Outside of the three-circle Mickey Mouse silhouette, there’s arguably no symbol more intrinsically linked to the Walt Disney company than that of a castle. In particular, the regal structure have been a symbol of the company’s theme parks since the beginning, with Sleeping Beauty Castle serving as the centerpiece of Disneyland since it’s opening in 1955.
The massive – in comparison – Cinderella Castle opened with Walt Disney World in 1971, and was replicated for the company’s first international park, Tokyo Disneyland, in 1983.
However, when it came time to determine who would own the castle at Disneyland Paris, Imagineering decided to take inspiration from the past while doing something entirely different.
As Imagineering began conceptualizing the Paris park — then known as Euro Disney — in the late 1980s, they quickly realized that the European market presented an issue not present in the United States or Tokyo. As the legendary Imagineer Tony Baxter, who was the guiding creative for behind the park’s development, shared in a later interview:
“Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland was inspired by the Neuschwanstein Castle in Southern Germany. This European influence was fine for building a castle in Anaheim, but the fact that castles exist just down the road from Disneyland Paris challenged us to think twice about our design.”
With this in mind, the team began positing numerous ideas of what to do. Some pushed to still do a castle in the same vein as Anaheim and Orlando/Tokyo, arguing that the brand recognition should supersede the fact that Europe and France in particular featured many real castles.
On the other side of the spectrum, some argued that the park shouldn’t have a castle at all, and the centerpiece “weenie” (Disney’s term for visual landmarks that guide people through a park) should instead be something else, with options including a tower tied to the park’s then in-development Discoveryland pitched.
Eventually, a compromise was reached. Spearheaded by a concept from Imagineer Tom Morris, the Imagineering team developed a castle that would pay tribute to the Disneyland original as it would also be home to Sleeping Beauty. However, its visual appearance wasn’t based on the somewhat “realistic” Anaheim original. Instead the castle, which would be known as Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant (roughly translated to “The Castle of the Beauty in the Sleeping Forest”), would be a highly ornate, fairytale-esque structure.
The 167 ft.tall building and its landscaping took design queues from the well-known medieval illustrated manuscript Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, as well as the concept art for the Disney animated adaptation of Sleeping Beauty, in particular the square trees that dot the castle’s grounds.
In addition to the castle’s overall design, the Disneyland Paris centerpiece features several other features nor present in its counterparts. The largest is the La Tanière du Dragon AKA “The Lair of the Dragon”, a massive walkthrough attraction located underneath the castle. Set in a massive cavern, the walkthrough features a near 90 ft. tall animatronic dragon that puffs smoke and growls at guests.
The castle also features La Galerie de la Belle au Bois Dormant, a gallery that tells the story of Sleeping Beauty through tapestries (according to Imagineering legend, Tony Baxter displays a replica of one of these tapestries in his home) and stained glass windows. The latter are particularly noteworthy, as their production was overseen by Peter Chapman, a well-known figure in the field who had previously done restoration work for Notre Dame de Paris and the British Royal Family. The structure also houses several shops selling glass Christmas ornaments and figurines.
What do you think of Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant? Do you prefer the fairytale-esque Parisian twist on the classic castle, or are you more a fan of the Disneyland original? Let us know in the comments below.