kw: photographs, architecture
Disclosure: I didn't take these pictures. I haven't been to either of these places, though I have visited similar structures in both countries.
Not long ago, I gathered a bunch of new images for the slide show I use as my "screen saver", which is really a "work hider" for my office computer. Based on some wild notion, I went hog-wild and got more than fifty 2mpx and bigger images of castles in a number of countries. I variously cropped and resized them to 1600x1200 to fit my monitor.
What is it about castles, anyway? Any kind of daydreaming is called "building castles in the air" and we say, "a man's home is his castle". The mystery is not so deep when one looks at some of the really old castles. A typical one is a boxy Keep inside a walled compound.
Castles are really forts. The more attractive ones are simply fortified palaces. This one is the most famous:
Castle Neuschwanstein is probably the most-photographed building in the world. It is the inspiration for the castles at Disney theme parks. It was built in the 1870s and 1880s as an homage to Richard Wagner's "Swan Lake" and "Ring" music, by king Leopold II of Bavaria. Clearly, he considered the kingdom secure and fortification took a distant second place to decoration. He was deposed and died just before construction was completed in 1886, so his kingdom needed more than a castle to secure it!
Himeji Castle of central Japan, completed in 1346, was much more secure, yet its original builder, Akamatsu Sadanori, was overthrown within a few years. It was expanded in the early 1600s. As with Ludwig, Akamatsu was felled by guile, not by force of arms, and Himeji's intricate defenses were never tested in battle.
Besides defense, what needs does such monumental architecture fulfill? Initially, the size of a fortress was determined by the number of people who needed to be sheltered inside during a siege. Later, when castles were more showpieces, they housed the "royal family" and their numerous staff members, and were intended to both impress and intimidate.
Hardly anyone lives in castles anymore. Just heating one is a formidable undertaking, so, for example, Balmoral Castle in Scotland is only used during the warmer months by the British royalty, who spend Winters in the "warmer" climes closer to London. I visited a few Scottish castles some years back, including one that was inhabited. The docent said the family stayed in only a few rooms and left the others for tourists to look through. They'd modernized and air-conditioned maybe five percent of the structure.
My grandmother was a Lindsey, descended from a Lindsay who changed his name a little. The Lindsays were once heirs to Crawford Castle, a ruin in Lanarkshire, Scotland. Even were it in good repair, it's unlikely anyone of us would care to live there. I've sometimes thought that a castle would make an interesting venue for a Summer camp, if it were affordable (that's unlikely).
So now castles are archetypes on which we hang daydreams, and reminders of a very different past. We haven't outgrown the need for strong security measures, but we've learned that stone walls are the least secure.