April 17, 2011
Everyone knows about the Palace of Versailles in France, the Tower of London in England and the Forbidden City in China—and for good reason. These famous estates are awe-inspiring works of architectural mastery, not to mention historical goldmines.
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Everyone knows about
the Palace of Versailles in France, the Tower of London in England and
the Forbidden City in China—and for good reason. These famous estates
are awe-inspiring works of architectural mastery, not to mention
historical goldmines. Although these sites are some of the most famous,
they’re not the only destinations deserving recognition, which is why we
decided to look past the tried-and-true and seek out other amazing
structures. From Dracula's Castle in Romania to the Hearst Castle in
California, here are 10 palatial spaces that are sure to inspire.
Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
Even if you've never
been to Germany, you might recognize this castle—it was the model for
Disney's Sleeping Beauty castle. Neuschwanstein sits overlooking the
Pöllat gorge in Bavaria, close to the German-Austrian border, and was
built by King Ludwig II to pay homage to the operas of Richard Wagner.
Built to look Medieval, the castle was equipped with state-of-the-art
technology for the time: toilets with automatic flushing systems, air
heating systems and water supplied by a nearby spring. While the
foundation stone was set in 1869, the castle wasn't yet completed when
King Ludwig died. It was opened to the public seven weeks later in 1886.
Mont Saint Michel, France
Set atop a tiny islet
in the English Channel, a mile off the coast of Normandy in northwestern
France, is the famed castle-like Gothic abbey. According to legend, the
first monastic building was constructed on the island in 708, after the
Archangel Michael appeared to St. Aubert, bishop of Avranches, and
instructed him to build a church there. Nowadays, after entering through
the Boulevard Gate, three million visitors per year find museums, shops
and houses dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries as well as
sweeping views from the grand staircase of the abbey church. The site,
which celebrated its 1000th monastic anniversary in 1966, was named a
UNESCO world heritage site in 1979.
Hearst Castle, California
California’s central coast in San Simeon, Hearst Castle was the
brainchild of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Started in
1919, the sprawling complex took more than 30 years to complete. In
1957, six years after Hearst died, the Hearst Corporation donated the
property to the state of California. The 250,000-acre property is open
to the public year-round, with various guided tours of the 115-room
Mediterranean Revival–style main house, three guesthouses, two
immaculate pools, eight acres of cultivated gardens and Hearst's
significant art and antiques collection.
Bunratty Castle, Ireland
Bunratty Castle in
North Munster, Ireland, is the last of four castles situated on what
originally was a Viking trading camp dating back to 970. The first three
castles, built between 1250 and 1353, were destroyed in conflicts. The
present castle was built in 1425 by the McNamara family and was passed
to various tenants until it fell into disrepair. It was restored by Lord
Gort, who purchased it in 1954 and opened it to the public in 1960. It
is now the most furnished and authentically restored castle in Ireland,
with over 450 items of medieval furniture and artifacts. In addition to
touring the castle, guests can visit the nearby 19th-century Folk Park
period village or spend an evening at the castle for a medieval banquet.
Windsor Castle, England
1,000-year-old Windsor castle, one of the residences of the Queen of
England, is the largest and oldest inhabited castle in the world.
Situated on 26 acres of land, the castle was originally built by William
the Conqueror in the 1070s to defend the route to the Tower of London.
Today, tourists can visit the State Apartments, which are decked out in
art by Rembrandt, Rubens, Canaletto and Gainsborough, as well as St.
George's Chapel, where 10 sovereigns are entombed, including Henry VIII.
The most popular tourist attraction, however, is the changing of the
guard, which occurs at 11 a.m. on a seasonally changing schedule.
Potala Palace, Tibet
Built on Red Mountain
in the middle of Lhasa Valley, Tibet, Potala Palace was the winter
palace of the Dalai Lama from the 7th century until 1959, when the
current Dalai Lama fled the country. The complex includes more than
1,000 rooms, 10,000 shrines and nearly 200,000 statues. It’s divided
into Potrang Karpo, the “White Palace,” which was completed in 1648, and
Potrang Marpo, the "Red Palace," built in 1694, which houses several
chapels, sacred statues and the tombs of eight Dalai Lamas. Added to the
UNESCO list of world heritage sites in 1994, Potala Palace is still a
major pilgrimage site for Tibetan Buddhists to this day.
Himeji Castle, Japan
Himeji Castle, also
known as the "White Fortress," is considered the best-preserved
17th-century castle in Japan. The massive compound, which was begun in
1346 by Akamatsu Sadanori to defend against local shoguns, includes 83
buildings, the last of which were built around 1610. Ironically, Himeji
Castle was never actually used in battle, which is why it is in such
good shape today. The main donjon has seven floors, the eastern and
western towers have four floors and the northwestern tower has five
floors. In addition to the main complex, there are several other
buildings at Himeji Castle, which serve as residences and storehouses.
In 1931 it was designated a national Japanese treasure and in 1993 it
was put on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Chapultepec Castle, Mexico
located at the top of Chapultepec Hill on the outskirts of Mexico City,
has been a residence for Mexican rulers since the 14th century, when
Nezahualcoyotl, King of Texcoco, ordered it be built near natural
springs in the area. In the 16th century it was taken over by the
Spanish, after which it was used as hunting grounds, a public park and a
Royal Palace. In 1944, the castle was rebranded as the National History
Museum. Today, visitors can view the memorabilia of Mexico's history
from the Conquest to Revolutionary periods as well as the presidential
chambers and a magnificent panorama of Mexico City, which can be viewed
from the terraces.
Bran Castle, Romania
Situated near Bran,
Romania, this national monument and landmark lies between Transylvania
and Wallachia. Commonly known as Dracula's Castle, this 14th-century
fortress is where, in 1462, the Hungarian army captured Vlad the
Impaler—the man who inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula character—and
imprisoned him for almost two months. The 57-room Medieval-style castle,
which draws up to 450,000 visitors a year, sits atop a 200-foot-tall
precipice overlooking the village of Bran, while the rooms and towers
surround an inner courtyard. Adding to the spookiness of the site are
the underground passageways that connect many of the rooms, and the
seven-acre forest that surrounds the property.
The Alcázar of Segovia, Spain
Central Spain is home
to the impressive stone-walled Segovia Castle, which sits nearby the
Eresma River and has been used as a fortress, royal residence, military
academy and even a state prison. The structure is believed to have been
built as a fortress during the Roman occupation and is where Queen
Isabel and King Ferdinand met for the first time. It's also the location
where King Philip II married his wife, Anne of Austria. Today, the
Alcázar is one of the most popular historical sights in Spain,
attracting visitors who clamor to see the Hall of Ajimeces, which houses
an array of artwork, the Hall of the Throne and the Hall of Kings.
Visitors can also climb more than 150 narrow, winding stairs to get to
the Juan II tower for breathtaking views of Segovia.