Medieval castles in 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

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

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

Nidau Castle

Nidau Castle is the landmark of the city, today housing cantonal administration and the museum. The museum has an interesting exhibit on the Jura water correction. The first wooden castle on the site was built in 1140, followed by a second one in 1180. The presence of the Nidau castle is first evidenced by a deed dated 30 August 1196, issued by Count Ulrich III of Neuchâtel. The first stone castle was built in the early ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Nidau, Switzerland

Willdegg Castle

Willdegg castle in the midst of gardens, meadows and vineyards was founded in the first half of the 13th century by the Habsburgs. For eleven generations Wildegg Castle was owned by the Effinger family. During that time the castle was expanded several times. The gardens in their seasonal change are an oasis of calm and an invitation to stroll, smell and marvel. The site consists of a well-preserved 13th-century keep and ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Wildegg, Switzerland

Wildenberg Castle

The Wildenberg family was a cadet branch of the Greifenstein family of Filisur. In addition to Wildenberg Castle in Falera, they owned castles and estates throughout the valleys of Graubünden. Wildenberg Castle in Zernez was first mentioned as the home of the family in 1280/90. In 1296 the Bishop of Chur took the right to collect tithes from Wildenberg and pledged it to the Lords of Planta. It is unclear if the castle we ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Zernez, Switzerland

Seeburg Castle

The site of current Seeburg castle was mentioned first time in 740 AD. The construction of current castle was started in the 11th century (around 1036). It was largely extended by Wichmann von Seeburg, later Archbishop of Magdeburg (1115-1192). The next renovations took place in the 14th and 15th centuries, when the castle was flanked by towers and a gatehouse under the rule of Counts of Mansfeld. Later Seeburg was l ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Kreuzlingen, Switzerland

Gottlieben Castle

Gottlieben village is first mentioned around the end of the 10th Century as Gotiliubon. It was originally part of the land owned by the Bishop of Constance. In 1251, Eberhard von Waldburg built a castle that served as the residence of the Bishops. After the Swabian War in 1499 the episcopal chief constable managed the village and the local low court from the castle until 1798. The court included Engwilen, Siegershau ...
Founded: 1251 | Location: Gottlieben, Switzerland

Weissenau Castle

Weissenau Castle was first mentioned in the historic record as castrum Wissenowe in 1298. It is unclear whether it was built by the Lords of Rotenfluh (Unspunnen) and then given in fief to the Freiherr of Weissenau or if it was built by the Weissenau family as the center of their estates. The castle was built on what was an island at the mouth of the Aare river into Lake Thun. In the intervening centuries, the waterway si ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Unterseen, Switzerland

La Bâtiaz Castle

The La Bâtiaz castle was built in 1260 and is the only remaining witness to the medieval era. It was an object of envy, and passed from the House of Savoie to the Sion bishops (and vice versa) many times. Dishes influenced by medieval flavours are served during the summer season. There are panoramic view over the surrounding vineyards and Rhône Valley from the castle tower. The castle also hosts collection of medieval ...
Founded: 1260 | Location: Martigny, Switzerland

Buonas Castle

Buonas Castle was probably built in the 11th century. In 1478 the castle burned down and the reconstruction began until 1494. The new building was completed in 1498 and received another floor. So-called new castle was built next to the medieval one in 1877. Today the castle site is a training center.
Founded: 1494 | Location: Buonas, Switzerland

Hohenklingen Castle

The history of Hohenklingen castle is closely linked to the small town Stein am Rhein and the monastery St. Georgen. Around 1200, Walter von Klingen erected a residential tower on the site of the present castle. Around 1460, the battlements against firearms were installed.  In 1499, at the time of the Swabian war, and from 1618 to 1648 during the Thirty Years" War, the castle played an important role and was en ...
Founded: c. 1200 | Location: Stein am Rhein, Switzerland

Grüningen Castle

Grüningen castle was built before 1229. It was in early times owned by the Counts of Regensberg. From the original castle only the Palas exists. At the place of the today"s church stood a chapel since at least 1396, which was extended 1610. In 1782 it was demolished and rebuilt in its early Classicist style. For centuries, the castle has been the residence of bailiffs. They have been assigned for the administrat ...
Founded: before 1229 | Location: Grüningen, Switzerland

Bottmingen Castle

Dating from the 13th century, Bottmingen castle is one of the few such buildings in Switzerland that are still intact. The first recorded mention dates from 1363, when it was owned by the Kämmerer family. These aristocratic servants to the Bishops of Basel are thought to have built the castle. In 1720, Johannes Deucher transformed the castle into an early-Baroque country manor in the French style. Although this structure ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Bottmingen, 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.