Montreux

Montreux

Le Château Chillon

The magnificent castle on the shores of Lake Geneva, with its long history of epic struggles, became an inspiration for the 19th century’s leading intellectuals…

Montreux, also known as the “Pearl of Lavaux”, is nestled among tall mountains and lies on the Vaud Riviera at Lake Geneva. Here, on a rocky island lapped by deep blue water, sits the magnificent Château Chillon. The medieval castle with its fantastic towers and turrets defended the route through Alpine passes and played important roles throughout the Savoy, Bernese and Vaudois periods of Swiss history. Its mighty walls hold many legends; the most well-known being the story of François Bonivard, which became world famous through the narrative poem “The Prisoner of Chillon” by Lord Byron.

 

Beneath the grand exterior of Château Chillon hides an underground vault. Ice cold are the walls, and pitch-black the dungeon, into which only a dim ray of light falls through a narrow slit. Here, rebels and criminals were imprisoned, and their horror can be felt when the muffled thunder of the waves echoes through the corridors of the wet tomb.

François Bonivard had long been an antagonist to the Duke of Savoy. Bonivard not only led a monastery supporting the Reformation, but he also joined the freedom fighters of Geneva who defended themselves against the Savoy’s claims. Thus, when he was captured by the Duke in 1530, he was dragged to Chillon and chained to a pillar, demented by the darkness and cold. He paced as far as his chains allowed, around and around the pillar until his footsteps carved a circular rut in the stone floor. For six long years, Bonivard was imprisoned. It was not until 1536 that the Bernese succeeded in conquering the castle, and as the men headed down to the dungeon, they feared their fellow patriot would be dead. But when they saw Bonivard, they shouted happily, “Now you are free!” He asked back, “and Geneva?” “Geneva is also free!” they cheered.

 

Today, the column to which he was chained reminds us of Bonivard’s dedication to liberty and his refusal to ever give up hope. It is also here that the poet Byron carved his name in the stone, as he visited Chillon with Mary Shelly in 1816 – the same grey summer that she authored her horror novel “Frankenstein”.

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