Visiting Chillon Castle is an experience that fills you with an array of different emotions. A bit of Romanticism, a bit of Melancholy, a lot of Suspense and a lot of Awe. The castle witnessed within its 10-century history, several symbolic events that ignited the inspiration for many masterpieces.
Just a bit of history to understand better the significance of this castle. Initially built on the foundation of ancient Roman fortifications in the 10th century. The Chillon castle became the residence of the counts of Savoy for almost four centuries. Its strategic position enabled it to control the passage of boats and trade from the Rhone Valley to Italy. This made it a profitable toll station for the counts during the 12th to 16th century. In 1536 the Swiss forces from Canton Bern seized the castle. They stayed till 1798 when citizens from Montreux and Vevey stormed in and took it from the Bernese, to became the property of Canton of Vaud.
Chillon Castle, the residence for counts and… prisoners.
The Chillon castle was not only an impressive residence for counts and nobles. It was also used as a prison, and its most famous “resident” was the Swiss patriot François Bonivard. It is said that he was chained for four years to the fifth pillar in the dungeon of the Château of Chillon. He was later on released to live till his late 70s which was considered a long life at that time and have 16 children!
Bonivard’s firm and brave struggle against his captor’s cruelty and suppression, inspired Lord Byron to write “The prisoner of Chillon” after he visited the castle. The poem focuses on the themes of liberty, oppression, conviction and isolation that were characteristics of Byron’s work.
Taking about inspiration, it’s that also that Prince Eric’s seaside castle in the “The Little Mermaid ” movie, had clear cues from the Chillon Castle.
Château de Chillon, the habits, customs and secrets of its residences
Moving from one interior space to another, we had a deep look into the habits and customs of the residences of the Chillon castle. From the underground vaults and wine cellars to the bedrooms and bathrooms. Wondering through the parade halls where the extravagant events were held. Our jaws dropped when we saw a record of how many animals were slaughtered for each feast. More surprising was the weird hierarchy of food based on its altitude from earth. This concept puts birds as the most desired food, followed by jumping fishing and then land animals. Vegetables were completely disregarded by the nobles as they come from or under earth!
Some of the big reception halls of Château de Chillon can be booked to celebrate grand events. Its possible to live the experience of that époque: have your meat roasted in front of you in big fireplaces!
The beds in Chillon Castle were short as people used to sleep in a sitting position due to digestif misbelieves. The bathrooms were socialising and business meetings venues as they were a big privilege that only the rich can afford. Some of the furniture was preserved in its original form since the time of the Bernese rule. During the tour, our guide pointed out several secret passages that can take the counts from their bedroom so they can escape sieges or attacks.
The exterior and interior views of Château de Chillon
Château de Chillon entire complex consists of 25 buildings and three courtyards, protected by two circular walls.
To best view Château de Chillon with its holistic form you can walk 10 mins on the shore side towards Montreux. At Le cabanon de MAM’s view point you can enjoy the view from a circled wooden bench. Alternatively, you can just go 2 minutes to the left before the castle entrance. Or a bit from height at the train station near by.
On top of its history, the wonderful wall paintings and the stunning views make Château de Chillon definitely worth a visit when in Montreux. No wonder hundreds of thousands visit the castle every year making it the most visited historic building in Switzerland!