Chillon Castle is located on the Swiss Riviera, on the edge of Lake Geneva, 3 km from the city of Montreux. Located on the strategically important road linking Italy and Switzerland, the castle became very famous thanks to the work of Byron “The Prisoner of Chillon”. Many famous writers from all over the world, including Russian ones, have visited it and even left their autographs. Already in the early XIX century there were about 100,000 visitors a year to the Chillon Castle. Since the XIV century the castle has not changed and continues to delight all visitors with its medieval architecture.
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Video: Chillon Castle
The castle was first described in extant documents in 1160. There are many historians who hold quite a different opinion and prove that the fortification, defending strategically important territory, was built no later than the 9th century.
However, such assumptions for the most part are based only on the found Roman coins and statues, there are no other documentary confirmations about the construction of the Chillon castle in the 9th century. Although, it is worth noting that the place where the castle now stands allowed to take complete control of the road which connected the northern and southern parts of the Old World. Therefore, it is possible to assume that forts and outposts may have been here even earlier than historians assume. At the moment, right behind the castle you can see that very strategic road. Only now it is not just a path, but a highway, built on pylons 50 meters high with a quality asphalt surface. It is this road that connects the two neighboring European countries: Switzerland and Italy. On the car map of Europe it is marked under the index E27.
History tells us that already in the 12th century the castle, located near the Chillon Cliff, became a private property of the dynasty of the Dukes of Savoy. Since 1230, Chillon Castle officially became the residence of the dukes. From 1253 to 1268, the castle was rebuilt by order of Pierre II of Savoy. By and large, it was during that period of time that it received the appearance that its guests can enjoy today. All buildings and additions the architects built in the Gothic and Romanesque styles fashionable at that time. In Chillon Castle appeared luxurious rooms, where the dukes had a rest from vanities; the dining rooms, but the gloomy dungeons, which horrify even our contemporaries, were turned into a huge prison, where prisoners were kept in inhuman conditions.
One can admire the architecture and decorative elements of the castle, which stands on the shore of Lake Geneva forever, but first of all it is a place where a huge number of innocent people said goodbye to their lives. Chillon Castle was one of the Inquisitors’ favorite places: its dungeons were filled with heart-rending screams and its courtyards were used to burn women accused of witchcraft.
Another terrible page of the castle’s history dates back to 1348. At that time, as we know, the plague spread throughout Europe. The inquisitors and the dukes who owned the castle had no better idea than to blame the epidemic on the Jews, who were burned by the thousands at the stake. Enormous bonfires burned even at night, and the surroundings of Chillon Castle were filled with the cries of dying Christians. It was they who were blamed for the poisoning of all the wells around the castle. By the way, this execution was indicative of the whole of Germany, where the mass murder of Jews began. It was probably from this time that anti-Semitic sentiments were firmly entrenched in the minds of Germans.
The castle had already lost its strategic purpose, but its prison remained active, and the most dangerous criminals continued to be imprisoned in the dungeons of Chillon. The most dangerous were considered opponents of the regime established by the Dukes of Savoy. For example, François Bonivard, who was an advocate of reform and a man who wished to free the long-suffering land from the tyranny of the dukes, was kept in the dungeon chained to a pillar with rusty chains for more than four years. Incidentally, the difficult story of this man prompted George Byron to write his immortal poem The Prisoner of Chillon. A friend of the poet who accompanied him on his trek into the dungeons of the castle described Byron’s condition as “dreadful.” “George seemed about to lose his senses,” wrote a contemporary of the romantic. If anyone is unfamiliar with history, let us clarify, François Bonivar was not executed; after the capture of Chillon Castle by Protestants from Bern, he was freed. Despite the four terrible years he spent in the dungeon, he lived a rather long and happy life, and even managed to write an authentic history of Geneva and marry four times. Symbolic, isn’t it?
What to see
Chillon Castle consists of 25 buildings and three courtyards protected by two circular walls. In the center of the complex rises the 25-meter high main tower, the other watchtowers are located around the circumference.
The architectural jewel of the castle is the chapel with paintings of the XIV century – one of the few religious buildings that escaped the destruction of the reformers.
Each room of Chillon Castle reveals a different part of the castle’s history: there are pompous reception halls for celebrations with giant fireplaces, a complex of living rooms of princes and counts, and many utility rooms and prison rooms in the cellars.
Four large halls overlook the beautiful scenery of Lake Geneva: the festive hall, the guest room, the armorial and knight’s halls, where medieval helmets, swords, shields and stuffed animals of fanciful animals are preserved.
The count’s bedroom – Bern’s Room – has been preserved almost in its original form: a spacious room with a fireplace stove and a “child-sized” bed (in those days it was customary to sleep half-sitting, only the dead lay horizontally).
