Opulent Decay: 7 Abandoned Castles, Chateaus, and Mansions “Open” for Exploration
Castles, chateaus, and mansions — these are displays of wealth and power usually reserved for kings and countesses, or at least old-timey movie stars. It’s hard to imagine these incredible, opulent buildings would ever be abandoned and left to rot. But hey, crazier things have happened.
Royal riches may drain more quickly than thought possible; families might die out without leaving an heir; or gigantic estates may just become too overwhelming to maintain. However it happens, luxurious residences, once the height of glamor and wealth, sometimes become abandoned and left to the mercy of the elements. Lucky for urban explorers and adventurous photographers, they’re still pretty incredible to see, no matter the state of disrepair.
But be warned: just because they’re falling apart doesn’t mean they are public property. If you chose to tresspass, do so with extreme caution.
1. Castle of Mesen — Lede, Belgium
This castle is quite the chameleon. Not only did it go from stunning architectural gem to modern ruin, but it’s filled just about every role in between. Originally constructed in the beginning of the 17th century for a royal family, after two hundred years of additions and renovations it was sold and used as a factory in the 19th century. It has been home to an alcohol distillery, a sugar refinery, and a tobacco factory.
In 1897 the Castle of Mesen was purchased by a Catholic order of nuns that turned the castle into a school, and had a chapel constructed on the grounds. The school closed around 1970, and the ownership of the property fell on the state. Sadly, it became so derelict that when a motion was put in place for it to become a “protected monument”, it was denied because of the castle’s terrible condition. After it was determined that restoration would have been too expensive, the castle became derelict for good.
Although most of the interior is in ruins, the lush greenery that intertwines with the building’s exterior still makes for some incredible exploration. Don’t miss the chapel’s stained glass windows that have somehow managed to remain partially intact, even amid extensive damage to the rest of the church.
Image: Martijn van Shie/Flickr
2. Chateau de Noisy — Celles, Belgium
Image: andre govia/Flickr
Originally named Chateau Miranda, this property was built in 1866 as a summer home for a wealthy count and his family. The family used it for years, but it was taken over during the Nazi occupation and used for military purposes during World War II.
It then changed hands again (although this time willingly) and was purchased in 1958 by a Belgian railway company that used the castle to house a summer camp for the children of its railway workers. It was fully abandoned in 1991 after the railway went out of business, and has stood empty ever since.
Image: andre govia/Flickr
Chateau de Noisy has some incredible features to explore, but potential visitors need to be very, very careful. An imposing 183-foot clock tower is a prime exploration spot, as are the incredible ceilings throughout the building. But disrepair has made Chateau de Noisy structurally unsound, and there are broken floorboards and rotting stairs on all the upper levels.
There have also been reports of a crazed grounds-keeper that rides around the premise on a 4-wheeler sporting a shotgun. We’re not sure about the accuracy of these reports, but if they’re true, we strongly recommend you steer clear of that guy.
3. Bannerman’s Castle — Pollepel Island, Beacon, New York State
Full disclosure: Bannerman’s Castle is not really a castle, in the classic sense. It wasn’t built for royalty; nobody used it as a fortress against marauding warlords; and nary a maiden was ever locked up on its towers. What it did hold: nobody other than the self proclaimed Arms King of New York City.
In 1900, Francis Bannerman operated a booming mail-order weapons business and he knew a good deal when he saw one. When the US military put their surplus goods from the Spanish-American War on the market, he purchased 90% of them. Needing somewhere safe to store live ammunition, guns, and other dangerous items, Bannerman also purchased 6.5-acre Pollepel Island, in the Hudson River about 50 miles north of New York city.
Although most of the goods were stored in regular old warehouses, Bannerman had an incredible castle built on the island as a residence. A native Scottsman, Bannerman drew up the plans for his castle himself, citing Scottish castles as his inspiration. The incredible mansion could easily be seen from the Hudson, and was a kind of advertisement for Bannerman’s goods during the turn of the century.
Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there. Bannerman died in 1918, and in 1920 two hundred tons of powder and shells exploded, severely damaging the stores and buildings. In 1950 a storm sunk the ferry boat that supplied Pollepel Island, and the place was fully abandoned. Over the years, fire and structural issues have taken their toll and in 2009 large chunks of the exterior walls collapsed.
If you’re planning a visit, stay far away from the building — who knows when the next pieces will fall from the grand façade?
4. Potter’s Manor House — Crowborough, East Sussex
Image: Lula TaHula/Flickr
Although there isn’t much history available concerning this place, we know it was built in 1904 by a well-known architect. It is clear from the belongings left in the home that it was once very much occupied. We also know that the residents left in an incredible hurry: toiletries, furniture, and clothes are strewn throughout the home, making it an incredible urban exploration destination.
Image: Lula TaHula/Flickr
5. Chateau Rochendaal – Sint-Truiden, Belgium
Originally built in 1881 by Jean Henri Paul Ulens for himself and his cousin-bride Marie, this residence was their (presumably) happy home until the Nazi invasion of Belgium. After that, this mini mansion was claimed by the Nazis as their own.
Once the Nazis were defeated, the home became a boarding house for Belgian pilots who trained in the nearby fields. In 1996 the home was vacated by the military, and has been standing abandoned ever since.
Urban explorers love the home’s mix of Victorian details and military propaganda. Make sure not to miss the incredible murals and angel statues in the grand chapel.
6. Coity Castle — Glamorgan, Wales
Image: John Grayson/geograph.com
There are a whole lot of ruined medieval castles in Wales. Some are in such disrepair that only a few stones survive, while others are still intact enough to allow people to walk around in them. Coity Castle is somewhere in between. An incredibly old structure, the first version of the castle was built around 1126 by, wait for it, Sir Payn “the Demon” de Turberville (amazing name right?!). Sir Payn was an original member of the Twelve Knights of Glamorgan, each of whom had his own castle built for him.
After Mr. Payn’s time, the Turberville family took over the castle, which underwent renovation in the 14th century, and again in the 16th century (this time they added windows, latrines, and a kitchen). It changed hands a few more times before being permanently abandoned in the 17th century. For a place that’s been unoccupied for about 400 years, we don’t really think it looks half bad.
Risk-adverse urban explorers, this one’s for you; since it’s a nationally protected site visitors are actually welcome, not prohibited.
7. Lennox Castle — Lennoxtown, Scotland
After an unfortunate beheading in the family in 1425, the Lennox family lost rights to the land where the Lennox Castle was originally built. After living in a sort of royal exile for eight generations, the family decided it was ready to petition the House of Lords to get their title back. And in 1833 they succeeded, becoming the Count and Countess of Lennox once again.
In honor of their royal reinstatement, they commissioned a grand castle to be built on the land of their forefathers. The Lennox castle was completed in 1841, and their previous residence was intentionally partially torn down, planted with ivy, and left as a “ruin.” So classy.
Image: Ten ThirtyNine/Flickr
The family’s wealth ran out in 1927 and the castle and its 1,222-acre grounds were sold to the Glasgow Parish Council for £25,000. It was then transformed into the Lennox Castle Certified Institution for Mental Defectives. It served as a home for those with disabilities until the 1990s, when the hospital slowly began transferring patients to new homes. It finally closed for good in 2002.
Abandoned and in shambles, the castle was still beloved by urban explorers, many of whom lived in the small towns nearby. Sadly, an arson attack in May of 2008 profoundly damaged the building. It is now structurally unsound, and not safe for exploration. Please use extreme caution if you’re planning a visit; even walking close to the crumbling exterior can pose a danger.
Image: Paul Cook Photography/Flickr
Image: Paul Cook Photography/Flickr