Castles and fortifications in 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

Schwarzenburg Castle

Schwarzenburg Castle was built in 1573-76 to replace the increasingly expensive to maintain Grasburg Castle. From the beginning it was built as an administrative center for the Grasburg district and as a home for the governor. Grasburg was a shared condominium between the Cantons of Bern and Fribourg so the governor was appointed by each Canton in turn. Following the 1798 French invasion, Schwarzenburg Castle and the dist ...
Founded: 1573-1576 | Location: Schwarzenburg, 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

Aarberg Castle

While the builder of the Aarberg Castle is unknown, the city itself was founded between 1220 and 1225 by count Ulrich III of Neuchâtel. The count had recently acquired the rulership over this region and needed a central location from which to rule. The island and the key bridge was a natural location for a town. The castle may have been built around the time of the founding of the city. The city was besieged in 1339, 13 ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Aarberg, Switzerland

Kyburg Castle

Kyburg Castle overlooks the Töss river some 3 km south-east of Winterthur. The first fortification at this site was likely built in the second half of the 10th century by the counts of Winterthur. It is first mentioned in 1027 under the name of Chuigeburg ('cows-fort'), which name points to an original use as a refuge castle for livestock. The early castle was destroyed in 1028 or 1030 by emperor Conrad II. ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Kyburg, Switzerland

Sargans Castle

Beginning in 982 the Sargans region was part of the lands of the Counts of Bregenz. In 1160, the male line of the Counts of Bregenz died out. Count palatine Hugo of Türbingen inherited most of their lands, through his wife Elisabeth. His son, Hugo, inherited the Bregenz lands around Lake Constance, including Sargans. This Hugo, who adopted the name Montfort und Werdenberg built or expanded Sargans Castle before ...
Founded: 1282 | Location: Sargans, Switzerland

Regensberg Castle

Either Lütold V von Regensberg or his son Ulrich established the fortified town of (Neu)-Regensberg around 1250. Ulrich died around 1280, and his son Lütold VIII had to sell Regensberg to Habsburg-Austria in 1302. The Habsburgs mortgaged the castle and town several times, and in 1407 the so-called Herrschaft Regensberg was acquired by the city of Zürich. From 1417 the castle became the seat of the bailiff of the ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Regensberg, Switzerland

Greifensee Castle

The Counts of Rapperswil probably built a defense tower in the early 12th century on the site of today"s Greifensee Castle. The beginnings of Greifensee Castle, which was partially destroyed in May 1444 (during the so-called Old Zürich War), date back to around 1250. The castle complex consisted of a Palas on a rock , which at the time stood directly on the lake shore and was protected on the other sides by ...
Founded: c. 1250 | Location: Greifensee, Switzerland

Münchenwiler Castle

Münchenwiler Castle is a former Cluniac priory. In 1080-81 the village was given by the brothers Gerold and Rudolf de Vilar to Cluny Abbey. Shortly thereafter a priory was founded, which served as a way station for pilgrims on the Way of St. James. The Priory church was built in 1100, using spolia from the Roman ruins at Avenches. The small priory community normally consisted of a prior and two to four monks. ...
Founded: 1535 | Location: Münchenwiler, Switzerland

Bulle Castle

The town of Bulle initially developed around its church which was, in 9th century, an ecclesiastical center of importance. The construction of the castle began certainly under the episcopate from Boniface (1231-1239). After the annexation of Bulle by the town of Freiburg, the castle became, since 1537, residence of the bailiffs". Since 1848, it is the seat of the Prefecture of the Gruyère and receives the Court, the ...
Founded: 1230s | Location: Bulle, Switzerland

Ringgenberg Castle

The rocky heights above Brienz Lake were first occupied and fortified by the Late-Bronze Age. During the Middle Ages, the land around the castle was owned by the Barons of Brienz and Raron. Around 1231, they moved to Ringgenberg village and soon thereafter into the castle. Ringgenberg Castle was probably built in several stages during the 13th century. It first appears in the historical record in 1240. During the 13th ce ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Ringgenberg, Switzerland

Rolle Castle

In 1261, the Lords of Mont planned to build a city along the lake that would compete with the Aubonne and Saint-Prex. By around 1264, Rolle Castle was built to protect the pier at the lake. However, the planned city was never built by the Mont family. In 1291, the castle was in possession of Count Amadeus V of Savoy, who granted it to several different families as a fief. In the course of the rivalry between the Count ...
Founded: 1264 | Location: Rolle, Switzerland

