|Chillon : the château|
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As throughout history, the road passes outside the castle walls – these days, it’s the Montreux–Villeneuve highway, served by bus #1 (the autoroute clings to the hillside high above). The eighteenth-century gatehouse is supported on stilts, replacing the original drawbridge. At the ticket window you’ll get a follow-the-numbers pamphlet, which plunges you straight down into the vaulted and atmospheric dungeons (rooms 4–7) where the Dukes of Savoy imprisoned François Bonivard – he was manacled to the fifth pillar along, which still bears a ring and a length of chain. Bonivard wrote that the dungeon was excavated to below the water-line, and Byron also wrote about the damp, but the room is in fact above the water and is quite an airy place. The Irish novelist Maria Edgeworth, visiting in 1820, perhaps missed the point when she brightly chipped in: “If I were to take lodgings in a dungeon I should prefer this to any I have ever seen because it is high and dry with beautiful groined arches and no bad smells.” She also noted that Byron’s name was cut into the third pillar of the dungeon, as it still is, and that the guide remembered his visit four years previously. A grille in the external wall gives onto the lake, facilitating a rapid exit by rowing boat should things have ever got nasty up above.
The real wonder of the castle, however, lies in the rooms upstairs, gloriously grand knights’ halls, secret twisting passages between lavish bedchambers, gothic windows with dreamy views, a frescoed chapel, and more. The Grand Kitchen (room 8) still has its original wooden ceiling and two massive oak pillars, installed around 1260. The Bernese Bedchamber (room 10) has original bird and ribbon decorations dating from the 1580s, while the expansive Hall of Arms (room 12), complete with fireplace and windows over the lake, is covered with escutcheons of the Bernese bailiffs. The Lord’s Chamber adjacent (room 13), incredibly enough, retains its original thirteenth- and fourteenth-century wall paintings, rustic scenes of animals in an orchard with St George slaying the dragon on the chimneypiece. The chapel (room 18) features an impression of the full glory of the fourteenth-century decoration, with slides projected onto the partly decorated walls. Next door, the breathtaking Great Hall of the Count (room 19) has slender black marble pillars, shimmering chequered wall decoration, a coffered ceiling dating from the fifteenth century, and four windows over the lake topped by a beautiful four-leafed clover design.
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