Under the castle are dungeons, whose architecture resembles large Gothic cathedrals of the XIII century. This is definitely the part of the castle that most excites the imagination: countless legends are born within these walls.
Today Chillon Castle is Switzerland’s most popular tourist attraction on Lake Geneva.
The Chillon Castle is open daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. from April to September, from 9.30 a.m. to 6 p.m. in October and March, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from November to February.
Price: CHF 12, children 6-16 years old CHF 6. An explanatory brochure is available in 14 languages, including Russian.
Chillon Castle – an important landmark in Switzerland
Chillon Castle is the most famous landmark not only of the Swiss Riviera, but also Switzerland as a whole. The castle is located near the city of Montreux.
Chillon castle was built on a low rock near the shore of Lake Geneva. The fortress can be conditionally divided into two parts: the first – residential, is located on the side of the lake, and the defensive – on the side of the road. In total the castle complex includes 25 buildings of different times of construction.
As an exceptional heritage monument, Chillon Castle has about 300 items. With the exception of furniture, weapons and armor, all the items on display here were found during archaeological excavations carried out in the castle between 1896 and 1903. The collections belong to the Cantonal Museum of Archaeology and History of Lausanne under the name “fonds Chillon” (Chillon Collection).
Photos of Chillon Castle impress with its beauty and mystery, and that is why this place is visited by more than 400 thousand people every year.
The history of the castle was influenced by 3 main periods.
The first mention of the Chillon Cliff dates back to the Bronze Age. In the time of the Roman Empire there was an outpost here, the ruins of which were found by archeologists (according to one of the numerous versions, the fortress was founded by the Romans). The fortress itself is first mentioned in 1160, as a family estate of the counts of Savoy (scientists assume that the first structures were built much earlier – at the beginning of the 9th century).
During 5 centuries the appearance of the castle did not change, and only in 13th century it was decided to strengthen the building: several towers were added and some premises expanded.
In the 14th century, the picturesque Swiss castle became a prison. Only noble criminals were kept there – for example, the abbot of Vala of Corvey or the abbot of the local monastery Francois Bonivar (according to literary critics, it is about this man that Byron wrote his famous poem). In the middle of the 14th century, during an epidemic of plague, the fortress became a prison for Jews who were accused of poisoning water sources.
In 1798, during the Vaudois Revolution, the Berets abandoned the castle and it became the property of the canton of Vaud. At first, the building was used to store weapons and ammunition and as a prison.
It is interesting that the Chillon castle became famous relatively recently – only in 1816, when the famous writer George Byron dedicated his poem “The Prisoner of Chillon” to it.
From the 1820s to the present day there is a museum here.
The structure of the castle
For many centuries the building was an important defensive structure in Switzerland and its numerous owners always took care of its walls and loopholes, putting a great deal of effort into reconstructing and strengthening the fortifications. The building acquired its attractive appearance under the Counts of Savoy in the 12th century.
This is interesting! The name of the Chillon Castle is translated from Celtic as “stone platform”.
Today, the most famous museum in Switzerland consists of 25 buildings and three courtyards that are protected from the road by two high walls. In the center of the large courtyard is the main tower, and on the sides of the castle – a few more sentinels. Unlike other similar structures, Swiss Chillon Castle has an oval shape (like the island itself).
The architecture of the castle, what can be seen
The Chillon Castle consists of many rooms, each of which reflects the life and manners of one of its former owners. You can see both pompous living rooms and many unimpressive outbuildings. The castle has 4 rooms in total: the Ceremonial Hall, the Armorial Hall, the War Room and the Guest Hall. They differ from the rest of the rooms by high vaulted ceilings and huge fireplaces. The view from the windows of the halls is impressive – a picturesque Lake Geneva and a pine forest in the distance.
One of the most interesting rooms is the Bern Bedroom. It has been preserved in its original form: here, as before, there is a stove-fireplace and a small bed (in those days, people slept in a sitting position). An interesting feature of the room is that there is a small opening in the corner of the bedroom, which is the beginning of a long and very narrow corridor connected with the guest bedroom.
The bathroom is also interesting: the toilets and the tub itself are made of wood, which has had time to peel and dry over the centuries. There was no sewage system in those days, so everything was flushed directly into the lake.
It is worth remembering about the dungeons, which occupy even a larger territory than the fortress itself. The style of the dungeons is reminiscent of Gothic cathedrals of the XIII century: high ceilings, long corridors, through which the wind blows, and huge pieces of rock, protruding directly from the damp walls.
