Linderhof Palace in Bavaria: Moon King Channels Sun King
Updated: Dec 14, 2020
Linderhof Palace is a dramatic must see site in Bavaria, built by King Ludwig II. I'm never sure what to call Ludwig.
He's mostly known as Mad King Ludwig, an eccentric king who went insane. Or so the story goes. But he was also known as the Fairytale King, the Dream King, the Night King, the Reclusive King, and the Swan King. He even called himself the Moon King, as a way of linking himself to his revered Sun King, Louis XIV.
The uber secluded Linderhof Palace was Ludwig's primary residence. Of the three palaces Ludwig actually built (more were planned), Linderhof Palace was the only one he saw completed. Unfortunately for him, it was also the smallest.
But it's the coziest, a lovely small jewel box. A jewel that allowed Ludwig to covertly keep watch, via telescope, on his more grandiose building project, Neuschwanstein Castle.
If you're suffering from fancy castle fatigue, the splendid and blingy Linderhof is much less crowded. To me, Linderhof is a great alternative to the vastly more popular Neuschwanstein on a day trip from Munich. It's also a UNESCO site.
Ludwig's Versailles Infatuation
I've written at length about Mad King Ludwig -- whether he was really mad, whether his government assassinated him in a ruthless coup, and about his unquenchable penchant for dreaming up fairytale castles.
In Linderhof, Ludwig envisioned a miniature mock up of Versailles, which he had just visited in 1867. Aesthetically, it's understandable. Versailles is so gilded and glamorous, something a theatrical monarch like Ludwig might want to emulate. Still, you'd think a royal monarch and eccentric artsy leader of Europe might want to forge his own path.
But Ludwig II was infatuated with Louis XIV's legacy. Deciding that Linderhof Palace wasn't big or Versailles-like enough, he began building Herrenchiemsee Palace, which has a Hall of Mirrors even longer than Versailles.
Ludwig apparently wished, longingly and to no fruition, that he could pronounce with great gusto, "L'etat, c'est moi," like his erstwhile hero Louis XIV. In fact, legend holds that Ludwig almost named Linderhof “Meicost Ettal,” an anagram of the French monarch’s famous declaration.
But, no, Ludwig II wasn't an absolute monarch like the sauntering, domineering Sun King. He was a vassal king, stuck with a diminished constitutional monarchy, not absolute power. Which bored Ludwig immensely and led him to disappear further into his secret hermit-like world of glamorous castles and grottos, shirking state matters.
Ludwig also adored Marie Antoinette, a decorating icon herself. He installed a statue of her at Linderhof and was known to caress the cheeks of her statue in the gardens. Another one graced his palace.
The Architecture of Linderhof Palace
Linderhof is an homage to Ludwig's trifecta of obsessions -- Louis XIV, Marie Antoinette, and Richard Wagner. At first glance, you immediately think of Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon, where the besieged French queen retreated from the viper pit of the French royal court. Linderhof was the man cave version.
Prior to the Linderhof Palace, the grounds had been home to the Königshäuschen, Ludwig’s father Maximilian II's hunting cottage. You won't be surprised to know that Louis XIV also built Versailles on the location of his father’s hunting lodge. Ludwig's Linderhof was built between 1870-80.
The details on the palace exterior are lovely and quite restrained. The reliefs and statues on the building honor the Bavarian monarchy. In 1874, it was clad in stone.
What To See Inside Linderhof Palace
Linderhof's glamorous interior reflects Ludwig’s imaginary, dreamlike world.
You enter a world of riotous rococo, flashing mirrors, and glittering gold. There was apparently no such thing as too much gold leaf. Because the rooms are fairly small (by palace standards), you might feel a little claustrophobic from the gold pressing in on you.
Ludwig's biographer, Greg King, reported that Ludwig's eyesight worsened as he aged. But the king was too vain to wear glasses. Instead, his decor became more flamboyant to compensate.
The interior has extravagant multi-tiered candelabras and even a carpet made of ostrich down. The color scheme is royal blue, red, and yellow. The ceiling frescoes depict cavorting Greek gods and scenes from courtly life in Versailles, with portraits of French courtiers and mistresses.
Aside from Louis XIV, Linderhof was also deeply inspired by composer Richard Wagner. Many rooms are decorated with themes from Wagner’s greatest operas.