Burgdorf Castle

During the High Middle Ages the land that would become Burgdorf was owned by the Kingdom of Burgundy and then after 1080 by the Dukes of Zähringen. Either the kings or the dukes built a castle on the left bank of the Emme river, this castle was first mentioned in 1080. Under Duke Berthold V, in 1200, Burgdorf Castle was expanded. The old castle consisted of a gatehouse and attached wall. Berthold V added a tower, donjon ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Burgdorf, Switzerland

Monthey Castle

Monthey Castle was built in the early 15th century by Duke of Savoy. It was damaged by fire in 1607. Today Monthay castle is a museum. 
Founded: 15th century | Location: Monthey, Switzerland

L'Isle Castle

L'Isle Castle was built in 1696 by Charles de Chandieu, lieutenant general of the Swiss Guards of Louis XIV, on plans Hardouint Jules Mansard, nephew of the great Mansard. After the hands of different families, it was bought by the municipality of L'Isle in 1876 which transforms it into school classes and as home town. L'Isle Castle draws a U-shaped plan, between courtyard and garden, with a main building, where are the ...
Founded: 1696 | Location: L'Isle, Switzerland

Leuk Castle

Leuk castle consists of an early-Romanesque tower (11th-13th century), an attached dwelling house and a curtain wall. It has undergone repeated conversion and extension. The castle was the scene of witch trials in the 17th century.
Founded: 11th century | Location: Leuk, Switzerland

Birseck Castle

Birseck Castle is also called Vordere Burg Birseck and is one of four castles on a slope called Birseck that confines the plain of the Birs river. Burg Reichenstein sits on a higher slope to the north. The origins of the castle probably date back to the age of Counts of Frohburg in the 12th century. Bishop Lüthold of Basel bought the castle hill from the Niedermünster monastery in 1239 and built the present cas ...
Founded: 1243-1244 | Location: Arlesheim, Switzerland

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque French château built between 1658-1661 for Nicolas Fouquet. It was made for Marquis de Belle Île, Viscount of Melun and Vaux, the superintendent of finances of Louis XIV, the château was an influential work of architecture in mid-17th century Europe. At Vaux-le-Vicomte, the architect Louis Le Vau, the landscape architect André le Nôtre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun worked together on a large-scale project for the first time. Their collaboration marked the beginning of the 'Louis XIV style' combining architecture, interior design and landscape design. The garden's pronounced visual axis is an example of this style.

To secure the necessary grounds for the elaborate plans for Vaux-le-Vicomte’s garden and castle, Fouquet purchased and demolished three villages. The displaced villagers were then employed in the upkeep and maintenance of the gardens. It was said to have employed eighteen thousand workers and cost as much as 16 million livres. The château and its patron became for a short time a focus for fine feasts, literature and arts. The poet La Fontaine and the playwright Molière were among the artists close to Fouquet. At the inauguration of Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Molière play was performed, along with a dinner event organized by François Vatel, and an impressive firework show.

After Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life, and his wife exiled, Vaux-le-Vicomte was placed under sequestration. The king seized, confiscated or purchased 120 tapestries, the statues, and all the orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte. He then sent the team of artists (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) to design what would be a much larger project than Vaux-le-Vicomte, the palace and gardens of Versailles.

The Marshal Villars became the new owner without first seeing the chateau. In 1764, the Marshal's son sold the estate to the Duke of Praslin, whose descendants would maintain the property for over a century. It is sometimes mistakenly reported that the château was the scene of a murder in 1847, when duke Charles de Choiseul-Praslin, killed his wife in her bedroom, but this did not happen at Vaux-le-Vicomte but at the Paris residence of the Duke.

In 1875, after thirty years of neglect, the estate was sold to Alfred Sommier in a public auction. The château was empty, some of the outbuildings had fallen into ruin, and the famous gardens were totally overgrown. The huge task of restoration and refurbishment began under the direction of the architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, assisted by the landscape architect Elie Lainé. When Sommier died in 1908, the château and the gardens had recovered their original appearance. His son, Edme Sommier, and his daughter-in-law completed the task. Today, his descendants continue to preserve the château, which remains privately owned by Patrice and Cristina de Vogüé, the Count and Countess de Vogüé. It is now administered by their three sons Alexandre, Jean-Charles and Ascanio de Vogüé. Recognized by the state as a monument historique, it is open to the public regularly.