After a walk through these rooms, it becomes clear why Byron decided to write a poem about this very place: perhaps a more mysterious and enigmatic atmosphere cannot be found anywhere else. It is not in vain that many legends and myths about ghosts and valiant warriors were created just within the walls of the Chillon castle.
By the way, every guest of Switzerland can feel for himself all the mystery of the castle: in one of the underground halls is installed amazingly realistic decoration: the shadows of the past, which are projected on the walls of the ancient cellar. The projector is installed so that among the shadows of counts, monks and other nobles, tourists can see their silhouettes.
Today, the dungeons of Chillon Castle are used to store and make the local variety of wine. The vineyard itself, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, can be found not far away – it stretches from the fortress to the shore of the lake.
Over the past century, life in Chillon Castle has changed very little: here, as before, comes a huge number of different people, but in several halls you can see modern furniture – local businessmen rent out the premises, and weddings, anniversaries and other celebrations are often held here.
On a side note. An hour’s drive from Montreux in the mountains is a small but very beautiful town of Gruyere, where the world famous cheese is produced. See this page for why it’s worth a visit.
Opening times and costs to visit
The Chillon Castle in Montreux can be visited from Monday to Saturday, except for Christmas holidays, January 1 and December 25. The opening hours are as follows:
- April through December – 10 a.m. to 6 p.m;
- From January to March – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Remember that you can enter the museum at least an hour before closing time.
Tickets cost in francs:
- adult – 13.50;
- children (6-15 years) – 7;
- Students, pensioners, Swiss army – 11.50;
- family – 35;
- Montreux Riviera Card Adult cardholders – 6.75;
- Montreux Riviera Card Child holders – 3.00;
- with Swiss Travel Pass, Swiss Museum Pass, ICOM card – free of charge;
At the ticket office of the castle you will get a guide in Russian for free. It is also possible to purchase an audio guide in Russian. Cost – 6 francs.
The prices on the page are for April 2021. You can check the official website of the castle www.chillon.ch for the latest prices.
How to get there
Chillon is located 3 km from the festival city of Montreux, so it is not difficult to get here.
Switzerland and Italy are connected by highway E27, which passes just near Chillon. To get to the attraction, you need to take the A9 road and turn to Montreux or Villeneuve (depending on which side you are driving from). Parking near the castle is not free (you can pay at the entrance).
To get to the castle you can take bus number 201, which goes from Vevey and Villeneuve. The stop is “Chillon”. Buses run every 10-20 minutes. The ticket price is 3-4 francs.
Ships and ferries run every 5-10 minutes in the high season, so to get from downtown Lausanne, Vevey, Montreux and Villeneuve is not difficult. Boat stop is Chillon (about 100 meters from the castle). Ticket price – 3-4 francs.
Switzerland is famous for its high-speed trains, so experienced travelers are advised to get to Chillon Castle by train. Direct train from Montreux to Chillon takes less than 3 to 16 minutes, and during this time you will enjoy the beauty of mountains and the lake. Get off at the railway station “Veytaux-Chillon” (about 300 meters from the castle). The cost – 2.4 francs. When buying a train ticket you also get a 20% discount on a visit to the castle.
Still, the best way to get to Chillon is to come on foot. The distance from Montreux to the castle can be overcome in 45 minutes (4 km). Switzerland is a fabulously beautiful country, so during the walk you will have time to admire the beauty of mountains and dense forests. In addition, to the castle from the city leads picturesque “flower path”. Near the castle there is also a beautiful beach, where you can sunbathe and swim.
- When buying a ticket at the ticket office of the castle you will be offered to take and audio guide in Russian for 6 francs. However, do not rush to buy it. Guides and guards in the Chillon Castle are really not available, and there will be no one to ask. However, most travelers are not advised to purchase an audio guide, as the brochure, which is given for free at the ticket office, and so there is everything.
- It is best to visit Chillon in the morning. Many more tourists tend to arrive in the evening. However, if you arrive by car – there is no reason to worry. In the huge parking lot you are sure to find a place.
- The observation deck of the Swiss Chillon is not particularly popular, but it is definitely worth a visit. From the top there is an impressive view of Lake Geneva and the surrounding area.
- Near the castle you can find a number of souvenir stores that sell magnets, cups and local wine. However, the prices of similar products here are higher than, for example, in Geneva. As for the wine, it is not particularly popular with tourists. It is better to go to a nearby store and buy a couple of cheaper and higher quality wines.
- Many tourists come to Chillon only for a few hours. And in vain: Switzerland is famous for its natural attractions, which are worth seeing. The most famous of these is Lake Geneva.
Chillon Castle is one of the most famous historical sites in Switzerland and therefore definitely worth a visit!
Video: a brief overview of the castle in Switzerland, what you can see inside.
Author: Maria Protasenya
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