Medieval castles in Switzerland

Tellenburg Castle

Tellenburg Castle was built around 1200 by the Lords of Kien. After the Lords of Kien, the Lords of Wädenswil became the owners of the castle. They were followed by the Lords of Turn in 1312 and then later by the city of Bern. The original castle was expanded and repaired in the 13th or 14th centuries. Under Bernese rule, the castle served as the administrative seat of the surrounding area until the creation of the Helv ...
Founded: c. 1200 | Location: Frutigen, Switzerland

Glérolles Castle

Glérolles (Latin glerula, 'gravel') Castle was erected by the bishop of Lausanne in 1150 to protect a road from north to south of the Alps. It was built on the site of an ancient Gallo-Roman town devastated by the tsunami in 563. Glérolles was given in 1303 to the family Palézieux who strengthened it. Bought in private use in 1802 , the castle was transformed to the modern appearance.
Founded: 12th century | Location: Saint-Saphorin, Switzerland

Vufflens Castle

Vufflens castle was built in 1425 on the site of a previous medieval castle by Henri de Colombier. It is the most significant example of a small group of fortified Romandy castles from the middle ages, characterised above all by its brick construction. In 1530, it was set on fire by Bernese troops. In 1641 it was acquired by the de Senarclens family. The castle is currently privately owned and cannot be visited. A plea ...
Founded: 1425 | Location: Vufflens-le-Château, Switzerland

Schlossberg Castle

In 999 the Abbot of Moutier-Grandval Abbey gave his extensive landholdings around Lake Biel, including where La Neuveville would be founded, to the Prince-Bishop of Basel. At that time the region was known as Nugerol and over the next centuries the Bishop of Basel and the Counts of Neuchâtel often quarreled over the land. In 1283 the Prince-Bishop Henry von Isny began to have Schlossberg Castle built on the slopes of ...
Founded: 1283 | Location: La Neuveville, Switzerland

Erlach Castle

Erlach Castle was built around 1090-1100 by Burkart von Fenis, the Bishop of Basel. In 1224, the castle and town of Erlach became the property of the Counts of Nidau. In 1265, Peter II of Savoy brought the counts and their castle under the feudal authority of the House of Savoy. While under Savoy control, Peter II appointed a warden to occupy the castle and manage the castle estates. The warden knights took their name fro ...
Founded: 1090-1100 | Location: Erlach, Switzerland

Mesocco Castle

Mesocco Castle ruins are among the largest in the canton. Originally the seat of the noble family von Sax, from the 12th century until 1480 it was held by the Freiherr of Misox/Mesocco. From 1480 until 1549 it was held by the Trivulzio family. A small fortified church, the Church of S. Carpoforo, was built on the hill top around the 7th century as a refuge castle for the surrounding villages. Around 1000, the fortifi ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Mesocco, Switzerland

Unspunnen Castle

Unspunnen Castle, likely constructed in the early 12th century, overlooks the city of Interlaken. The castle was the center of a 13th-14th century fief of an Oberland barons, though the name of the barons or the castle builder is unknown. The cave castle of Rotenfluh at Tschingelsatz and Unspunnen Castle (first mentioned in 1232 as Uspunnun) were used to guard the late medieval Lütschinenbrücke, a bridge at Gsteig ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Wilderswil, Switzerland

Tarasp Castle

Tarasp Castle was probably built in the 11th century or possibly as early as the 10th century. The name comes from terra aspera or wild earth, which may refer to the newly lands in the Inn river valley. They had adopted the name of the castle by 1089 when Ulrich von Tarasp was mentioned in a papal mandate to the Bishop of Chur. Around the same time the family founded Scuol Monastery, which later moved to Marienberg Abbey ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Tarasp, Switzerland

Dardagny Castle

During the 13th century Dardagny Castle, along with Bruel, La Corbière and Malval, formed a ring of castles, which secured the western boundary of the lands of the Bishop of Geneva. In 1298 there were two castles, which were separated by a small road. Each one belonged to one of the two noble families in Dardagny. In the 14th century, the south building was over two stories high and had a tower. In 1646, the Favre famil ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Dardagny, Switzerland

Porrentruy Castle

Construction of the Porrentruy castle took place between the mid-13th century and the beginning of the 18th century. The oldest part is the thirteenth century Réfous Tower. 14th century ramparts survive on the western and northern sides. During the reign of Prince-Bishop Jacob-Christoph Blarer of Wartensee, the castle underwent an extensive period of reconstruction by the architect Nicolas Frick around 1588. In 1697, it ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Porrentruy, Switzerland

