Medieval castles in Switzerland

Neuburg Castle

Neuburg Castle was first built during the late 13th century or early 14th, most likely for the Baron Tumb von Neuburg from Vorarlberg. It is unclear whether there was an earlier castle or why the Tumb von Neuburg family acquired land in Graubünden. It was first mentioned in 1345 as Nüwburg. In 1360 they had to give the castle to Heinz and Martin Buwix as collateral for a loan, but by 1385 they were back in possession of ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Untervaz, Switzerland

Obertagstein Castle

Obertagstein Castle was probably built in the 13th century by the Masein/Rialt family near Untertagstein Castle. In 1316 Margareta von Rialt left all her properties in Tagstein to her nieces. The first mention of a castle in the area is in 1322, but it probably refers to Untertagstein in Masein. In 1322 the male line of the Rialt family died out and it was inherited by the Bärenburg family. The Bärenburg family were min ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Thusis, Switzerland

Rietberg Castle

The central tower and oldest part of the Rietberg Castle was built in the 13th century, though it may have been built around an earlier 12th-century tower. It was built for the Lords of Rietberg, who in 1286 were vassals of the Freiherr von Sax-Misox. In the 14th century they became vassals of the Bishop of Chur. At that time they held the castle and estates in Schams, Chur and Oberhalbstein and were the bishop"s rep ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Pratval, Switzerland

Strassberg Castle

The castle was built in the 12th century to guard the road from Chur over the alpine passes. The oldest part of the castle, the ring wall, was built in the second half of the 12th century. The main tower was added in the early 13th century. The Lords of Strassberg first appear in the historical record in 1253. The ring wall around the main castle originally had a residential building along the north side and still shows ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Churwalden, Switzerland

Wynegg Castle

Wynegg castle was built in the 13th century for the Wynegg family. The first known member of the family, Ludwig von Wynegg, appears in a record in 1254. The family last appears in 1270 when Ulrich von Wynegg was mentioned. The family probably served the Bishop of Chur or the Freiherr von Vaz. After the family died out, the castle and lands were inherited by Vaz family, though the Bishop also claimed that he owned the cast ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Malans, Switzerland

Hünenberg Castle

Hünenberg Castle was built in the 12th century and mentioned first time in 1173. At the Battle of Sempach in 1386 Hünenberg fought on the side of Habsburg family and the castle was destroyed after the defeat. During the following three decades the Hünenberg family also lost their power and reputation. In 1416, Rudolf von Hünenberg sold the ruined castle and its rights to the Bütler brothers. The keep was still standi ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Hünenberg, Switzerland

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Porta Nigra

The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.

The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.

In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.

In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.

After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.

In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.

In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.