Bavaria’s King Ludwig II loved building castles more than most things in life, so in 1873 he acquired Herreninsel island with the purpose of executing his most elaborate fantasy to date.
Working with a team of designers, Ludwig envisioned the Neues Schloss or “New Palace” at Herrenchiemsee as his tribute to Louis XIV. He wouldn’t merely replicate Versaille in the south of Germany, but rather intended to take its legendary opulence a step further. His master vision for the New Palace involved a W-shape building with 70 rooms, as well as expansive gardens and fountains that either duplicated or paid tribute to Versailles’ originals.
Unfortunately things didn’t go according to plan when the king died at the young age of 40 in 1885. Despite racking up a price tag of $250 million in today’s currency, by that time only 20 rooms had been completed. With the royal purse cinched tightly shut, all further construction was halted and the majority of Herrenchiemsee’s unfinished portions were demolished.
Though the scope of Ludwig’s vision was never met, Herrenchiemsee has endured as a spectacle to ostentatiousness and dreaming big in the face of reality. The Grand Hall of Mirrors succeeds in its mission to rival that of Versailles, as do the gilded rococo adornments of several state rooms, including a bedroom and work room. Central to the edifice are a few skeletons of half-finished galleries and staircases, whose exposed brick stands in stark contrast to the frescoes, velvet, and gold of the finished palace rooms in haunting testament to what may have been.