. The royal apartments were spectacular, with numerous carvings, frescoes, and tapestries. The artwork acquired during the rebuilding of Windsor Castle became known as the Royal Collection, which remains relatively unchanged today.
In 1824, George IV moved into the castle and was granted 300,000 pounds to renovate Windsor Castle. The entire castle was remodeled and the architect, Jeffrey Wyattville, succeeded in blending the castle to seem like one entity rather than a collection of buildings. Wyattville raised and lowered the heights of various buildings to give them symmetry and improved the appearance and structure of others.
Château de Chambord
Château de Chambord is one of the most recognizable castles in the world because of its unique architecture which combines French Renaissance with classical Italian.
As the largest Castle in France’s famed Loire Valley, Château de Chambord was originally built as a hunting “lodge” for King François in 1519, though he rarely lived in it. Construction on the massive castle lasted 28 years. Some believe its design was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci. It was never meant to be a castle in the traditional sense – it was built with no real fortifications, ramparts, or defensive structures. No patriarchs ever spent significant time in the sprawling estate, but it was used to house the spectacular art collections of the museums of Paris during World War II. The castle is composed of a massive keep with four bastion towers at the corners and numerous towers. Amazingly, the structure features 440 rooms and 385 fireplaces! Four rectangular hallways on each of the castle’s four floors form the shape of the cross within the structure. In addition, the castle features eleven towers and three different kinds of chimneys. An open, double-helix spiral staircase is the centerpiece of the structure. The castle’s 800 columns were specifically modeled from those found in Constantinople, and the castle is surrounded by a 13,000 acre wooded park and game reserve. In the late 1600’s, King Louis the XIV added a 1,200 horse stable to the grounds.
Castel Nuovo, also called Maschio Angioino, is an international symbol of the city of Naples, Italy. Charles I of Anjou ordered the construction of the castle in 1279 to house his court. After the death of Charles I, Robert the Wise expanded the castle to include five towers, and built a huge library that attracted luminaries and scholars from across Europe. The famous Alfonso I Triumph Arch is located between the castle's entrance towers. This Arch commemorates the arrival of Alfonso I in Naples in 1443. Alphonso I, also called Alphonso of Aragon, or Alphonso the Magnanimous, was a powerful king of parts of modern day Spain and Italy during the Renaissance period. The beautifully sculpted marble arch is considered the most important work of the Renaissance period in all of Naples.
Castel Nuovo includes several important buildings such as the Palatine Chapel, also known as the Chapel of Santa Barbara, filled with medieval frescos, murals, and scultpures, and the Sala di Baroni (Hall of Barons). Today, parts of the castle serve as museums and administrative buildings used by the local government.
Alcázar de Seville
The Alcázar de Seville is a famous palace in Seville, Spain. Originally a Moorish fort, the palace was ordered built by King Pedro of Castile (Pedro the Cruel) in 1354. Today, it remains one of the finest examples of mudéjar architecture (a Spanish architecture with Muslim influence). The Alcázar is famous for its beautiful courtyard (known in English as the Courtyard of the Maidens and in Spanish as the Patio de las Doncellas ). The first floor of the patio was built for Pedro and features a large reflecting pool in the center with sunken gardens on both sides. The patio was built above rainwater tanks that are named after Maria de Padilla. According to legend, Pedro was in love with Maria and had her husband killed. To resist the advances of Pedro, Maria disfigured her face with burning oil and became a nun.
Today, the grounds of the palace are populated with numerous gardens including the Jardin de los Poetas (Garden of the Poets), that features two ponds, Jardin de la Vega Inclan (The Garden of the Vega Inclan), which has beautiful flower beds and fountains, and the Jardin Inglés (English Garden) , which is full of flowers and modeled after gardens in the British Isles.