Unfortunately, there's no photography inside any of Ludwig's castles. So I have no pictures to regale you with, other than linking you to the castle's website. But here's the castle layout (above).
You enter through the vestibule, dominated by a statue of Louis XIV on horseback. There's a motto of the Bourbon kings on the ceiling, which translates to "no one is my equal." Interestingly, Ludwig is German for Louis. A servant recalled that Ludwig would salute the statue when entering Linderhof.
From the vestibule, you can explore 10 rooms. The living room is covered in mirrors. The Hall of Mirrors, as it was aptly named, was inspired by the one in Versaille and by a room designed by Cuvilliés in Ludwig's Munich digs, the Munich Residenz.
At night, the Hall of Mirrors was filled with candles, magnifying the mirrored effect. Ludwig would sit there alone and read for hours, earning him the Night King nickname. Then Ludwig would be driven around the countryside in his golden sleigh by servants dressed in period costumes. His sleighs are on display in Nymphenburg Palace, where Ludwig was born.
In the resplendent red and gold dining room, even servants were rendered invisible. The room has an ingenious trap door. It's essentially a disappearing dumb waiter with a system of pulleys. The table and chairs could be lowered into the kitchen. The staff could load the table with food and drink and raise it back up.
This way, the king could eat solo with his imaginary friends without ever having to talk to or see another person. These pals included Louis XIV, Marie Antoinette, Madame Maintenon, and Madame De Pompadore.
In his heavily ornamented bedroom, the Moon King created a mirror image of the Sun King's Versailles bedchamber. The bed is elevated on steps in an alcove, surrounded by gilded railings. It's flanked by two massive chandeliers that are extremely daunting to stand under. The bed is covered in elaborate blue tapestry, brocaded fabrics, and gilded gold.
It almost creates the image of a church altar, as Ludwig no doubt intended.
Linderhof Palace Park: Follies Galore
Amidst the forested mountainous terrain, Ludwig built huge ornamental gardens in five geometric sections, that are perhaps the most luscious part of Linderhof. They were created by court gardener Carl von Effner.
The gardens descend in terraces in the Italian Renaissance style. They're decked out in follies, where Ludwig would listen to or act out operas.
Here are the highlights:
Highlights of the Linderhof Palace Gardens
1. Moorish Kiosk
After leaving the palace, turn right and you'll run into Ludwig's gold domed Moorish Kiosk It's red and purple inside, with an extravagant Peacock Throne.
The kiosk was created for the World Exhibition in Paris in 1867. But in 1876 Ludwig bought and whimsically decked it out with a glass chandelier, a marble fountain, and the sumptuous Peacock Throne.
Ensconced there and perched on his throne, Ludwig read history and drank tea. Servants dressed in Oriental costumes, smoking narghiles, added a touch of authenticity.
2. Venus Grotto: An Artificial But Magical Cave
Perhaps the most extravagant part of the garden is the “Venus Grotto.” It was Ludwig's private theater, modeled after the the Blue Grotto at Capri.
The grotto's a man-made cave, complete with a lake, waterfall, and faux stalactites. Dressed as a knight, Ludwig rowed langorously across the lake in a golden clam-shaped boat. Talk about re-living history.
The theater-grotto was high tech. Ludwig had electrical dynamos installed for the illumination of the grotto. By flipping a switch, the grotto could be blue or red, depending on his operatic whim. It also had a wave machine to make the experience even more real.
The grotto was modeled on the Hörselberg from the first act of the Wagner's 1845 Tannhäuser opera. It's almost like Ludwig beat Disney to the punch in terms of creating simulated experiences. The Venus Grotto is currently closed until 2022, undergoing renovation.
3. The Greek Temple/Gazebo
This temple features a large Venus statue being hugged by two angels. If you climb to the top of the terrace, you have a great view back on the palace and the exploding fountain.
4. The Royal Hunting Lodge
Linderhof was not built from scratch. Originally, it began when Ludwig renovated the existing royal hunting lodge. But in 1874, Ludwig dismantled the lodge and re-erected it a short distance away. Now, it houses an exhibition on the building of Linderhof, though it's in German.
Linderhof is a fantastic day trip from Munich and well worth the detour. It's a pocket-sized trove of blissful, weird treasures. It was the Moon King's smallest but most sumptuous palace. If you want to experience Ludwig's reclusive romantic world, Linderhof is an unmissable site in Bavaria.
Practical Information for Visiting Linderhof Palace: