|Château de Chillon|
|Town or city||Veytaux, Vaud|
|Design and construction|
|Architect||Jacques de Saint-Georges|
Chillon Castle (French: Château de Chillon) is an island castle located on Lake Geneva (Lac Léman), south of Veytaux in the canton of Vaud. It is situated at the eastern end of the lake, on the narrow shore between Montreux and Villeneuve, which gives access to the Alpine valley of the Rhône. Chillon is amongst the most visited castles in Switzerland and Europe. Successively occupied by the house of Savoy then by the Bernese from 1536 until 1798, it now belongs to the State of Vaud and is classified as a Swiss Cultural Property of National Significance. The Fort de Chillon, its modern counterpart, is hidden in the steep side of the mountain.
According to the Swiss ethnologist Albert Samuel Gatschet, the name Chillon derives from the Waldensian dialect and means "flat stone, slab, platform". The name Castrum Quilonis, attested from 1195, would, therefore, mean "castle built on a rock platform.
The castle of Chillon is built on the island of Chillon, an oval limestone rock advancing in Lake Geneva between Montreux and Villeneuve with a steep side on one side and on the other side the lake and its steep bottom. The placement of the castle is strategic: it guards the passage between the Vaud Riviera, which allows access to the north towards Germany and France, and the Rhone valley, a quick route to Italy, and offers an excellent viewpoint over the Savoyard coast on the opposite side of the lake. A garrison could thus control (both militarily and commercially) access to the road to Italy and apply a toll.
Chillon has been a military site since the Roman period and the development of the current castle spans three periods: the Savoy Period, the Bernese Period, and the Vaudois Period.
Chillon began as a Roman outpost, guarding the strategic road through the Alpine passes. Objects dating back to Roman times were discovered during excavations in the 19th century, as well as remains from the Bronze Age. From a double wooden palisade, the Romans would have fortified the site before a square dungeon was added in the 10th century. Sources from the 13th century link the possession of the Chillon site to the Bishop of Sion.
The oldest parts of the castle have not been dated definitively, but the first written record of the castle was in 1005. It was built to control the road from Burgundy to the Great Saint Bernard Pass. A charter of 1150, in which Count Humbert III granted the Cistercians of Hautcrêt free passage to Chillon, names the castle's owner of the castle as Gaucher de Blonay, a vassal of the Count of Savoy within the feudal society of the time.
From the mid 12th century, the castle was summer home to the Counts of Savoy, who kept a fleet of ships on Lake Geneva. The castle was greatly expanded in 1248 and 1266-7 by Count Peter II. During this time the distinctive windows were added by Master James of Saint George, who is believed also to have added similar windows to Harlech Castle in Wales at a later date.
During the 16th century Wars of Religion, the dukes of Savoy used the castle to house prisoners. Its most famous prisoner was probably François de Bonivard, a Genevois monk, prior of St. Victor in Geneva and politician, who was imprisoned there in 1530 for defending his homeland from the dukes of Savoy. Over his six-year term, de Bonivard paced as far as his chain would allow, and the chain and rut are still visible.
In 1536 the castle was captured by a Genevois and Bernese force and all the prisoners, including de Bonivard, were released. The castle became the residence for the Bernese bailiff until Chillon was converted into a state prison in 1733.
In 1798, the French-speaking canton of Vaud drove out the German-speaking Bernese authorities and declared the Lemanic Republic. The Vaudois invited in French troops to help them maintain autonomy from the other Swiss. When the French moved in and occupied, Chillon was used as a munitions and weapons depot.
Some restoration efforts on the Castle in the 19th Century, inspired by the Romantic vision of aesthetics, sacrificed historical veracity. At the end of the 19th century, a systematic restoration of the monument was undertaken, through which an ethic of monumental restoration was developed in one of the first cases of the application of archaeology and history to rebuild a structure in a historically accurate way. This was possible because of the combination of four factors:
The result was judged to be exemplary. In an 1898 lecture to the Zurich Antiquity Society, Johann Rudolf Rahn boasted about it, while the German Emperor, William II, inquired about the Chillon model when planning the reconstruction of the fortress of Haut-Koenigsbourg. Due to these restorations, the castle is in excellent condition and is a good model of feudal architecture.
From the end of the 18th century, the castle attracted romantic writers and inspired poets from around the world, including Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Gustave Flaubert and Lord Byron. By 1939, helped by its proximity to the popular tourist destination Montreux, the castle was attracting over 100,000 visitors a year. By 2005, this number had increased to 300,000.
Chillon remains open to the public for visits and tours on an entrance fee basis and is, according to the castle's website, "Switzerland's most visited historic monument". There are parking spaces and a nearby bus stop. Inside the castle are recreations of the interiors of some of the main rooms including the grand bedroom, hall, and cave stores. Visitors can view four great halls, three courtyards, and a series of bedrooms including the Camera domini, which was occupied by the Duke of Savoy and is decorated with 14th century murals.
Having been inspired by the story of François Bonivard after a visit to the castle, Lord Byron wrote a poem entitled The Prisoner of Chillon in 1816 about François de Bonivard. Byron also carved his name on a pillar of the dungeon.
Gustave Courbet painted the castle several times during his Swiss exile in nearby La Tour-de-Peilz. The most famous representation is "The Castle of Chillon," oil on canvas painted in 1874 and currently located at the Musée Courbet in Ornans.
In his 1878 novel "Daisy Miller", Henry James has his heroine and his young American compatriot Winterbourne visit Chillon Castle. The one-time prison of François Bonivard assumes a symbolic and premonitory significance for Daisy Miller, who thinks he can escape the shackles of social conventions.
In 1890, watchmaker Edouard- GabrielWuthrich, finished a mechanical automaton that took five years to make. Made from of zinc, steel and brass it is a 1/100 scale model illustrating the capture of the castle and liberation of François Bonivard by the Bernese in 1536. Measuring 100 cm × 67 cm × 42 cm (39 in × 26 in × 17 in), it is equipped with a music box with original sheet music handwritten by Genevan composer E. Perrin and includes one hundred moving figurines, including many small soldiers and scenes of torture in dungeons visible through barred windows. The automaton disappeared for decades and was eventually purchased by the Association of Friends of Chillon, the Cantonal Museum of Archeology and History (MCAH) and the Castle Foundation, for 59,000 Swiss francs, at an auction held in Paris in March 2016.
The painter E. Lapierre depicted the castle in oil on canvas in 1896.
The castle has twice hosted the Compagnie du Graal theatre company, based in Thonon-les-Bains, in 2009 for a sound and light adaptation of Shakespeare's King Lear and again in 2012 for the creation of an epic fresco inspired by the titan of Greek mythology, Hyperion.