Castles and fortifications in Switzerland

Stein Castle

Stein Castle was built on a rocky promontory above Baden gorge some time before 1000. In the late 11th century the castle came to the Lenzburg family. By the early 12th Century, the cadet line that lived in the castle called themselves the Counts of Baden. In 1172, the castle was inherited by the Kyburg family. When that family died out in 1263, the castle was inherited by the Habsburgs in 1264. The castle was occup ...
Founded: 10th century | Location: Baden, Switzerland

Zug Castle

The first castle in Zug was probably a wooden manor house built around 1000 and owned by a ministerialis family in service to either the Counts of Aargau or of Lenzburg. Based on archeological excavations, it was built on an island between two small streams and surrounded by a wooden palisade. While the local nobleman occupied the house and island, his men built a village along the streams. Later the steams were dammed to ...
Founded: c. 1200 | Location: Zug, Switzerland

Landvogteischschloss

The Landvogteischschloss is a small castle in the city of Baden. It is located on the right bank of the Limmat river and once guarded the narrow pass over the river. Today it houses the Historical Museum and city archives of Baden. The core of three-storey castle was erected in the first half of the 12th century. During the centuries extensions were built in three stages.
Founded: 12th century | Location: Baden, Switzerland

Grandson Castle

The Lords of Grandson were first mentioned in the second half of the 11th century, when the castle was built. It was sited on the shore of Lake Neuchâtel to control the coast road. The House of Grandson sired a number of powerful scions, including bishops of Basel, Lausanne, Toul and Verdun. Over the following century, as the Lords of Grandson expanded their power, they often came into conflict with the nearby monast ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Grandson, Switzerland

Aigle Castle

The Barons of Aigle were first mentioned in 1179. At that time they had a small fortification, that became the center of the modern castle, along the road over the Col du Pillon and Col des Mosses passes of the Rhone. However, only traces of this first castle have been archaeologically discovered. Some time before 1200, the Barons of Aigle ended up as vassals of the powerful Counts of Savoy. In 1232, Count Thomas of ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Aigle, Switzerland

Romont Castle

A document from 1177 from the Abbey of Hauterive mentions the Romont as a wooded hill. In 1239, Anselme (or Nantelme) sold the rights to Romont hill to Peter II of Savoy. At that time, Romont was part of the territory of the Bishop of Lausanne. In 1240, Peter II sent a castellan to Romont to build a castle and found a village. The main castle (Grand Donjon), with a typical Savoy square floor plan, was completed befo ...
Founded: 1240 | Location: Romont, Switzerland

La Tour-de-Peilz Castle

Built in the 13th century by Pierre de Savoie, the castle of La Tour-de-Peilz served as a fortress and refuge, as an observation post of traffic along lake Geneva, and as a customs post. In 1476, during the Burgundy wars, it was heavily damaged. It was nearly three centuries later, that in 1747 the French officer Jean Grésier purchased and transformed the building. It remained private property until 1979, when the city ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: La Tour-de-Peilz, Switzerland

Lenzburg Castle

Lenzburg Castle ranks among the oldest and most important of Switzerland. The castle stands on the almost circular castle hill, which rises approximately 100 m the surrounding plain. The prominent hill was already a settlement site in prehistoric times. For example, in 1959 a Neolithic gravesite was uncovered in the carpark. There have also been small discoveries from the Roman and Alemannic eras.  The oldest p ...
Founded: c. 1100 | Location: Lenzburg, Switzerland

Tourbillon Castle

Tourbillon Castle was built sometime between 1290 and 1308 by the Bishop of Sion, Boniface de Challant, as his principal residence. After Boniface died in 1308, his successor Aymon II de Châtillon probably finished the castle. In 1352 the Upper Valais revolted against Bishop Guichard Tavel. Led by Peter de la Tour, in November of that year, they marched on Sion, burned the town and unsuccessfully besieged the castle. In ...
Founded: 1290-1308 | Location: Sion, Switzerland

Huwiler Tower

Huwiler Tower (Huwilerturm) is the smallest of the four outer town wall towers in the city of Zug (Switzerland). Its exact age is unknown, but cannot be later than 1524/25. The tower was known for a long time as the 'Hof' tower, and was called that until it was acquired by a citizen named Huwiler (a.k.a. Huwyler) in 1697. Huwiler tower was part of the defense system and the city wall, but as Zug was actually nev ...
Founded: c. 1524 | Location: Zug, Switzerland

Sasso Corbaro Castle

Sasso Corbaro, known as Unterwalden Castle after 1506 and Saint Barbara's Castle after 1818, is about 600 m south-east of town on a rocky hill. Unlike the other two castles Sasso Corbaro is not integrated into the city walls. The first part of the castle was the north-eastern tower which was built in 1478 to close a gap in the defenses of the city. In 1479 a small garrison was moved to the tower. During peacetime the tow ...
Founded: 1478 | Location: Bellinzona, Switzerland

