The Gargoyles of Biltmore Estate

The incredible gargoyles of Biltmore Estate are a feature that visitors often overlook, but these works of art are worth noting, for each one is unique.  Carved by hand, there are hundreds of them all around the house.  They adorn column capitals, walls, and rain gutter downspouts and come in human and animal form.  Let’s have a look around.

biltmore estate gargoyle



The detail is just incredible.  Not only is the column’s capital amazing, note the inverted acorns along the shaft:

biltmore estate gargoyle



This column has lancets along the shaft and winged creatures on the capital:

biltmore estate gargoyle



A closer look at the capital:

biltmore estate gargoyle


By the way, these are technically grotesques, not gargoyles.  A true gargoyle is a downspout, and I do have photos of some to show you later.

George Vanderbilt, the railroad tycoon who built Biltmore, and his architect Richard Morris Hunt, designed the house in the style of the French chateaus and Gothic cathedrals Vanderbilt had seen in his travels to Europe.  With the heavy presence of gargoyles there, it’s no wonder they appeared on his grand home in Asheville, North Carolina.

This pilaster has seahorses, which I don’t think are grotesque at all:

biltmore estate gargoyle

(A pilaster is a half-column that adorns a wall, and gives the appearance of a column, but doesn’t function as a supporting column.)


Look at this amazing column, can you imagine creating this?

biltmore estate gargoyle


A dragon tops one side of this huge column!

biltmore estate gargoyle


There is another seahorse on the other side:



Let’s step away from the house for a moment, to the grand Esplanade, a twin set of steps and carriage ramp that leads from the hill to the lawn and house below.  Adorning the retaining wall are a pair of these fountains; note the water carved in stone behind the fish:

biltmore estate gargoyle


Gargoyles were developed as a way to make the necessary downspouts more decorative on enormous Gothic cathedrals, and it’s believed the grotesque designs were chosen to scare away evil spirits.  Non-functioning gargoyles, or grotesques, were later added and soon they all became known as “gargoyles.”


Back at the house, each window and door is topped with pairs of fanciful creatures, like these elfish men:

biltmore estate gargoyle


biltmore estate gargoyle



This little guy is my absolute favorite, with his little toes.  He’s planning mischief.

biltmore estate gargoyle


On one of our visits to Biltmore, we took the Rooftops Tour, where we were able to see more grotesques and gargoyles up close.  There are two in this next image, a quickie cell-phone snapshot, can you spot them?  (Click on the picture to enlarge it if you’d like to.)

biltmore estate gargoyle


Finally, we come to our true gargoyles, actual downspouts that direct rain from the roof.  In this first image, the lower one is a gargoyle, the upper one is a grotesque who has an actual “bum” – my kids thought this was hilarious, “we’re being mooned by a gargoyle!”

biltmore estate gargoyle


This next one is back down at ground level, and it is quite shocking looking right up into his mouth!

biltmore estate gargoyle


We’ll have to leave it here, but I hope I’m able to make another trip back some time, and get photos of lots more Biltmore gargoyles and grotesques.  I hope you’ve enjoyed these fanciful, whimsical works of art as much as I do.


biltmore estate gargoyle


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8 thoughts on “The Gargoyles of Biltmore Estate

  1. What a great tour! I’d love to get a look inside. If I’m ever in North Carolina, I will put this on my visiting list. What major city is it near? Have a good week. Rosie

  2. I loved this post! We are hoping to get back to Biltmore as my brother now lives in North Carolina. I took pictures of gargoyles and grotesques all over France — it’s true that the Biltmore designers looked to Europe for inspiration.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your photos and the info on gargoyles. These have fascinated me forever and I never knew they actually served a purpose (downspouts) I can only imagine the sculpture’s fantacies as they created these amazing statues. Have a wonderful day!

  4. I fell in love with gargoyles when I saw them all over a very pretty landscaped garden at a summer cottage last year. I went home and bought some to put around. I like the history of them too. Those at Biltmore are fabulous. Would love to visit there someday. Visiting from Treasure Hunt Thursday.

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