Castles and fortifications in Switzerland

Chillon Castle

Chillon Castle is an island castle located on Lake Geneva. It is situated at the eastern end of the lake, on the narrow shore between Montreux and Villeneuve, which gives access to the Alpine valley of the Rhone. Chillon is amongst the most visited castles in Switzerland and Europe. Chillon began as a Roman outpost, guarding the strategic road through the Alpine passes. The later history of Chillon was influ ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Veytaux, Switzerland

Gruyères Castle

The Castle of Gruyères is one of the most famous in Switzerland. It was built between 1270 and 1282, following the typical square plan of the fortifications in Savoy. It was the property of the Counts of Gruyères until the bankruptcy of the Count Michel in 1554. His creditors the cantons of Fribourg and Bern shared his earldom. From 1555 to 1798 the castle became residence to the bailiffs and then to the prefect ...
Founded: 1270-1282 | Location: Gruyères, Switzerland

Castelgrande Castle

The site of Castelgrande has been fortified since at least the late 1st century BC and until the 13th century it was the only fortification in Bellinzona. During its history the castle has been known as the stronghold (before the 13th century), the Old Castle in the 14–15th centuries, Un Castle after 1506 and Saint Michael"s Castle from 1818. The Castelgrande hill includes a nearly vertical side on the north and ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Bellinzona, Switzerland

Laufen Castle

Laufen Castle is a castle in the municipality of Laufen-Uhwiesen in the Swiss canton of Zurich. It is a Swiss heritage site of national significance overlooking the Rhine Falls. The first documented reference to the castle dates to the year 858 when it was the home of the Barons of Laufen. It passed through several owners until the Old Zürich War (1439-1450) when the castle was acquired by the Fulach family, ...
Founded: 9th century AD | Location: Laufen-Uhwiesen, Switzerland

Morges Castle

In 1286, Louis of Savoy founded a city of Morges in a pasture where a gallows previously stood. A castle was built to protect the city, which quickly developed into an administrative and market center as well as a hub for transporting goods by land and sea. The castle in the south of the town square was built with a square floor plan and four round corner towers. It resembles the castle of Yverdon, which may have se ...
Founded: 1286 | Location: Morges, Switzerland

Majorie Castle

Majorie castle served as a residence for bishops of Sion since 1373. In 1529 and 1788 it was damaged by fire. Today it houses the cantonal museum of fine arts.
Founded: 14th century | Location: Sion, Switzerland

Wörth Castle

The Wörth water castle is built on a small island in the Rhine river at the municipality of Neuhausen am Rheinfall, opposite of the Laufen Castle in the canton of Zürich. Wörth was first mentioned in the 13th century, serving up to the middle of the 19th century as a major transhipment point on the east-west trade route, that led from Lake Constance and Basel, and was interrupted by the Rheinfall waterfalls. Th ...
Founded: 1348 | Location: Neuhausen am Rheinfall, Switzerland

Rapperswil Castle

Rapperswil Castle was built in the early 13th century AD by the House of Rapperswil. It is surrounded on three sides by the Lake Zürich and by those upper section on the northwestern Seedamm area. Thus, the castle was well protected, dominating the old town of Rapperswil, and controlling the water way between Walensee and Lake Zürich on its most narrow part, as well as the medieval Gotthard Pass route betwee ...
Founded: 1200-1220 | Location: Rapperswil-Jona, Switzerland

Saint-Maire Castle

Château Saint-Maire ('Saint-Maire Castle') was built from 1397 to 1425 by the Bishops of Lausanne to serve as their fortified residence. Begun under Guillaume of Menthonay, it was completed under his successor, Guillaume of Challant, and named after Saint Marius, the first Bishop of Lausanne. It served as the bishop"s residence until 1536, when Bern captured Lausanne and secularized the bishopric ( ...
Founded: 1397-1425 | Location: Lausanne, Switzerland

Nyon Castle

Nyon Castle is first mentioned in 1272, but probably dates back to the Lords of Prangins. It was rebuilt by Ludwig I of Savoy. The rectangular building was built in a variety of building styles. In 1463, it was extensively rebuilt. Following the Swiss Confederation invasion of Vaud in 1530, the Bernese bailiff was at Nyon. In 1574-80 the castle was converted into the seat of the bailiff. It remained the seat of the b ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Nyon, Switzerland

