You’ve seen it a million times, even if you’re not a Disney fan. Sleeping Beauty Castle is one of the most recognizable buildings in the United States, if not the world. And this fairytale home is not so magical by mistake; it was carefully designed and constructed to transport guests into a fantasy world, completely removed from real life. So how did the castle become the icon that it is?
Walt’s lifelong fascination with fairytales made adding a castle to Disneyland an obvious choice. With a castle at the center of the park, guests would immediately envision themselves as participants in fantastical pageantry, where they too could be royalty for a day. Whether or not Walt knew that the castle would become so famous is a mystery, but he must have known that it would serve as the symbol of Disneyland.
With that in mind, there was enormous pressure to design a castle that was unique, yet somehow tied into the rest of the park. Walt assembled an incredible team of designers and engineers, and they set out to create magic.
In the 1950’s, Walt Disney Studios was hard at work animating its next classic feature: Sleeping Beauty. Disney saw a perfect opportunity to tie the theme park with the film studio, and decided to place Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at the end of Main Street USA. The castle was a huge draw for fans, since they were able to visit the royal home four years before the film’s release.
If you pay close attention to the film, you’ll notice you really don’t see much of the castle’s exterior. The palace tends to stay far in the background, or off to the side and largely out of view. So when designing the castle for the park, Imagineers pretty much had free reign to make whatever they wanted. Disney looked to European castles for inspiration, hoping to create a unique design that still resembled medieval splendor and royalty.
The Sleeping Beauty Castle was ultimately inspired by Neuschwanstein Castle, a 19th century palace in Bavaria.
Imagineers drew from the stylized turrets, tall and narrow windows, and asymmetrical shape. Though Aurora’s home is not an exact replica of the German castle, the two are recognizably similar.
THE DREAM BECOMES REALITY
Once Imagineers had a design for the castle, they set to work creating a miniature model. As they built the model, the top half somehow became switched around and was put on backward. This accident turned out to be an accidental stroke of genius, since Walt actually liked the look much better! So now the original “front” of the castle overlooks Fantasyland, and the “back” is now the front.
Disney broke ground on the castle in July 1954, exactly one year before the park’s grand opening. Imagineers relied heavily on forced perspective to create the illusion of a towering palace, since the castle only measures 77 feet tall, (about half the size of the castle in Walt Disney World). Walt was involved in every step of the process and made the final design decisions for each feature, from the colors of the shingles on the roof to the benches on the stone footbridge leading into the castle’s gothic archway. The castle took just under a year to complete, and when it was done, Disneyland finally had its centerpiece.
A CASTLE FOR ALL
When Disneyland opened its gates to the public in 1955, the castle stood at the end of the street, welcoming visitors into a world of magic unlike anything they had ever seen before. Over the years, the castle has gone through a few small changes, including the addition of a walkthrough attraction and a few different shades of pink and grey coloring. But the castle’s constant presence at the center of Disneyland has made it an internationally recognized icon, and one of the most beloved places in the world for Disney fans.