Visit Chateau Chillon
- Date of construction: 11-13th centuries
- Location: n/a, Switzerland
OK I shouldn't include Chateau Chillon because it is a few kilometres outside France, but in my defence it is easy to visit if you are near Lake Geneva, in the Rhone-Alps region on the border with Switzerland - and it is a very impressive castle. It is a classified Historic Monument.
Chillon is found towards Montreux on the shores of Lake Geneva, and the defensive role of the location dates back several thousand years. The chateau is an ensemble of buildings in a spectacular location, on a rocky peninsular in the lake surrounded by wooded slopes and high mountains. Its defensive importance arose from the proximity to a key route to Italy.
The heyday of the castle was from the 12th century, when the Counts of Savoy lived here, although part of the building dates from the following century - the three towers were added in the first half of the 13th century, as were part of the defences.
The part of the castle facing the mountains is defensive, with the towers and the fortified wall, while the part facing the lake is more 'residential'.
For the following two centuries the castle was used as home for the Savoy dukes, and as a prison. During the early 16th century it held as prisoner Francois de Bonivard, a monk - an event that might have passed quietly into the history books if Lord Byron had not written 'The Prisoner of Chillon' to commemorate the story, after he and Shelley had discovered and explored the castle when out sailing on Lake Geneva.
In 1536 the castle changed hands from the Savoy Dukes to the Bernes, who maintained the castle in an active defensive role for the two centuries that followed.
By the end of the 18th century the chateau had gain changed hands, this time occupied by the Vauds, but Chillon soon ceased to have an important defensive role to play. The role as a romantic inspiration took over, and Chillon attracted many of the renowned romantic authors of the day, including Victor Hugo, Dumas, Flaubert, Byron and Shelley, and the painter Gustave Courbet painted the castle several times.
The castle's destiny as a tourist attraction was perhaps inevitable even at that time, given the perfect setting and the exceptional beauty of the buildings. It has now been very carefully restored and is one of the most popular and best loved castles in Switzerland.