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All Our Favorite Disney Castles Were Based on Real-Life Palaces

Photo Credit: Athanasios Gioumpasis / Getty Images and Walt Disney Pictures / joaohenriquecaraballo / MovieStillsDB
Photo Credit: Athanasios Gioumpasis / Getty Images and Walt Disney Pictures / joaohenriquecaraballo / MovieStillsDB

Disney’s fairytales are full of magic and fantasy. They are what dreams are made of. It turns out that many of the Disney castles we saw in our favorite fairytales were actually inspired by real places, and they’re even more beautiful than in the movies.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Movie still from Snow White
Snow white stands on her castle balcony, inspired by the Alcázar of Segovia in Spain. (Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures / Sicoe_Vlad / MovieStillsDB)
Alcazar of Segovia
The Alcázar of Segovia, who joined the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985, is located in Castile and Leon, Spain. (Photo Credit: DeAgostini / Getty Images)

The castle that was home to Snow White and her wicked stepmother, the Evil Queen, was based on the very real Alcázar of Segovia in Spain. The real castle had a bigger purpose than the animated version in the 1937 animated film. Alcázar of Segovia was a fortress, royal palace, state prison, and it serves as a historical archive.

The castle in Snow White resembled the real Spanish palace with its small windows and a stone façade which was used in traditional castles as a means of protection from intruders. Of course, Disney took some creative liberties to make the castle in the film appear more magical.

Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty's castle
Sleeping Beauty’s castle, inspired by the Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany. (Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures / joaohenriquecaraballo / MovieStillsDB)
Neuschwanstein castle
Neuschwanstein castle, a 19th-century Romanesque revival palace of Ludwig II of Bavaria in the Bavarian Alps in Germany. (Photo Credit: Thanapol Tontinikorn / Getty Images)

Neuschwanstein, a Bavarian castle commissioned by King Ludwig II, was the inspiration for the castle in Sleeping Beauty. However, the 1959 animated film incorporated several other elements that veer away from the real German palace.

The castle in the film takes on Renaissance, Gothic, and Scandinavian elements, making it appear a bit different from its real-life counterpart. Neuschwanstein also inspired the Disney logo, since it features the Sleeping Beauty castle.


Publicity still from Tangled, Rapuzel in her tower
The city which is home to Rapunzel’s parents was inspired by Mont-Saint-Michel in France. (photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures / manosho / MovieStillsDB)
Mont Saint Michel
The tidal island of Mont Saint-Michel on the Normandy coast at sunrise, taken on October 15, 2011. (Photo Credit: Jeff Morgan / PhotoPlus Magazine / Future / Getty Images)

Laurent Ben-Mimoun, a visual development artist for the 2011 Disney film Tangled, revealed that the island kingdom of Corona was heavily inspired by a real-life castle. The idea was to “have a renaissance castle on an island, reminiscent of Mont Saint-Michel,” he said.

Mont Saint-Michel is an island off the coast of Normandy in France with a commune that was eventually turned into a prison and is only accessible twice a day during low tide. It served as inspiration for the prison Rapunzel was forced into, preventing her from connecting with the outside world.


The castle in Brave
Merida’s castle home in Brave, inspired by the Eilean Donan and Dunnottar Castle in Scotland. (Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures / Pixar Animation Studios / Uchi / MovieStillsDB)
Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan Castle in Loch Duich, Ross and Cromarty, Scottish Highlands, Scotland, UK. (Photo Credit: Arterra / Universal Images Group / Getty Images)
Dunnottar Castle
Menacing dark clouds above Dunnottar Castle, the ruined medieval fortress near Stonehaven on a cliff along the North Sea coast, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. (Photo Credit: Arterra / Universal Images Group / Getty Images)

Princess Merida’s home in Brave takes inspiration from two Scottish landmarks, Eilean Donan Castle and Dunnottar Castle, both of which have stony façades and low profiles. Even though Brave is set in the 10th century and stone castles weren’t built until the 11th century, the film version still closely mirrors these two structures.

The official site for Visit Scotland explains the country’s influence on the film. “Though Brave is set in a fictional medieval Scotland, Pixar’s animators were deeply affected by the real country’s raw beauty and rich heritage, it says. “The unique natural sights they witnessed during their tours dramatically influenced Brave’s startlingly beautiful animated landscapes.”


The castle in Aladdin
Jasmine’s castle home was inspired by the Taj Mahal in India. (Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures / HarperSeven / MovieStillsDB)
The Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal mausoleum is pictured in the Indian city of Agra on March 11, 2018. (Photo Credit: LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP / Getty Images)

It’s hard to look at the palace in Aladdin and not see the Taj Mahal. The white marble mausoleum is so unique looking that it’s easy to make the connection in the 1992 film, and the turquoise door in the animated version clearly pulls from the colorful architecture of India.

However, the castle also has elements from other cultures. The onion-shaped domes on the tower tops are actually more reminiscent of Russian orthodox cathedrals, like Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.

Meredith Cohen, a medieval architectural historian, explains that Disney took lots of liberties when they pulled together so many different cultural styles. There’s now a note at the beginning of the film that addresses how meshing all of those cultures together was wrong.


The castle in Frozen
The home of Elsa and Anna from Frozen was inspired by the Akershus Fortress and Borgund Stave Church in Norway. (Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures / MagisterYODA / MovieStillsDB)
Akershus fortress
Akershus Fortress is a medieval castle that was built to protect Oslo, the capital of Norway. (Photo Credit: Wolfgang Kaehler / LightRocket / Getty Images)
Borgund Stave Church
Borgund Stave Church, located in Norway. (Photo Credit: Schöning / ullstein bild / Getty Images)

Disney animators continue to take inspiration from real castles, and for good reason. One of Disney’s newer films, Frozen, took inspiration for Arendelle from two different structures. The palace, with its tower and gables, was inspired by Akershus Fort. This was a castle that acted as a military stronghold near Oslo, Norway.

More from us: How Disney’s ‘Frozen’ May Have Helped Solve The Dyatlov Pass Mystery

The residence was based on a Norwegian stave church. The wooden timbers and tiered roofing have a look that differentiates the home from the palace. Disney took inspiration from churches because they were  “often the most exciting architecture in the Middle Ages,” Cohen explained.

Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!