The Lords of Grandson were first mentioned in the second half of the 11th century, when the castle was built. It was sited on the shore of Lake Neuchâtel to control the coast road. The House of Grandson sired a number of powerful scions, including bishops of Basel, Lausanne, Toul and Verdun. Over the following century, as the Lords of Grandson expanded their power, they often came into conflict with the nearby monastery of Romainmôtier.
In the 13th century the castle was rebuilt by Otto I of Grandson. Otto I is the most famous of the Lords of Grandson. He was a close friend of Prince Edward of England and accompanied him in 1271 on the Crusades to the Holy Land. He participated on the side of the English king in the conquest of Wales in 1283. In 1291 he commanded the Crusader army which unsuccessfully attacked Acre. In 1313 he defeated the rebellious city of Lausanne, which had risen up against the bishop. In addition to being a military leader, he was a skilled diplomat and had the confidence of the Pope, the Emperor and the French and English kings. After he died in 1328, Otto's brother, William moved to England where he was also successful and was the founder of the line of the Lords of Grandisson.
The main line of the house Grandson remained close to the House of Savoy and possessed the confidence of the Count. At the end of the 14th century the Lords of Grandson began to decline. Hugo of Grandson was sentenced to death for allegedly forging documents, but fled to England, where he mysteriously died. Otto III was accused of having killed Amadeus VII, Count of Savoy in a fight. In Bourg-en-Bresse in 1397 he agreed to a judicial duel to prove his innocence. He was beaten by his opponent, Gerhard von Estavayer. John II of Grandson was convicted of forgery and sedition against the Duke of Burgundy and sentenced to death by suffocation. When John II died, the power of the family died with him. The estate was confiscated and given to Margaret of Mümpelgard. Thereafter, there were several changes of ownership.
In the late 15th century, Grandson castle belonged to Jacques de Savoie, an ally of Charles the Bold. In 1475 the castle was taken by the Swiss Confederation. In late February 1476, Charles the Bold brought a large mercenary army with him together with many heavy cannons. When the garrison chose to surrender to Charles, they were all executed by hanging or drowning.
Unaware of the execution of their countrymen, the Swiss Confederation sent an army to lift the siege of the castle. On 2 March 1476 the Swiss army approached the forces of Charles near the town of Concise. They surprised Charles' army and routed them in a short battle. While very few of Charles' soldiers were killed, the Swiss had humiliated the greatest duke in Europe, defeated one of the most feared armies, and taken a most impressive amount of treasure. What is probably a small surviving part of this fantastic booty is on display in various Swiss museums today, whilst a few remaining artillery pieces can be seen in the museum of La Neuveville, near Neuchâtel, Switzerland.
The castle was used as a seat of the bailiff until 1798 and then went over to the private sector.
Today the Château de Grandson survives as one of the best preserved medieval fortresses in the country. Only the dungeon has disappeared, probably destroyed during the construction of the castle's western section. Traces of the dungeon-tower can still be picked out on the northern side.
In 1875, the level of Lake Neuchâtel was lowered as part of a series of projects to reduce flood-risk in the area, so that the Château is now some distance from the lake alongside which it was originally sited, and no longer enjoys the 'natural protection' on its south-eastern side which the lake once afforded.References:
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.