Castle Neuschwanstein, located in the Bavarian Alps of Germany, is a 19th century castle built upon a mountaintop. The castle opened in 1886 and was built by King Ludwig II as a tribute to Richard Wagner, a famous German composer. Today, the castle is the most visited building in Germany, although it is illegal to take photographs of the inside of the castle. Unlike many castles, it was built as a retreat rather than as a royal palace. The castle is so impressive, that it was recently considered for one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Construction on the castle began in 1869. At the time, it was a technological marvel as it was fitted with electricity, venting, and heating pipes. It also had an electronic bell system to summon servants and featured an elevator-like lift to carry meals from floor to floor. Throughout the castle are intricate murals depicting medieval legends that inspired the work of Wagner as well as murals that depict various religious scenes. The castle features 14 magnificent finished rooms, though many other rooms in the castle remain unfinished. Among the finished rooms include the Throne Room, with no actual throne and the King’s Master Suite, which contains a secret flushing toilet that draws water from an aqueduct and a sink made in the shape of a swan. The Living Room is painted with intricate murals dedicated to the legend of the Swan Knight Lohengrin - a saga of great meaning and importance for Ludwig II, as well as those that describe the Legend of the Holy Grail. There is also a Singer’s Hall, which occupies the entire fourth floor of the castle. Originally built as a venue for concerts and performances, King Ludwig died before ever getting to enjoy it. It is the largest room in the castle and is decorated with murals that detail the life of Parsifal, one of the heroes of Wagner’s operas.
One of the strangest rooms in the castle is the Grotto. Located between the salon and the study, the grotto is a simulated dripstone cave, complete with stalactites and a waterfall. King Ludwig enjoyed listening to the music played in Singer’s Hall in the Grotto. It even featured blue and red mood lights.
Public Domain Image
Dating back to the year 870, Prague Castle has long been the home and administrative center of the Czech kings, leaders of the Holy Roman Empire, and leaders of the former Czechoslovakia and the current Czech Republic. Its construction was ordered by Prince Borivoj, one of the first Czech rulers from the Royal Dynasty of Premyslids. The original castle included a royal palace, a monastery, and three churches, but grew over time into one of the world's largest castles complexes. It has been renovated and remodeled several times in its long history, particularly after a fire destroyed much of it in 1541. The Prague Castle complex consists of many impressive buildings including Prague's most recognizable landmark, St. Vitus Cathedral. The cathedral was commissioned by Charles IX and took over six centuries to fully complete. The cathedral, which was the former site of the coronation of Czech kings and queens, features a royal mausoleum where many Czech kings and queens are interred. The cathedral’s southern entrance, known as the Golden Gate, features a large 14th century mural depicting the Last Judgment. The Prague Castle complex also includes St. George's Basillica, the second oldest church in Prague, which today serves as the site of the Bohemian Gothic art and the Rudolphian and Baroque period art exhibitions. It was founded in 920.
Prague Castle features thee major courtyards in which most of the buildings are built upon. Among the more prominent buildings are the Old Royal Palace, and the New Royal Palace; St. George's Convent, the oldest convent in Bohemia (the historical name of the Czech Republic), Daliborka Tower, a former prison; the White Tower; a prison for noblemen; and Mihulka Powder Tower, a former cannon bastion, defense fortification, and chemistry laboratory. In addition, the castle complex features Deer Moat, which served as defense fortification and trash heap; and Golden Lane, a row of tiny houses once inhabited by goldsmiths, marksmen, and castle workers. The peculiar houses have been preserved and now house medieval exhibits. According to legend, the goldsmiths of Golden Lane were hired by Rudolf II to conduct experiments in transforming various metals to gold!
Photo by BMSGATOR:GNU Free Documentation Image taken from wikipedia.org
Carcasonne is a medieval, fortified town in southern France. The city has two parts, La Cité and La Bastide St. Louis. It is the largest fortified city in Europe. La Cité is the part of the city that is enclosed in fortifications. Construction on the La Cité part of the city began in 1120 during the Crusades. The impregnable fortification features 52 towers, numerous gatehouses, two rings of ramparts, and over three kilometers of battlements. The fortress fell into disrepair in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries when it lost its military significance, but was restored by theorist and architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in 1853. Today, the inner parts of the walls are home to shops, restaurants and hotels. There are even approximately 120 people who live within the walls. The fortress was named a UNESCO world Heritage site in 1997.