Werdenberg Castle

Werdenberg castle was founded around 1228-1230 by Count Rudolf I of Montfort. Today, the architectural complex comprises two museums – one in the castle and one in the town – that tell the 800-year history of the rulers and their subjects. Three of the epochs – the times of the counts, the governors of Glarus and that of the well-to-do Hilty family – are effectively displayed in the castle. The Museum Schlangenhau ...
Founded: 1228 | Location: Werdenberg, Switzerland

Frauenfeld Castle

Frauenfeld castle was founded by the counts of Kyburg in the 13th century. The massive tower dates from 1227. The exhibit of the Thurgau History Museum in castle illustrates the time after 1415 that was so important for the region. It offers both children and adults an insightful and playful gateway to the Middle Ages. The modern arrangements, interactive animation and the artwork shining in new splendour are the highli ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Frauenfeld, Switzerland

Aarau Castle

The small castle of Aarau ('Schlössli') has remained nearly unchanged since the 13th century. The 'Schlössli' is the oldest building in the city. It was already founded at the time of the establishment of the city shortly after 1200; the exact date is not known. Today it hosts a city museum.
Founded: c. 1200 | Location: Aarau, Switzerland

Chenaux Castle

Chenaux castle was built in 1392 by Chevalier Pierre and his brother Guillaume. Humbert, the bastard of Savoie, acquired the fortress in 1432 and completed it by an advanced defense. The castle was set on fire during the wars of Bourgogne. Today the castle of Chenaux is occupied by the prefecture but can be visited.
Founded: 1392 | Location: Estavayer-le-Lac, Switzerland

Saint-Maurice Castle

Started at the end of the 15th century, between 1476 and 1482, the construction of St-Maurice castle took place in several stages.  They began by building a tower with doors, then a crenellated enclosure and guard towers. This led to the construction of the main body of the building and, at the beginning of the 16th century, a large retaining wall to which a new tower with a large ogival door was added. A fire destroyed ...
Founded: 1476 | Location: Saint-Maurice, Switzerland

Bischofszell Castle

Bischofszell castle was built in the 12th/13th century. It was damaged by the city fire in 1419 and repaired soon thereafter. During the 17th and 18th century the castle was expanded and totally renovated. The newly founded Canton of Thurgau took over the castle in 1798, but sold it in 1811 again. About 1838 the west part collapsed, and in 1843 the keep was broken up. Since 1930, the castle has been owned by the municipal ...
Founded: 1419 | Location: Bischofszell, Switzerland

Willisau Castle

Willisau castle was built for bailiffs in 1690-1695 by the city of Lucerne. The castle is one of the most important secular Baroque buildings in central Switzerland. Particularly impressive is the design of the first two floors. The magnificent stucco works in the courtroom were created by the two artists from Lugano, Augusto Giacomo and Pietro Neurone. The impressive ceiling paintings were created by Francesco Antonio Gi ...
Founded: 1690 | Location: Willisau, Switzerland

Hallwyl Castle

Hallwyl Castle is one of the most important moated castles in Switzerland. It is located on two islands in the River Aabach, just north of the northern end of Lake Hallwil. Since 1925, it has been open to the public, and since 1994 it has been owned by the canton of Aargau and is part of the museum of Aargau. The first mention of the castle is in the year 1256. However, the originally free noble family of Hallwyl ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Seengen, Switzerland

Arbon Castle

A castle in Arbon is first mentioned in 720 in a history of St. Gall Abbey. It stood on or near the site of the Roman era Arbor Felix fortress from 250 AD. After the Romans retreated south of the Alps around 400, the old fortress was abandoned. Sometime later a Frankish castle was built in Arbon probably for the Frankish royal family. By around 700, Arbon and presumably the castle, were the property of the diocese ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Arbon, Switzerland

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Wawel Castle

Wawel Hill – a Jurassic limestone rock, a dominant feature in the landscape of Kraków, have provided a safe haven for people who have settled here since the Paleolithic Age. It is supposed that the Slav people started living on Wawel hill as early as the 7th century. Early medieval legends tell stories about a dreadful dragon that lived in a cave on Wawel Hill, about his slayer Krakus, and about the latter’s daughter Wanda, who drowned herself in the Vistula rather than marry a German knight. Towards the end of the first millennium A.D Wawel began to play the role of the centre of political power.In the 9th century it became the principal fortified castrum of the Vislane tribe. The first historical ruler of Poland, Miesco I (c.965-992) of the Piast dynasty as well as his successors: Boleslas the Brave (992-1025) and Miesco II (1025-1034) chose Wawel Hill as one of their residences.

