The Gleaming Gateway to Fantasyland

Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty Castle
The Viollet-le-Duc Spire

The gateway to Fantasyland is Sleeping Beauty Castle. In many ways, it’s not just the castle from Disney’s animated feature Sleeping Beauty — it’s every castle from every fairy tale ever told. In fact, during much of the time Disneyland was under construction, it was known only as Fantasyland Castle.

Inspired by the nineteenth century Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Sleeping Beauty Castle features architectural touches from other sources as well. One unexpected detail is the Viollet-le-Duc Spire, an ornate flèche (arrow-like spire) to the right of the tallest tower as you face the drawbridge side of the Castle. It is named for Gothic Revival architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879), who restored many medieval structures in Paris.

That spire goes unnoticed by most visitors — but writer Ray Bradbury noticed. Bradbury became acquainted with John Hench and other Imagineers while working with them on Spaceship Earth, the geodesic sphere attraction at Walt Disney World in Florida. After a vacation in Paris, Bradbury visited Disneyland — then he went home and called John Hench.

Ray Bradbury in 1975. (Photo by Alan Light)

Bradbury later recalled his conversation with Hench: “I said, ‘I just noticed something about Sleeping Beauty Castle. There’s a spire there that I saw last on top of Notre Dame and the Palais de Justice in Paris. How long has that been there on Sleeping Beauty Castle?’ [Hench] said, ‘Twenty years.’ I said, ‘Who put it there?’ He said, ‘Walt did.’ I said, ‘Why?’ ‘Because he loved it.’ I said, ‘Ah! That’s why I love Walt Disney. It cost a hundred thousand dollars to build a spire you didn’t need, eh?’ The secret of Disney is doing things you don’t need and doing them well, and then you realize you needed them all along.”

A gleaming gilded spire tops one of the turrets of Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Walt wanted his Castle to sparkle, so he insisted that the Castle spires be clad in genuine gold leaf. His brother Roy refused to allow the unnecessary extravagance, so Walt waited until Roy was away on business before having the spires gilded. Only one spire was left unsheathed in gold (it’s covered in patina bronze). It’s said that Walt left one spire unfinished to symbolize his desire that Disneyland never be completed, but always improving.

I would encourage you, the next time you visit the Park, to take a few moments and really look at the Castle — and its golden spires.

The Fantasyland side of the Sleeping Beauty Castle, showing the Viollet-le-Duc Spire at the left. There are few sights in Disneyland more spectacular than the Castle at night.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s