Inside Hearst Castle: The Real-Life Xanadu

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castle near the sea

The Xanadu — a vast fictional private estate in the film Citizen Kane — holds the same legendary fame as the movie. As enigmatic as its owner, Charles Foster Kane, the Xanadu covered 49,000 acres of land and is so splendid and extravagant that not even the journalists can estimate the cost. In the film, Xanadu is the world’s largest private property, with buildings built of 20,000 tons of marble, containing art and artifacts enough for ten museums. The Xanadu had its own private zoo and aquarium, Venetian canals with gondolas, and a championship golf course.

The Xanadu seems like it could only exist in fiction, but in fact, the writers were inspired by a real-life property owned by a businessman of the same level of power and wealth as the fictional Charles Foster Kane. It is said that Xanadu was a satiric jab at the Hearst Castle, built by media mogul William Randolph Hearst in 1947.

Hearst Castle has so many parallelisms with Xanadu that it’s hard to deny the apparent inspiration. Here’s an inside look into the legendary Hearst Property.

The Beginnings of Hearst Castle

If anything, the Hearst Castle gave testimony to the privilege into which William Randolph Hearst was born, as well as his drive to continually expand his reach and grow his wealth. In 1865, his father, George Hearst, bought about 40,000 acres of ranch land in Piedra Blanca, San Simeon, and Santa Rosa in California. In 1919, the younger Hearst inherited this land and eventually bought surrounding land, which then expanded his portfolio into 250,000 acres.

Together with acclaimed architect Julia Morgan, he built Hearst Castle at the center of this sprawling land. Once finished, the estate boasted 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens, pools, terraces, and walkways. It was a challenge for even the best home remodeling companies, but the result was so stunning that it had become a Hollywood inspiration.

inside a castle

What’s Inside Hearst Castle

Hearst filled his house with all the treasures he could find from his travels and connections around the world — similar to what Charles Foster Kane did at Xanadu.

The Art

Hearst spared no expense in filling his place with rare art pieces. Just as Xanadu was said to contain objects enough for ten museums, so was Hearst Castle. One of the most precious ones is a 300-year-old painting of the Annunciation by the Spanish painter Bartolome Perez de la Dehesa, King Charles II’s official painter. Hearst Castle also houses the 200-year-old sculpture of Venus Italica.

Hearst was also fond of art pieces that date back to classical antiquity, such as a sarcophagus decorated with nine Muses, Apollo, and Minerva, completed in about 230 A.D. He also owned several sculptures of the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet, which date back to the New Kingdom of Egypt (1550-1070 B.C.).

The Zoo

Hearst Castle occupied only a small portion of the entire land, leaving thousands of acres for a zoo. It was almost unheard of in the American elite to own funds enough to maintain a zoo, but if there’s anyone who dared do it, it was William Randolph Hearst.

The Hearst Castle Zoo was divided into two: a menagerie of caged animals and large fenced enclosures for herbivores. At its peak, the zoo was home to about 300 animals, including Asian and African antelopes, Indian deer, Alaskan sheep, ostriches, kangaroos, llamas, and more. The menagerie housed bears, lions, tigers, leopards, swans, and elephants. However, the zoo had to be dismantled when Hearst experienced financial problems.

The castle was bequeathed to the state of California in 1957 and is currently open to the public. It welcomes about one million tourists, even though it sits atop a hill — a relatively inaccessible spot. Well, we can’t blame people who want to see what it’s like to live like Charles Foster Kane.


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