The tales beneath the top 5 medieval castles of Europe
Many would consider Europe the cultural and historical hinterland of the world for its excellent heritage preservation, exemplified by (of course) those quaint castles. As one marvels over those medieval castles, one cannot but wonder what tales lies beneath their mystical façades. Let the stories and splendour of these edifices take your breath away.
1. Palace of Pena (Sintra, Portugal)
The old convent and iconic clocktower
Evolved from a small medieval chapel, the Trinity Convent of the Arrabalde, it gain prominence after a reporting of the apparition of the Virgin Mary. In 1493, King John II of Portugal, ordered for a monastery, which housed 18 monks until the 18th century. Possibly by an ecclesiastical intervention, the ancient monastery survived the earthquake that ravaged Lisbon in 1755.
Resting atop the Sintra Mountain along the Portuguese Rivera, the majestic Palace of Pena dominates the horizon of the City of Sintra. The Romanticist castle came after a massive revamp by Prince Ferdinand in 1842 to 1854. It now features an old convent with a clocktower, a palace with a cylindric bastion with its interior decorated in the cathédrale style and a drawbridge.
2. Palace of Versailles (Versailles, France)
The elaborate garden of the Palace of Versailles
The Hall of Mirrors
The Royal Opera with ceiling painting of Apollo and Muses
Once a small village and church owned by the Gondi family, it was acquired by King Henry IV in 1623, who refashioned it into a modest 2-storey hunting lodge. His son, Louis XIII, then rebuilt it into a château, which was subsequently expanded and embellished by his successors. It was the principal royal residence of France from 1682 until the start of the French Revolution in 1789. Sauntering in the Garden of Versailles—commissioned in 1631 to be built as the finest garden in Europe—, one may only attempt to picture the resplendence of French aristocracy.
Palace of Versailles is heralded as the epitome of palatial grandeur. But grandeur is an understatement when alluded to Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France, who was loathed for her unimaginably opulent lifestyle despite her subject’s impecuniosity. Her wedding with Louis XVI was commemorated by the reopening of the Royal Opera in 1770— conceived in 1682, now a cavernous room adorned by 2 rows of crystal chandeliers and a ceiling mural depicting Apollo and Muses. Not to be missed is also the Hall of Mirrors—a salon built in 1678 embellished with 357 mirror set opposite 17 window arches.
3. The Neuschwanstein castle (Füssen, Germany)
The royal castle in Disney’s rendition of Sleeping Beauty
The ornate interior of the Neuschwanstein Castle
Aptly dubbed as the fairytale castle, the Neuschwanstein Castle, which rests atop the Bavarian Alps, inspired the iconic Disney logo and the royal castle of Sleeping Beauty. The cliffside castle was conceived in 1868 by an equally dreamy King, King Ludwig II (‘The Swan King’) of Bavaria, as the physical manifestation of his reverie. Bounded by his constitutional duties, he had little freedom as King. Thus, the mystical castle, deliberately built far from the capital, was his respite from his duties and the inroad to his royal fantasy. Lost in his fantasy, the ‘fairytale king’ was declared insane and passed on mysteriously in 1886 where his corpse was found floating in Lake Starnberg.
4. Windsor Castle (Berkshire, United Kingdom)
One of the many rooms in Windsor Castle
15th century St. George Chapel that exemplifies English Perpendicular Gothic
Built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, the Windsor Castle, the oldest royal castle in Europe, was a defence against medieval Home Counties. Now, it is a weekend getaway for Queen Elizabeth II and serves as repository of English history and medieval buildings. Initially, it started as a motte-and-bailey that was revamped by King Henry I’s successors in an eclectic blend of Georgian, Victorian, Gothic and Baroque architectural style.
As you venture within the colossal castle, you will most definitely be struck by the extravagant furnishing of the State Apartment—the elaborate ceiling frescos, woodcarvings, and large-than-life paintings that dates back more than 500 years. For gothic architectural geeks, don’t miss the the 15th century St. George Chapel, which is touted as the finest example of English Perpendicular Gothic style.
5. Bran Castle (Bran, Romania)
Situated on the border between Transylvania and Wallachia, the Bran Castle was rumoured to be the home of Vald the Impaler
Interior of the Bran Castle
Originally, the Bran Castle (built in 1378) served as a custom for Transylvania and as a fortress to thwart the Ottoman Empire’s inexorable expansion. But talks of Bran Castle today is inextricably alluded to Bran Stoker’s 1897 novel—Dracula. The Irish author drew his inspiration from the castle and Vlad the Impaler, the ruthless Romanian ruler who was notorious for (obviously) impaling his enemy. Folklores aside, Count Vald never actually stayed at the castle. Probably, the sharp undulations of the turrets emanates a mythical character, which happens to fit Stoker’s novel. It is the unbridled imagination of men that immortalised Vald and the fortress.
Indeed, the stories within those antiquated walls create profound dimensions for us to better appreciate its old-world grandeur. Its history is never truly abandoned by the passing of time. It continues to pervade our modernity in multifarious ways—our architecture, our pop culture etc.
Once the exclusive precinct of the nobles, the gates are now open to us with the of a purchase ticket. Venture within the walls to traverse the centuries.