At that time Wawel became one of the main Polish centres of Christianity. The first early Romanesque and Romanesque sacral buildings were raised here, including a stone cathedral that was erected after the bishopric of Kraków was established in the year 1000.

During the reign of Casimir the Restorer (1034-1058) Wawel became a significant political and administrative centre for the Polish State. Casimir’s son, Boleslas the Bold (1058-1079) began the construction of a second Romanesque cathedral, which was finished by Boleslas the Wrymouth (1102-1138). In his last will of 1138, this prince divided Poland into districts, and provided that Kraków was to be the residence of the senior prince. In 1291 the city of Kraków along with Wawel Hill temporarily fell under the Czech rule, and Wenceslas II from the Premysl dynasty was crowned King of Poland in Wawel cathedral.

In 1306 the Duke of Kuyavia Ladislas the Short (1306-1333) entered Wawel and was crowned King of Poland in the Cathedral in 1320. It was the first historically recorded coronation of a Polish ruler on Wawel Hill. Around that time, at the initiative of Ladislas the Short, the construction of the third Gothic cathedral began, the castle was expanded and the old wooden and earthen fortifications were replaced by brick ones. The tomb of Ladislas the Short in the cathedral started a royal necropolis of Polish kings in Krakow.The last descendant of the Piast dynasty, Casimir the Great (1333-1370) brought Wawel to a state of unprecedented splendour. In 1364 the expanded gothic castle witnessed the marriage of Casimir’s granddaughter Elizabeth to Charles IV accompanied by a famous convention of kings and princes, subsequently entertained by a rich burgher Wierzynek. The accession to the throne in 1385 of Jadwiga from the Hungarian dynasty of Andegavens, and her marriage to a Lithuanian prince Ladislas Jagiello (1386-1434) started another era of prosperity for Wawel. The royal court employed local and western European artists and also Rus painters. During the reign of Casimir Jagiellon (1447-1492) the silhouette of the hill was enriched by three high brick towers: the Thieves’ Tower, the Sandomierz Tower and the Senatorial Tower. The first humanists in Poland and tutors to the king’s sons: historian Jan Długosz and an Italian by the name Filippo Buonacorsi (also known as Callimachus) worked there at that time.

The Italian Renaissance arrived at Wawel in the early 16th century. King Alexander (1501-1506) and his brother Sigismund I the Old (1506-1548) commissioned the construction of a new palace in place of the Gothic residence, with an impressive large courtyard with arcaded galleries which was completed about 1540. Sigismund’s patronage also left an indelible impression in the cathedral, where a family chapel was erected, known today as Sigismund’s Chapel - the work of Bartolomeo of Berrecci Florence, and through various foundations, one of which was that of a large bell, called the Sigismund to commemorate the king. Close artistic and cultural relations with Italy were strengthened in 1518 by the king’s marriage to Bona Sforza. Alongside Italian artists, German architects, wood workers, painters and metal smiths worked for the king. The last descendant of the Jagiellonian dynasty, Sigismund II Augustus (1548-1572), enriched the castle’s interiors with a magnificent collection of tapestries woven in Brussels. In the “Golden Age” of Polish culture Wawel became one of the main centres of humanism in Europe.

The reign of Sigismund III Waza (1587-1632) also made a strong impression on the history of Wawel. After a fire in the castle in 1595 the king rebuilt the burned wing of the building in the early Baroque style. The relocation of the royal court to Warsaw was the cause of a slow but nevertheless steady deterioration in the castle’s condition. The monarchs visited Kraków only occasionally. Restoration of the castle was undertaken during the reign of John III Sobieski, the Wettins and Stanislas Augustus to counteract neglect.

After Poland had lost its independence in 1795, the troops of partitioning nations, Russia, Prussia and Austria, subsequently occupied Wawel which finally passed into the hands of the Austrians. The new owners converted the castle and some of the secular buildings into a military hospital, and demolished some others, including churches. After the period of the Free City of Kraków (1815-1846) Wawel was once more annexed by Austria and turned into a citadel dominating the city. By the resolution passed by the Seym of Galicia in 1880, the castle was presented as a residence to the Emperor of Austria Franz Josef I. The Austrian troops left the hill between 1905-1911. At the turn of the 20th century a thorough restoration of the cathedral was conducted, and shortly afterwards a process of restoration of the royal castle began which lasted several decades.

When Poland regained its independence in 1918, the castle served as an official residence of the Head of State, and as a museum of historic interiors. During the Nazi occupation the castle was the residence of the German governor general, Hans Frank. Polish people managed to remove the most valuable objects, including the tapestries and the “Szczerbiec” coronation sword to Canada, from where they returned as late as 1959-1961. At present, the main curators of Wawel are Wawel Royal Castle – State Art Collection and the Metropolitan Basilica Board on Wawel Hill.