Sitting atop a tall hill in northern Croatia, Trakošćan Castle looks like a castle out of a fairytale, proudly peeking its spires out above the tree line, but on closer inspection the signs of neglect have started to mar the centuries old fortification.
Originally built in the 13th century, the large manse was not the product of some lord’s need for a grand home but was instead created as a defensive fortification.
Despite its martial background, its position on top of a verdant forest hill has given it a distinctly romantic appeal.
Down the centuries the castle has been added to and rebuilt a number of times giving it a bit of a varied design sense, but losing none of its beauty.
While the original owner of the castle is unknown, the estate was passed down among a series of Croatian nobles before finally being turned over to the Croatian government in the 1950s.
In 1953 Trakošćan Castle was opened to the public as a museum housing a number of historical displays about the area, the castle, and Croatian history in general.
A man-made lake was also built at the foot of the hill making the view from the castle all the more spectacular.
in recent years the grounds have been neglected and signs of wear and age are beginning to appear.
Despite this, if you have to choose just one to visit while you are visiting Croatia, you can’t beat Trakošćan Castle for sheer storybook looks.
Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland, Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom and numerous other magical castles were all inspired by a real castle: Neuschwanstein Castle, the awe-inspiring retreat of the “fairy-tale king,” Ludwig II of Bavaria.
Commissioned by the king in homage to Richard Wagner, the fantastical castle was designed by theatrical set designer Christian Jank.
The first stone of Neuschwanstein Castle (which literally means, “New Swan Stone palace”) was laid in September 1869. The technology used to build this castle was considered modern and advanced.
New inventions such as electricity, plumbing, heat and steamboats were used in the construction of the castle, and Ludwig himself was considered responsible for the introduction of many of these inventions to the area.
In 1886, as the massively expensive castle neared completion, the State Commissioner pronounced Ludwig insane and arrested him soon after. The day after he was arrested, Ludwig requested the Commissioner go on a walk in the woods with him.
The commissioner agreed and told his guards to stay behind. Both were found mysteriously dead in a lake later that evening.
Ludwig was never able to see the finalised castle, but his taste for elegant, and extravagant, design resonates throughout the interior of the castle.
After his death, the castle was opened for the public to help pay off the expenses and now attracts over a million people a year.
Of particular delight is the Grotto Room, an artificial cave complete with stalactites and a waterfall; it was intended to represent a cave from Wagner’s opera “Tannhauser.”
Already in ruins by the time it was captured in glowing colors by romantic painter J. M. W. Turner in 1802, Dolbadarn Castle dates back to the days of the legendary Welsh ruler Llywelyn the Great in the 13th century.
The 50-foot tower of Dolbadarn Castle watched over the Llanberis Mountain Pass.
Once a strategic stronghold, it’s now mostly popular with rock climbers and outdoor adventurers who come to explore the craggy landscape.
In 1284 the castle was seized by Edward I during his invasion and conquest of Wales.
Although the castle remained a manor house until into the 14th century, the slow decline of the fortress began when Edward removed some timber to add to the construction of his great castle at Caernarfon, his seat of power.
Johann Konrad Dippel was rumoured to create potions, perform electrical therapies, and partake in gruesome experiments involving stolen body parts from the graveyard.
Born in the Castle Frankenstein in 1673, it’s disputed whether or not he was the inspiration for Mary Shelley’s mad scientist of the same name, who did some cadaver experiments of his own.
What is sure about Dippel is his colourful career as an alchemist. He attached his name to Dippel’s Animal Oil, which he discovered from the destructive distillation of animal parts and claimed as a universal medicine.
The animal oil came at the end of a wave of popularity for Iatrochemistry, which had moved alchemy from the search for creating gold to finding new medicines.
The unpleasant taste and smell, as well as the progression of medicine, made Dippel’s oil fall into disrepute by the end of the 18th century. Dippel later helped set up a laboratory in Berlin for making gold and, at one point, he ended up in prison on a Danish island for seven years due to political activities.
In 1734, he finally had a stroke and died at the Castle Wittgenstein near Berleburg, although his friends claimed he was poisoned. By his own hand or that of another, it is unclear.
The Castle Frankenstein is now in ruins, with only two towers, a restaurant and a chapel remaining. However, the perhaps mythical connection to Mary Shelley’s novel “Frankenstein” keeps it a popular destination, especially for Halloween.
Even from the outside, the looming fortress known as Rocchetta Mattei looks like a cobbled together hodge podge of architectural influences, and the interior is even crazier thanks to the castle’s more-than-a-little eccentric creator Cesare Mattei who is best known as the father of “electrohomeopathy,” a medical practice said to cure cancer.
Since almost 1200 CE there has been a fortress sitting on the scenic hilltop in the Northern Apennines where the Rocchetta Mattei now stands.
Construction of the current castle began in 1850 at the behest of Count Cesare Mattei, a slightly unhinged, self-taught medicine man and politician who had developed his own system of healing that he said harnessed the life energy (electricity) of plants to heal all of Man’s ills, including cancer.
Envisioning his castle as the home of his medical revolution, Mattei constructed the “Rocchetta,” as he called it, with the enthusiasm and focus of a child.
Mixing medieval, Middle-Eastern, and gothic styles just to name a few, Massei simply seemed to create the rooms as the whims came to him.
The layout of the castle is no better, seemingly like a veritable labyrinth of arbitrarily interconnected rooms. Many of the features were also built from faked or disguised materials such as painted “stained glass.”
The rooms each seemed to serve their own strange purpose as well most notably the “Nineties Room” which Mattei specifically built to host a banquet that would occur on the occasion of his 90th birthday, celebrating he and his nonagenarian compatriots.
Unfortunately Massei would never get to host such a party, passing away at the age of 87.
After his death the castle changed hands a number of times, and was even once donated to the City of Bologna who declined the bizarre gift.
By the 1980s the castle was completely abandoned and falling into disrepair.
However an independent conservation group took control of the site in the 2000s and began repairing the site, opening some of it to the public.
Massei’s electrohomeopathy is still practiced in some corners of the world such as India and Pakistan, but the true testament to Massei’s genius/madness may be his beloved Rocchetta.