Herrenchiemsee dates back to 765 when a Benedictine Abbey was build on the northern part of the island (Herreninsel - found in Lake Chiemsee) on the orders of Duke Tassilo III of Bavaria. By 969, Emperor Otto I gave the land to the bishops of Salzburg. The bishops had converted the abbey into a monastery for the Canons Regular (a different kind of monk) who lived under the Augustinian rule of poverty and seclusion. Then by 1215, the abbey-turned-monastery had another change in management. Under the orders of Pope Innocent III, this one-time simple residence would become the cathedral of the Bishopric of Chiemsee, a diocese of the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic rule lasted until the early 1800s, when the Abbey became a secular place and the bishopric was disbanded. The new, non-religious owners had little need for a cathedral. So they destroyed it and put up a brewery in its place.
And by 1873, the entire island was slotted for deforestation. Luckily, Ludwig had stepped in and put a stop to any further demolition. He preserved the remaining structures as the “Old Palace” and began to construct a new one. But Ludwig sadly did not live to see the New Palace completed. A year after his death, the palace was opened up to the public. Construction stopped just after the king’s demise and many of the unfinished sections were later demolished.[i]
On 21 May 1878, the construction his Versailles replica Herrenchiemsee (or New Palace) began. This castle was meant to outmatch Versailles in scale and luxury. The world that was lived by Louis XIV of France, the “sun king” and who famously declared “l’état, c’est moi.” Ludwig would have loved to have had such power since power was ceded over to the Prussian Kaiser, Wilhelm I. This reality pushed him away and into the world of his castles and their building. Up until his death, only a select few were allowed to marvel at the proportions of the Hall of Mirrors at Herrenchiemsee. This continues to this day where only a select few are permitted to see this room.
It is located on an island in the middle of the Chiemsee. Most of the castle was never completed, due to Ludwig running out of money. He had lived there for only ten days before his mysterious death. He would not see the fountains in action, and after his death they were taken out. The fountains were reconstructed at the end of the twentieth century and now are highlights for visitors on the island. Beyond the Latona fountain lies the Chiemsee. Apollo was one of her children. He is the god of light and the sun, spring and the arts. Aspects that Ludwig tried to bring into his life and his country. The Latona fountain was created by Johann Hautmann in 1883. during the construction the king's impatience became legendary; he even had the unfinished bits of the terracing rebuilt in a kind of Potemkin village where he could escape into his dream world before the castle was finished. The arrangement and theme of the statues on the edge of this fountain in the park at the castle echo their models in Versailles. They symbolize the major rivers of France. It is interesting to note that tourists come from France to view the recreation of the famous Ambassador's staircase. The original Ambassador's staircase Versailles in France was demolished in 1752. The Council Chamber is based on the Salle du Conseil at Versailles. Having this shows that Herrenchiemsee is not and was never intended to be just a copy of the French castle. Ludwig had left behind a large collection of plans and designs for other castles that he planned to build, as well as plans for further rooms in his completed buildings. Many of these designs are housed in the King Ludwig II Museum at the castle. Herrenchiemsee's Hall of Mirrors was once lit by over two thousand candles when he came on his nightly visits. Unlike Versailles, no parties were thrown, he preferred to bask in the glory of creation on his own. The ceiling and upper wall in the Hall are smothered in frescos and stucco. They depict the deeds and actions of King Louis XIV of France.
The bedroom is the core around which the castle was literally built. Embroidery was begun on the tapestries before the basic framework of the buildings had been erected. The particularly lavish embroided wall hangings in the State Bedroom began before the shell of the castle was built. He never wanted to actually sleep here, for him it was simply a homage to the Sun King and to the court protocol of “lever” (to rise) and “coucher” (to bed) when he received the first and last audiences of the day. Om the fireplace on the Bedroom is a statue of the sleeping Ariadne based on a figure at the Vatican. In German her name means “most holy one.” the huge candelabra next to the State Bed, its candles create the right atmospheric lighting. The many “arms” of the candlestick have given rise ti the German word “Armleuchter” (branched or poor light) which in colloquial use also means “dimwit.” In addition to the State Bedroom, more theatrical backdrop to sleep, he needed a bed to lay his weary head. He had a sumptous bedroom built in his living quarters or the Small Apartment. The blue nightlight is another legendary item in the castle, Ludwig's artists had to experiment long and hard to find the right shade of blue Ludwig was satisfied with. By way of embellishment to his bathroom, ludwig had “Diana at her Bath” painted after the work of French artist François Boucher. Ludwig's version was executed by Historicist painter Augustin Geiger. The eighteen-arm chandelier of Meißen porcelain in the Dining Room holds 108 candles. At Ludwig's express wish all of the moulds and models were destroyed to avoid this work to ever be copied. The mirrors in the Small Gallery create many interesting and unusual perspectives. The niches contain statues of the four continents of Europe, America, Africa and Asia. The Petite Galerie of Louis XIV in Versailles, which this is based, no longer exists. The five glass chandeliers hold 180 candles which are reflected in the many mirrors inserted into the walls.
