Just off the banks of Lake Geneva in Switzerland, Chateau de Chillon, a legendary castle made so by the poem written by Lord G.G. Byron, "The Prisoner of Chillon", sits in a fairytale setting surrounded by beautiful mountains and the imposing and dangerous Dents du Midi. If you visit the dungeon you will have a chance to see his name carved into one of the pillars ! The oldest parts of this castle have not been dated in certainty but records that exist indicate that it was started as early as 1005 and belonged to the bishops of Sion. At some point between that date and the latest in 1160 it was given in care of the d’Alinge family.
It consists of twenty-five different buildings which are interconnected due to the work of architect Pierre Mainier for Peter II (Pietro II) of Savoy mid-13th century. The Tower of Alinge (also known as the Bergfried, meaning central watch tower ) was fortified by him with the use of towers placed only on the land side. This was a very important trade route and the castle’s function, besides being a residence to the Duke of Savoy was controlling water traffic on the Lake ( also know as Lac Le’man ) situated near Montreux in the Vaudois canton of Switzerland.
Chillon contains a remarkably well kept series of wall paintings and carved interiors which date from the medieval period along with historical objects and furnishings, so an inside tour is de rigueur. It is still considered the residence of the House of Savoy with the most notable inhabitant being the aforementioned prisoner, Francois Bonnivard, who was a hero of the Swiss reformation and a Genevois monk imprisoned from 1530 to 1536. Henry James also used this castle as one of the settings in his novel Daisy Miller. It has never been taken in a siege but was surrendered through the centuries and changed hands many times through treaties.
Below are three unconnected stanzas of Lord Byron’s famous poem. Tomorrow I’m adding his "Sonnet on Chillon" in a separate entry! Check out my new Swiss Castles photo album !
The Prisoner of Chillon
There are seven pillars of Gothic mould
In Chillon’s dungeons deep and old,
There are seven columns, massy* and gray, *mossy
Dim with a dull imprisoned ray,
A sunbeam which hath lost its way,
And through the crevice and the cleft
Of the thick wall is fallen and left;
Creeping o’er the floor so damp,
Like a marsh’s meteor lamp:
And in each pillar there is a ring
And in each ring there is a chain;
That iron is a cankering thing,
For in these limbs its teeth remain,
With marks that will not wear away,
Till I have done with this new day,
Which now is painful to these eyes,
Which have not seen the sun so rise
For years- I cannot count them o’er,
I lost their long and heavy score
When my last brother heavy score
When my last brother drooped and died,
And I lay living by his side.
Lake Leman lies by Chillon’s walls:
A thousand feet in depth below
Its massy waters meet and flow;
Thus much the fathom-line was sent
From Chillon’s snow-white battlement
Which round about the wave
Have made- and like a living grave,
Below the surface of the lake
The dark vault lies wherein we lay:
We heard it ripple night and day:
Sounding o’er our heads it knocked;
And I have felt the winter’s spray
Wash through the bars when winds were high
And wanton in the happy sky;
And then the very rock hath rocked,
And I have felt it shake, unshocked,
Because I could have smiled to see
The death that would have set me free.
I made a footing in the wall,
It was not therefrom to escape,
For I had buried one and all,
Who loved me in a human shape:
And the whole earth would henceforth be
A wider prison unto me:
No child-no sire- no kin had I,
No partner in my misery;
I thought of this, and I was glad,
For thought of them had made me mad;
But I was curious to ascend
To my barred windows, and to bend
Once more, upon the mountains high,
The quiet of a loving eye.
With loving eyes, arms and lips, The Castle Lady !