Culture & Art

Jun 1, 2017

THE FAIRY TALES AND THE STRATEGIC ROLE

In addition to the timeless construction and beauty, castles are scenarios of romantic stories and contain innumerable mysteries and periods of History. Modern or medieval, they are monuments of obligatory visit and places of worship and celebration.

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Contrary to popular belief, not all castles date back to far-flung reigns. In Bulgaria, we have found what can be called "a castle of modern times". Raised by the millionaire Georgi Tumpalov, Ravadinovo, or "Love with the Wind", as Georgi designates it, opened to the public in 2003. The works lasted more than a decade, a short period if compared with the construction time of other castles, however, it is still not finished. In the construction, 20,000 tons of stone were used and the decoration is a combination of several styles. Although, there is no point of attraction around, it is the stage of birthday and wedding parties and even sports events, due to its simultaneously mystical and romantic character. For Georgi, this is probably the fulfilment of a dream that himself defines by saying: "What did you made sinner? I made a castle with a lake and two beautiful children".

Still in the ambit of dreams, in German Bavaria, near the border with Austria, we find Neuschwanstein. It is said to have inspired Walt Disney to draw the Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty castles. The dream castle of Ludwig II or "Mad Ludwig" – "the crazy king of Bavaria" – who, in a missive to the famous German composer, Richard Wagner, described him as "sacred and inaccessible". It was, incidentally, the medieval tale "Knight of the Swan", in which Wagner was based to compose the opera "Lohengrin", that inspired the castle´s decoration. The king's room took four years to do and it took 14 carpenters, such was the exuberance and the luxury. Uncontrolled spending, eccentricity and the decision to never marry led to a controversial diagnosis of insanity and "Mad Ludwig" was deposed.

To conclude the visit, you can go to the Marienbrücke bridge and enjoy the best view over the castle and the surrounding landscape of the Bavarian Alps and the Black Forest.

Older, the Castle of Chillon, known as "Castle of Waters", because it is located on the shores of the largest Europe´s lake, the Geneva Lake, Switzerland, originated between the years 1005 and 1160. Sitting on a rocky island by the lake shore, it consists in a group of independent buildings that were gradually connected, forming today a unique monument and the most visited of the country. Located between Montreux and Villeneuve, a strategically chosen point to control the passage between the north and the south of Europe, it has already been used as a fortress, arsenal, residence and prison. Inhabited since the 12th century by the Counts of Savoy, Chillon was residence and profitable customs station for four centuries, and belonged to the inhabitants of Berne until it was acquired by the State of Vaud in 1803. The magical scenery that surrounds it, consisting of the lake and the white mountains, inspired Lord Byron, a British poet considered one of the most important figures of the Romantic period, to write the poem: "The prisoner of Chillon". A poem about François de Bonivard, a Genoese monk and politician who was imprisoned in the castle between 1530 and 1536. This castle, delicate on the outside, devastating in the interior, isn´t however, the ideal place for people with reduced mobility, because the accesses are typical from the 12th century.

Also, medieval but recently restored, the castle and fortress of Gravensteen, is one of the few that remained in Flanders, offering a fascinating perspective on the weapons, culture and dramatic past of the city of Ghent, Belgium. Called "Castle of the Count", because it was commissioned by the Count Philippe of Alsace, it served as a fortress and residence to the Counts of Flanders. Already in the 19th century, it was a prison and an industrial complex. After being restored in the 20th century, it opened to the public in 1907, housing several art collections. The visit can be guided, virtually, by two historical figures, the novelist Chrétien de Troyes and the aristocrat Simon Saphi. During the trip, venture through the old torture chamber of the castle, where a museum with artefacts used in the tortures was installed. Exhibits alluding to the armament used in medieval warfare, collections of Belgian weapons, pistols decorated with pearls and ivory, armour and beasts are some of the objects you can see. In the warmer months, it is possible to climb the ramparts of the Gravensteen central tower and enjoy the view on the Gothic and unique Ghent.

In Gothic style, the abbey of Mont Saint-Michel, in France, deserved praise from the French novelist Victor Hugo. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site, since 1979, it is an example of a medieval urban community based on the integration and balance of religious and secular components, maintaining spirituality to this day. Its architecture, described as a wonder made by Man and its bay, theatre of one of the largest tides in Europe, referred to as a marvel of Nature, make the "Mont" one of the most visited places of Normandy, after Paris. However, the tourist brochures refer to it as belonging to two French regions, Brittany and Normandy. History tells us that the sanctuary was founded by Bishop Saint-Aubert, a native of Avranches, in 708 at Mont-Tombe (the initial name) after the apparition of the archangel Saint Michel. Since then, it has attracted visitors and pilgrims from all over the world. In addition to the pre-Roman architecture, from the 11th and 15th centuries, the Gothic and Roman convents, and the abbey transformed into prison during the Second Empire Revolution, remnants of the Hundred Years War remain. Since 2005, restoration works have been carried out, such as the construction of a bridge; the dam on the river Couesnon, Mont Saint-Michael, to control the tides; and a car park, so the natural setting has changed. To emphasize that, the visit through the bay must be accompanied by experienced guides and barefoot, due to the route of quicksand. An adventure not to be missed and that provides you a great show.

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