Habsburg Castle

Habsburg Castle near the Aare River was the original seat of the House of Habsburg, which became one of the leading imperial and royal dynasties in Europe. At the time of its construction, the location was part of the Duchy of Swabia. Around 1020–1030 Count Radbot, of the nearby county of Klettgau in the Duchy of Swabia, had the castle erected. It is believed that he named the castle after a hawk (Habicht ...
Founded: 1020-1030 | Location: Habsburg, Switzerland

Vaumarcus Castle

Vaumarcus Castle is a medieval castle, which hosts today a shopping center. Vaumarcus is a good example of the transformation, which took place in most castles in the 13th century when they were protected to defend agains new weapons, such as throwing machines. There was initially an entrance to the castle more than 7 m above ground level. It was undoubtedly reached from the outside by a wooden stairs, which were remov ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Vaumarcus, Switzerland

Binningen Castle

Schloss Binningen was built in the 1290s, originally as a moated castle. Two earthquakes destroyed the foundation walls, and the castle was almost burned to the ground. The castle was rebuilt as of 1414 but destroyed again in the wake of the Battle of St. Jakob in 1444. Over time, the castle has had several owners. A chronological list of the owners, along with their coats of arms, is displayed in the castle"s galler ...
Founded: 1290s | Location: Binningen, Switzerland

Münchenstein Castle

Münchenstein Castle is a landmark above the village. The ruins can still be visited and viewed, but are under private ownership. Around 1260, the up-rising cavalier family Münch acquired the village on the hills adjacent to the river Birs and established their estate there. The exact dates of the castle erection remains unclear, but most likely building began in the time between 1260 and 1270. The founders of the ca ...
Founded: 1260-1270 | Location: Münchenstein, Switzerland

Hagenwil Castle

Hagenwil is the only remaining intact water castle in eastern Switzerland. The first mention of the castle dates from 1264 when Rudolf von Hagenwil donated it to the Abbey of St. Gall. The donation was made in gratitude to the Abbot of St. Gall for rescuing Rudolf from his sons in law, who were holding him prisoner at Heitnau Castle in an attempt to receive their inheritance early. The donation included the right for ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Amriswil, Switzerland

Brandis Castle

The Maienfeld area was an important Roman era customs station on the road between Turicum (Zurich) and Brigantium (Bregenz). After the Fall of the Western Roman Empirethe area probably remained a local population center and retained some of the Roman buildings and fortifications. During the High Middle Ages the Carolingian royal estate of curtis Lupinis was built in the area and the town of Maienfeld grew up ar ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Maienfeld, Switzerland

St. Andreas Castle

St. Andreas Castle is a privately owned castle located in Cham, in the Canton of Zug. The castle hill has been used since at least 400 AD, based on Roman artifacts found there. The site of the neighboring chapel has been used for religious ceremonies since the Roman era. During the 8th century the chapel site was used by a 'holy bishop without a name' for Christian services. Today the castle and chapel are located on a ...
Founded: 9th century AD | Location: Cham, Switzerland

Heidegg Castle

The first surviving document, which mentions the Lords of Heidegg, dates from 1185. For many centuries feudal Heidegg Castle, built in the 12th and 13th centuries was their home. Century. Today it houses the history and culture center of the Seetal valley. A living museum in which you learn stories and customs of aristocratic families, with the spirit of the past further rekindled with a stroll in the large park with its ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Hitzkirch, Switzerland

Aubonne Castle

The castle of Aubonne was built before 1197. The castle stands on a hill overlooking the town and the Aubonne ravine. The castle was acquired in 1670 by Jean-Baptiste Tavernier. He kept his property for nearly thirty years, and finally sell it to Henri Duquesne.The last renovation of the castle, owned by the municipality, lasted eight years and ended in 1988. It is currently listed as a Swiss cultural property of national ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Aubonne, Switzerland

Colombier Castle

Colombier Castle was built in the 11th or 12th century as a fortified tower over the ruins of the Roman villa. It expanded in the 13th Century and by the 16th century had reached its present appearance.  One of the largest Roman era villas in Switzerland was excavated from under the castle in 1840-42 by Frédéric Dubois de Montperreux. It was built in multiple stages between the 1st and 3rd centuries AD into a palat ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Colombier, 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.