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Chillon Castle

[shE' yon] Located on a rocky islet at the eastern end of Lake Geneva, between Montreux and Villeneuve, Chillon Castle was built to control the road from Burgundy to the Great Saint Bernard Pass.

location of Chillon Castle (red dot)

Chillon Castle consists of a collection of 25 buildings and three courtyards that are connected to each other through a network of internal and external passageways. The side which faces the lakeshore looks very much like a fortified castle, while the side facing the lake looks more like a palace.

Chillon Castle

Lake Geneva side of Chillon Castle

Although there is evidence that Romans took advantage of Chillon's strategic location, there is no evidence that they ever built a permanent structure on the island. The first known structure on the island was built by the Bishops of Sion, who controlled most of the region during the early Middle Ages. The first written account of Chillon Castle dates to about 1160, when the region came under the control of the Savoy family. Most of the castle's present features, including the lakeside facade, were commissioned by Peter II of Savoy, beginning about 1235.

Although Chillon Castle was a seat of power for the Savoys, they didn't live here full time. Instead, they constantly travelled across their lands and between their castles, to maintain their grip on power. During the 16th century Wars of Religion, it was used by the Savoys to house prisoners. Its most famous prisoner was probably François de Bonivard, a Genevois monk 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 he wore into the floor can still be seen by visitors today. He was freed when the castle was captured by the Bernese in 1536.

Until the 1850s, Chillon was primarily used as a prison and an armoury, despite being captured from the Bernese during the Vaud revolution in about 1798. Already in disrepair at the time of the Bernese capture, the castle's decline continued well into the 19th century. However, in 1887, thanks to the publicity of some eminent poets and intellectuals, an association was set up to care for and to restore the castle to its former glory, and Chillon Castle is now one of the most visited castles in all of Europe.

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The Robinson Library >> Fine Arts >> Architecture >> Castles and Palaces

This page was last updated on 03/18/2017.