Once upon a time, when the European nobility wished to publicly display their wealth, they commissioned their kitchens to produce fantastic structures made of a mixture of two rare, exotic and highly expensive imports - sugar and almonds.
Marchpane was a culinary discovery of the late Middle Ages, believed to have originated from Italy, and this union of sugar and ground almonds was the forebear of today's marzipan. It was moulded and sculptured into large replicas of castles and palaces and other 'subtleties' - gilded eagles, swans carrying mottoes in their bills, allegorical figures of men and gods.
The paste, once sculpted, was coated with a frosting of sugar and rosewater to make the structures shine and bedecked with crystallised fruits like jewels or gilded with gold and silver leaf.These elaborate structures and figures were placed before an audience at the end of grand feasts and, once sufficiently applauded by the admiring guests, were dismantled and eaten, much like a desert in modern menus.Marzipan dries to a very hard substance and the more impressive structures, particularly those which represented palaces and estates, were left to dry and would be kept on display.
Sadly, none of these medieval marzipan follies have survived the centuries.