Belfort Castle was built in two parts, an upper and a lower castle, on a rocky ridge east. The first castle on the site probably dates to around 1200. In 1222 the castle was first mentioned as the home of the Lords of Vaz. Some parts of the castle have been dated by dendrochronology to 1228-31. The original upper castle consisted of a gatehouse and three story main tower on the north wall. In 1240 the castle was expanded. A small residence was added to the west wall, the main tower gained an additional story and the large south residence was added. The lower castle was added as well at this time, but was mostly used for protection not as a residence.
During the late 13th century Walter V von Vaz allied himself with the Habsburgs against the Bishop of Chur and other local nobles. In 1287 a representative of the Bishop's, Walter Caramamma, was killed at Belfort. In 1332 another representative of the Bishop, Ulrich von Marmels, was executed at the castle, probably after being captured in a battle near Filisur. When the last of the male line, Donat von Vaz, died in 1337 Count Friedrich V von Toggenburg inherited the castle. Under the Toggenburgs the area was administered and the castle was probably occupied by a vogt.
When Frederick VII von Toggenburg died in 1436, the Belfort lands declared themselves free and joined the League of the Ten Jurisdictions. Several claimants fought legal battles to try to get their claims to Belfort recognized. In 1439, it was granted to Wilhelm von Montfort-Tettnang and Heinrich von Sax-Misox who together appointed a bailiff to occupy the castle and administer the lands. In 1466 the Montfort-Tettnang family sold their interest in the area to Sigmund of Austria. However, the residents of the area refused to acknowledge Austrian authority and in 1471 he was forced to sell his interest to the Matsch family. Six years later, in 1477, the Austrian Duke bought Belfort from the Matschs, triggering another round of protests and rebellion. In 1475 it is recorded that the castle was garrisoned with the bailiff and two mercenaries. In 1490, in an attempt to fortify the castle, the walls were raised. In 1499, during the Swabian War the castle was stormed and burned.
The upper castle is a rough pentagon built around a central courtyard with a round cistern. The old gate and gatehouse were built on the north side of the complex, with a large main tower grafted on the western side of the gatehouse. The main tower has walls that were up to 2.3 m thick. The northern gate was eventually closed and a new gate added on the eastern side. A large residence building formed the entire south end of the castle. The castle cistern went 5 m deep into the rock. Portions of the outer walls, a main tower, a five-story tall residential wing and a gate house are still standing. The lower castle stretched south along the ridge. It consisted of lower walls running along the east and west edges of the ridge and larger wall on the southern edge. A steep stairway carved into the rock connected the two fortifications. The northern, upper ruins were repaired and reinforced in 1935-36. The entire site was cleaned and repaired in 2002.References:
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.