|Just where the land of Narnia met the sea—in fact, at the mouth of the great river—there was something on a little hill, shining. It was shining because it was a castle and of course the sunlight was reflected from all the windows which looked towards Peter and the sunset; but to Peter it looked like a great star resting on the seashore.
— from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Cair Paravel is Narnia’s ruling seat, a great castle on the edge of the eastern sea. It’s unclear in the books if it had a town or city attached to it (which, logically, it must have had) but it did have a treasure room, an orchard, a harbor, and a throne room/hall with an “ivory roof and the west door all hung with peacock’s feathers and the eastern door which opens right onto the sea.” Very grand indeed. I always picture the castle like a smaller version of Neuschwanstein, one of the pet projects of Ludwig the Second, The Mad King of Bavaria, which I had visited as a child. At the end of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe the Pevensies are crowned kings and queens in the Great Hall (There are a lot of great this-and-thats in Narnia, Hall, Waterfall, River, etc.) in the four thrones which are there conveniently waiting for them.
The descriptions of the castle are magical, but the name is even more so. It sounds graceful and light, French or Italian, unlike the mouth-twisting chewiness of Neuschwanstein. But the word Caer is from Old Welsh. In Medieval times it meant fortress, castle, or stronghold — it still exists in Wales, in place names like Caerphilly Castle. Paravel, on the other hand sounds Latin, in which para means “beside” — a preposition of placement — as in the modern English words paranormal and parallel. Vel could also be a Latin preposition, comparable to the English “or” … it could also derive from velum / veli, which can mean the sail of a ship. Given that that Cair Paravel stands by the sea and has a harbor, I think it’s the latter – the castle beside the sails (of the sea-going ships.)
Other scholars have their own ideas. In Middle English, Cair Paravel means “court” and “lesser than” — the idea that Aslan is true ruler of Narnia and the humans merely rule under him. This concept is never discussed by Lewis in the books, however, so I like my more concrete etymological analysis better.
In addition the words of Cair Paravel call up other allusions. Paravel sounds very close to paragon — in that the castle was a pinnacle of aesthetic and courtly perfection — and paradise. Switch the p for a c and you get caravel, a type of swift sailing ship. All of which allude to the castle’s role.
Looking to name a castle with something that has the same feel ?
Other Cair Paravels