The Historical Chateau De Chillon: One Of The Best Places To Visit In Switzerland
The 13th century Chateau De Chillon is touted as one of the best preserved medieval castles in Europe. In fact, the castle is one of the best places to visit in Switzerland. The stunning castle is in Veytaux which is three kilometers from Montreux. Chateau de Chillon, also known as Chillon Castle, is an impressive historical structure that was built on a rocky islet framed by trees and mountains. It is connected to the mainland by a small wooden bridge. Because of the stunning location of Chateau de Chillon, the castle appears to rise out of the waters. The castle is also famous for its dungeons which are literally carved from the rock that supports its foundations. Charming silhouettes, ancient walls that witnessed a sombre past and a magnificent framing element in the shape of the mountains keep writers, painters and other visitors enthralled with Chillon Castle.
For the last 200 years, Chateau de chillon has been owned and governed by the Canton of Vaud. The castle started to become one of the most interesting places to visit in Switzerland as 19th century poets and authors like Lord Byron, Shelley, Victor Hugo, Hans Christian Andersen, Flaubert, Mark Twain and Charles Dickens pilgrimed to the castle.
Historical excavations by Albert Naef that started at the end of the 19th century proved that Chateau de Chillon was indeed occupied in the Bronze age. Aside from the castle’s dramatic setting, the rocky island where the castle was built was known to have served as a natural military and commercial protection point. The strategic location of the castle also served to control the passage between northern and southern Europe.
Three major periods influenced the history of the Chillon Castle.
• The Savoy Period (12th Century to 1536)
No one is sure when Chateau de Chillon was built. However, old documents mentioning the name of the castle date back as early as 1150. In this period, the castle was controlled by the Counts of Savoy. Having the right to the Chillon Castle, the Counts of Savoy also controlled the route along the shores of Lake Geneva. As a result, the Counts of Savoy conquered almost all the territory of Vaud during the 13th century. This started the Savoy domination of more than two-thirds of Vaud which today makes up the French-speaking part of Switzerland today.
Historians credit the construction of Chateau de Chillon to Pierre II of Savoy, the master of the castle from 1255 to 1268. Upon his death, his brother and successor, Philippe of Savoy continued with its construction. Jacques de Saint-Georges who specialized in military installations was commissioned for the job. It was known that the Chillon Castle was used by the Savoy family as an occasional residence and the task of maintaining the castle was given to the castellan who is usually a member of the Savoy aristocracy. In 1436, Duke Amedeee VIII tried to infuse new life into the castle before his election as Pope Felix V. He commissioned Aymonet Corniaux to do the important works in the castles and modify the defenses at the top of the towers and walls. However, the work at the Chateau de Chillon was not finished and was neglected until the start of the Bernese period.
• The Bernese Period (1536 to 1798)
Chateau de Chillon fell in the hands of the Swiss, more precisely the Bernese, when they conquered Pays de Vaud. In this period, the castle remained as a fortress, arsenal and prison for more than 260 years. It also became the permanent residence of the Captain of Chillon who represented the monarch. During this time, Chillon Castle was reorganized to suit military and defensive needs. In 1733, Chateau de Chillon was left by the occupants and therefore was no longer seen as an important structure for military operations and was used for storage instead.
• The Vaudois Period or the Cantonal Period (1798 to Present)
During the Vaud Revolution in 1798, the patriots of Montreux and Vevey occupied the castle and thus it became a national property. It was later transferred to the Canton of Vaud when it was founded in 1803. In the beginning, there were no attempts to renovate the castle. Only a caretaker and two police guards looked after it. Chateau de Chillon was used mainly to stock gunpowder, ammunition and weapons. However, the interest in Chillon Castle was renewed when Lord Byron wrote his famous poem, The Prisoner of Chillon, when he visited the place in 1816. The poem told of the sufferings of Francois Bonivard who was held captive in Chillon because of his opposition against the Savoys. This made Chateau de Chillon a historical monument symbolizing liberty and his prison was revered with a sacred dimension.
Restoration of Chateau de Chillon began at the end of the 19th century. The preservation of the beauty and grandeur of the castle still continues today with constant building adaptations, renovations and restorations . Today, visiting Chateau de Chillon is like travelling back in time as each part of the castle unveils a part of the castle’s rich history. The history, grandeur and amazing scenic location makes this castle one of the best places to visit in Switzerland.