Neuchâtel Castle

Neuchâtel castle adjoins the collegiate church and overlooks the city. By following the circular path at the base of the outer walls, you get a general idea of the different parts of the building erected around a large courtyard and a smaller one, to the south. It can be accessed from Rue de la Collégiale or the cloisters. The castle history dates back to the Roman age, but the first stone castle was probably built i ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Neuchâtel, Switzerland

Clock Tower

From a distance, the dome of the Zug clock tower appears blue-white but as you get closer to it, you can see the time on it. But not just the time, it also shows the month, the phase of the moon, the day of the week and whether it is a leap year or not. The tower was actually built as a way through the oldest city walls and later part of it was used as a prison as well as housing a room to keep warm by an open fire. Today ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Zug, Switzerland

Appenzell Castle

Appenzell castle was built in 1563 as an elegant mansion the doctor Antoni Löw. Antoni was an enthusiastic supporter of the Protestant Reformation in Appenzell. In 1584 he was captured, judged and sentenced to death by the local Catholics for slandering a priest. After his death the castle was taken by the city and given to the Franciscans. They remained in the castle for almost a century, until 1682 when they moved ...
Founded: 1563 | Location: Appenzell, Switzerland

Avenches Castle

Dating back to the 13th century, the castle of Avenches features a renovated Renaissance-style façade, one of the most beautiful testimonies of this type of architecture in Switzerland. Today, the castle accommodates offices, classrooms, a theatre, an art gallery and a library. Located next door to the arenas, the castle of Avenches dominates the capital of Roman Switzerland. This public and historic building boasts an ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Avenches, Switzerland

Montebello Castle

The Castles of Bellinzona are a group of fortifications located around the town of Bellinzona. Situated on the Alpine foothills, the group is composed of fortified walls and three castles named Castelgrande, Montebello and Sasso Corbaro. The Castles of Bellinzona with their defensive walls have been an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000. Montebello Castle is located to the east of the town center. It was bu ...
Founded: 14th century | Location: Bellinzona, Switzerland

Spalen Gate

The Gate of Spalen (Spalentor) is a former city gate in the ancient city walls of Basel. One of the three remaining gateways, it is regarded as one of the most beautiful gates of Switzerland. In October 1356, a major earthquake destroyed the old Basel. Then local people surrounded their newly built city with a high city wall and a moat in front of it. The ring wall had over 40 towers and seven of them were gate ...
Founded: 1473 | Location: Basel, Switzerland

Munot Castle

The Munot is a circular 16th century fortification in the center of the Swiss city of Schaffhausen. It is surrounded by vineyards and serves as the city"s symbol. The earliest presence of a castle on a round hill above the river goes back to 1379, but not much is known about the earlier fort. The castle seen today dates in the 16th century at the height of the city’s commercial power, built in a relatively ...
Founded: 1564-1589 | Location: Schaffhausen, Switzerland

Delémont Castle

Built as a summer residence for Prince-Bishop Jean-Conrad de Reinach, Delémont Castle was completed by architect Pierre Racine in 1721. Located in what is now the old town, it consists of a huge baroque complex standing between a courtyard and garden. Today, it is home to the town’s elementary schools. The castle garden was restored in 2003 based on the original design of the baroque garden. It is divided into eight l ...
Founded: 1716-1721 | Location: Delémont, Switzerland

Visconteo Castle

While there was a royal palace in Locarno in 866 and a noble family with a castle in the 10th century, the oldest remaining parts of the Castello (part of the ring wall and residential tract and foundation of a tower) date to the late 12th or 13th century. In 1164 Emperor Frederick Barbarossa granted Locarno the right to hold a market and for the first time mentioned the Capitanei di Locarno or noble families ...
Founded: c. 1200 | Location: Locarno, Switzerland

Yverdon-les-Bains Castle

The imposing main walls and their four towers of Yverdon-les-Bains castle follow the geometric characteristics used for lowland castles. It was planned out between 1260-1270 by the young mason and architect James of St. George. He would later travel to England where he would become the master castle builder for King Edward I. James would be responsible for building a series of castles (known as the 'Iron Ring') in No ...
Founded: 1260-1270 | Location: Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Porta Nigra

The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.

The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.

In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.

In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.

After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.

In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.

In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.