Central Park’s Belvedere Castle overlooks Turtle Pond, Delacorte Theater and the Great Lawn. The Swedish Cottage and Shakespeare Garden are nearby. Central Park might be the last place you would expect to see a castle but that is exactly what you will find at 79th street. Belvedere Castle sits high above the city on Vista Rock, the second highest natural point in Central Park. Belvedere means ‘beautiful view’ or ‘panoramic view’ in Italian and the castle provides impressive views across Central Park and New York City. Belvedere Castle was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in the late 1800s. Olmsted and Calvert collaborated on dozens of parks across the country after teaming up to design Central Park.
Belvedere Castle was originally constructed as a Victorian Folly or fantasy building consisting of just a shell with open window frames and doorways. Today the castle is home to the Henry Luce Nature Observatory a haven for naturalists run by the Central Park Conservancy—a private not-for-profit organization that manages Central Park under contract with the City of New York/Parks & Recreation. Belvedere Castle is a great place for children to learn about nature—discovery kits can be borrowed which include binoculars and maps for exploring Central Park.
A good place to start exploring is with Turtle Pond which Belvedere castle looks down on. A complete renovation to the pond in 1997 added Turtle Island and shoreline plants to provide habitat for birds, insects and reptiles. Turtle Pond is home to a variety of wildlife in addition to several species of turtles.
The Great Lawn is just next door—on the other side of Turtle Pond from Belvedere Castle. One hundred and fifty years ago the Great Lawn was a reservoir, which preceded the castle, forcing Olmsted and Vaux to design around it. Having been filled in it is now one of the most famous lawns in the world and is popular with sports players and sunbathers from across the city. The Great Lawn is also the site of many concerts in Central Park throughout the summer. Another neighbor of Belvedere Castle to visit is the Delacorte Theater. The theater stages a number of plays in the summer months including the park’s Shakespeare festival all are free to the public. If you entered Central Park from the west side you will most likely pass the Swedish Cottage and Shakespeare Garden on your way to Belvedere Castle. Finally, if you have ever heard the phrase ‘the temperature in Central Park is…’ then you have been receiving readings directly from Belvedere castle as it has been a data collection point for the U.S. Weather bureau since 1919.
by Emma Jones