Medieval castles in 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 enforce ...
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

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

Neu-Bechburg Castle

Neu-Bechburg Castle was built in 1250 by the Lord of Bechburg. The castle changed owners several times and, in 1635, it temporarily became the seat of the Bishop of Basel. Later it served as a private apartment, an inn and finally a stone quarry. In 1835 it was acquired by Johannes Riggenbach. His son Friedrich restored the castle from 1880 onwards.
Founded: 1250 | Location: Oensingen, 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

Zwing Uri Castle

Zwing Uri is a ruined medieval castle north of Amsteg, today in the territory of the municipality of Silenen. The castle is notable for its role in Swiss historiography as the first fortress destroyed in the Burgenbruch at the beginning of the Swiss Confederacy. The slighting of Zwing Uri (Twing Üren) is mentioned in the White Book of Sarnen, a Swiss chronicle of 1470. The event is placed in the year 1307 by t ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Silenen, 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

Gesslerburg Castle

Gesslerburg Castle was mentioned first time in 1263, but it may have been built already earlier. The castle moved to the hands of Habsburg family in 1291.
Founded: 13th century | Location: Küssnacht, Switzerland

Pfäffikon Castle

Einsiedeln Abbey was granted farms at Pfäffikon along with surrounding land along Lake Zurich by Emperor Otto I in 965. Soon thereafter the abbot built a large granary in Pfäffikon. Between 1233 and 1266 Abbot Anshelm von Schwanden replaced the old granary with stone tower which was designed as a watch tower, granary and residence. In 1299 the Prince-Abbot Johann von Schwanden added walls, ramparts and a moat ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Freienbach, 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

Frohburg Castle

Frohburg Castle area was already inhabitated in Bronze and Roman Ages. In the 10th century the local Frohburg noble family ruled the area and built the castle. It was enlarged during the Middle Ages and also an iron furnace was established. Frohburg family line died out around in 1367 and the castle was left to decay. Later the stones were reused by local farmers. Today the ruins are one of the most popular sights in Olt ...
Founded: 10th century AD | Location: Trimbach, 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

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Quimper Cathedral

From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.

The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.

At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.

The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.

The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.

Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).

The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.

At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».

The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.