Reading Time: 6 minutes
Every girl wants to be a princess, right? No. No, no. Nope. If that hasn’t been made clear on GeekMom thus far, you’ve been skipping posts again. I never wanted to be a princess. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some ball gowns (mostly worn to Wal-Mart) and I would not be opposed to marrying a prince, but swirling around in glittery taffeta, my hair wafting down in inhuman curls, was never my cup of tea. Nor, actually, was having a cup of tea. Though, there was something that princesses had that I wanted, desperately. Every princess had a castle. I could take or leave the tiara, all I wanted was the castle. As a young child I was attracted to history, which could explain the attraction to castles. Then came Disney. It was a big day in my home when Disney was no longer a “pay” channel. Any natural attraction I had for history and castles was only bolstered by the princess phenomenon pushed by the Disney of my youth. I am a Disney girl through and through. I was weened on Little Mermaid, memorized every word of The Lion King, and reveled in the new age which dawned at the release of Toy Story. It is in my blood and I was pleased to see my daughter exhibiting a tendency toward Disney. While she is intrigued by nearly all of the cartoons, she exhibits the highest enthusiasm for the princesses, especially Belle from Beauty and the Beast. (Hey, I have no qualms with her liking the geekiest princess on file…no problem at all.)
As a I grew older, none of my obsessions really waned. I briefly entertained a major in historical architecture while in college just so I could study castles. Then I realized they let plain historians study them too, without the engineering courses. Heck yeah. And I still love me some Disney. So what better time to combine the two than Princess Week at GeekMom? Disney hasn’t done too bad a job with their castles through time. I mean, really, they have come up with some fantastic designs with some elements that point to real life. In the most efficient use of my time ever, I’ve decided to analyze a few of the castles Disney has produced for your reading enjoyment. Because everyone needs to know the real-life background of animated architecture. So there.
A quick background on castles: Originally castles were built as fortresses to house not only the ruling family but to pull in the villagers and livestock in case of an attack. Many scholars believe that the oldest castles were little more than large communal buildings, often domed or built with solid rooftops. The Bayeux Tapestry which depicts an 11th century battle of Britain’s William the Conqueror depicts such a “castle”. The oldest castle to be built in stone and looks more like what most of us think of as a castle is the Doue-la-Fontaine in France. As time progressed castles became a status symbol and a representation of wealth. Many of the earliest castles were actually built by the town as a whole rather than a wealthy individual. The ruling class lived in them but only by permission of the townsfolk. By the 12th and 13th centuries, with the rise of feudal culture and new invention in modern warfare such as the trebuchet and later the canon, protection became less of a focus when designing and building castles primarily because if one was going to be attacked, there was little a castle was going to do for you. Armies were far more useful for protection thus castles needn’t be so heavy and fortified. Advents in architecture, building materials, and an increased interest in the aesthetic bore castles with the tall spires and lavish turrets and gaudy decor most people associate with the idea of castle. By the 19th century castles were being built nearly exclusively by monarchies and the upper-class and those, purely as an exhibition of their wealth. OK, enough history lesson. On to Disney.
If not the first, certainly the greatest, the Cinderella Castle as depicted at Disney World is rated among the most recognized structures in the world. More people can identify this make-believe castle in a theme park than can name St. Basil’s Cathedral or the Taj Mahal. It is actually my least favorite. Nearly impossible structurally as it appears in the movie and the most useless castle from a design standpoint it is still the ever endearing and enduring symbol upon which the Disney empire is built.
An underwater castle made of golden sand with the most amazing flying buttresses and catenary arches. Physics defies this one to exist on dry land. I’ve often wondered if actual architects designed the various castles. Although as pretty as this one is, I’m not totally sure where one actually lives in it. I can only identify one or two areas that are not open to the air (or water as the case may be). I would guess that merfolk would want some privacy at some point. I also haven’t the foggiest idea how to go about decorating a large number of round rooms. One must also wonder about the nature of sand underwater. Many fish and crabs make sculptures of sorts out of sand…and vomit. Perhaps I’ll pass on this one. It may be my favorite princess story but the castle I think I’ll leave for the birds. Or fish. Whatever.
Bet you never expected to know so much about Disney castles! Other castles were depicted throughout Disney’s illustrious dabbling in princesses such as Jasmine’s Turkish palace, Belle’s enchanted Gothic Revival attempt, and their newest toss-up, Tangled’s single column tower, and but I’ll never again have the justification to end a post with crab sand turds. So I’m done.
(PS: For you history geeks out there, you’ll notice that I didn’t source my blurb on the history of castles. It’s legit, I promise. Most of the info was drawn from memory from a thesis paper I did as an undergrad; The Important Progression of the Castle Through British History: A Brief Examination of the Evolution of Castle Architecture in Britain. Although I view Wikipedia as a quaternary source at best, and even then suspect validity, a quick check of their sources in the Castle article reveals that I drew on a good number of the same. Ignore the article, scroll straight down to the sources. I leaned particularly heavily on McNeil, Coulson, and Thompson.)