It is complete with furnishings, paintings, a bed/reception room and a Hall of Mirrors. Here, he could sit in front of portraits of his beloved “sun king”, Ludwig (the “moon king”) could imagine himself doing – and building – whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. In the study the astronomical clock shows the hours, minutes and the position of the sun, moon and stars. The voluminous glass chandelier with its ninety-six candles, mirrored around the room, once provided him with an impressive light by which to work by night. On the mantlepiece in the bedroom in the Small Apartment (his private residence there), stands a marble bust of Madame Pompadour – who was Louis XV;s mistress and the first 'official' royal concubine in France, even having a handbag named after her. The long sides of the State Staircase are decorated with various frescos. “Agriculture” depicts the harvesting of the grape and the grain. Ludwig also had thousands of lilies and roses strewn about the staircase on his rare and meticulously timed visits to this part of the castle. Outside gentle jets of water splash the figure of Roman goddess Latona, Zeus's lover who bore him the twins Artemis and Apollo. He was not able to enjoy the fountains because they were not finished until 1886. The ridge of the roof above the court d'honneur is crowned by statues representing war and peace. Fama triumphs over the two allegories, a laurel wreath in her hand in readiness for the departing of good tidings to people all over the world. The Latona Fountain in the park has a grand total of seventy-four statues which spew water.
In 1873 King Ludwig II of Bavaria acquired the Herreninsel as the location for his Royal Palace of Herrenchiemsee (New Palace). Modelled on Versailles, this palace was built as a "Temple of Fame" for King Louis XIV of France, whom the Bavarian monarch fervently admired.
The actual building of this "Bavarian Versailles", which was begun in 1878 from plans by Georg Dollmann, was preceded by a total of 13 planning stages. When Ludwig II died in 1886 the palace was still incomplete, and sections of it were later demolished.
The highlights of the large state rooms are the State Staircase, the State Bedroom and the Great Hall of Mirrors. The king's own rooms were in the intimate Small Apartment, designed in the French rococo style.
In 1876 Court Garden Director Carl von Effner completed the plans for a large garden resembling that of Versailles. When the king died, only the sections along the main axis with their famous fountains and waterworks had been completed.[ii]
The main rooms are some of the best examples of nineteenth-century interior design in existence, and are much more splendidly furnished than those in Versailles. No other porcelain collection is so comprehensive or of such high quality, and the magnificent textiles are equally unique. One of the artistic ideals of the nineteenth century, the "perfection" of historic styles, was realised in its finest form in this building.
The park modelled on Versailles by Carl von Effner was originally intended to cover a large part of the island. When Ludwig II died in 1886, only the central axis with its splendid fountains was carried out. The palace remained uncompleted.
King Ludwig II-Museum
The museum is housed in twelve modernized rooms on the ground floor of the south wing and was opened in 1987. It documents the story of Ludwig II’s life, from his birth to his tragic early death, with painted portraits, busts, historic photographs and original state robes.
The king also has a place in the history of music as the patron of the composer Richard Wagner. Portraits, written documents and theatre/stage designs record this aspect of his life.
The royal residences of Neuschwanstein Castle, Linderhof Palace and Herrenchiemsee Palace as well as Ludwig II’s other building projects are also covered. Highlights of the museum include the magnificent furniture that originally stood in the royal apartment in the Munich Residence (destroyed during the Second World War) and the first state bedroom in Linderhof Palace.
Elaborately handcrafted items, show-pieces that were commissioned by the king, document the European standing of Munich art in the second half of the nineteenth century.[iii]
Herrenchiemsee was to be the Bavarian Versailles. It has its own Hall of Mirrors, which is even larger than that in Louis XIV’s palace. Ludwig’s admiration of Louis is evident here as well, particularly in the ceiling paintings which are of none other than the Sun King himself.
The State Staircase is another impressive, unforgettable room in Herrenchiemsee. The State Bedroom and the Small Apartment of Ludwig are also highlights.
Much like the palace itself, the gardens were also intended to imitate and pay respect to the lovely grounds of Versailles. One of the fountains is an actual copy of the Bassin de Latone statue found at Louis’s palace. But the garden also has many of Ludwig’s own personality, with his penchant for fairy tales and the fantastic.
You’re likely to see dragons, legendary warriors and other mystical beasts as you stroll these grounds.
The castle plays host to the Ludwig Museum. You can come and learn all about the rather tragic history of this Romantic Bavarian king. The museum holds some of the “mad” king’s portraits and documents from his collaborations with the famed German composer, Richard Wagner.[iv]
[i] Herrenchiemsee Castle Was Mad King Ludwig’s Versailles Of Bavaria, http://www.mygermancity.com/herrenchiemsee-castle
[ii] Herrenchiemsee New Palace, http://www.herren-chiemsee.de/englisch/n_palace/index.htm
[iii] Herrenchiemsee New Palace, http://www.schloesser.bayern.de/englisch/palace/objects/hch_ns.htm
[iv] Herrenchiemsee Castle Was Mad King Ludwig’s Versailles Of Bavaria, http://www.mygermancity.com/herrenchiemsee-castle