Architecture

The chateau is situated near the northern end of a 1.5-km long north-south axis with the entrance front facing north. Its elevations are perfectly symmetrical to either side of this axis. Somewhat surprisingly the interior plan is also nearly completely symmetrical with few differences between the eastern and western halves. The two rooms in the center, the entrance vestibule to the north and the oval salon to the south, were originally an open-air loggia, dividing the chateau into two distinct sections. The interior decoration of these two rooms was therefore more typical of an outdoor setting. Three sets of three arches, those on the entrance front, three more between the vestibule and the salon, and the three leading from the salon to the garden are all aligned and permitted the arriving visitor to see through to the central axis of the garden even before entering the chateau. The exterior arches could be closed with iron gates, and only later were they filled in with glass doors and the interior arches with mirrored doors. Since the loggia divided the building into two halves, there are two symmetrical staircases on either side of it, rather than a single staircase. The rooms in the eastern half of the house were intended for the use of the king, those in the western were for Fouquet. The provision of a suite of rooms for the king was normal practice in aristocratic houses of the time, since the king travelled frequently.

Another surprising feature of the plan is the thickness of the main body of the building (corps de logis), which consists of two rows of rooms running east and west. Traditionally the middle of the corps de logis of French chateaux consisted of a single row of rooms. Double-thick corps de logis had already been used in hôtels particuliers in Paris, including Le Vau's Hôtel Tambonneau, but Vaux was the first chateau to incorporate this change. Even more unusual, the main rooms are all on the ground floor rather than the first floor (the traditional piano nobile). This accounts for the lack of a grand staircase or a gallery, standard elements of most contemporary chateaux. Also noteworthy are corridors in the basement and on the first floor which run the length of house providing privacy to the rooms they access. Up to the middle of the 17th century, corridors were essentially unknown. Another feature of the plan, the four pavilions, one at each corner of the building, is more conventional.

Vaux-le-Vicomte was originally planned to be constructed in brick and stone, but after the mid-century, as the middle classes began to imitate this style, aristocratic circles began using stone exclusively. Rather late in the design process, Fouquet and Le Vau switched to stone, a decision that may have been influenced by the use of stone at François Mansart's Château de Maisons. The service buildings flanking the large avant-cour to the north of the house remained in brick and stone, and other structures preceding them were in rubble-stone and plaster, a social ranking of building materials that would be common in France for a considerable length of time thereafter.

The main chateau is constructed entirely on a moated platform, reached via two bridges, both aligned with the central axis and placed on the north and south sides. The moat is a picturesque holdover from medieval fortified residences, and is again a feature that Le Vau may have borrowed from Maisons. The moat at Vaux may also have been inspired by the previous chateau on the site, which Le Vau's work replaced.

Gardens

The château rises on an elevated platform in the middle of the woods and marks the border between unequal spaces, each treated in a different way. This effect is more distinctive today, as the woodlands are mature, than it was in the seventeenth century when the site had been farmland, and the plantations were new.

Le Nôtre's garden was the dominant structure of the great complex, stretching nearly a mile and a half (3 km), with a balanced composition of water basins and canals contained in stone curbs, fountains, gravel walks, and patterned parterres that remains more coherent than the vast display Le Nôtre was to create at Versailles.

Le Nôtre created a magnificent scene to be viewed from the house, using the laws of perspective. Le Notre used the natural terrain to his advantage. He placed the canal at the lowest part of the complex, thus hiding it from the main perspectival point of view. Past the canal, the garden ascends a large open lawn and ends with the Hercules column added in the 19th century. Shrubberies provided a picture frame to the garden that also served as a stage for royal fêtes.

From the top of the grand staircase, this gives the impression that the entire garden is revealed in one single glance. Initially, the view consists of symmetrical rows of shrubbery, avenues, fountains, statues, flowers and other pieces developed to imitate nature – these elements exemplify the Baroque desire to mold nature to fit its wishes, thus using nature to imitate nature. The centerpiece is a large reflecting pool flanked by grottos holding statues in their many niches. The grand sloping lawn is not visible until one begins to explore the garden, when the viewer is made aware of the optical elements involved and discovers that the garden is much larger than it looks.