Wednesday, May 19, 2010


On a brilliant October afternoon, we boarded a boat for a cruising view of the Chateau de Chillon. The serene waters of Lake Geneva sparkled around us and we chattered with anticipation in the sun. We were about to enter the mysterious castle, the medieval muse of Romantic painters and poets.

Framed by the Swiss Alps and set securely on a rock foundation at the edge of Lake Geneva, Chateau de Chillon's hand-carved stones and dark history now live in the light.

Chillon occupied a controlling position along ancient trade routes during the Middle Ages, working as a tollhouse, warehouse, fortress, prison, and arsenal--depending on who owned, remodeled or operated it. For a virtual history and tour of the castle, click HERE and choose the parts you'd like to see or read about.

I don't remember much about the upper rooms of the fortress but am haunted by the stone staircase descent into the depths of the underground rooms where prisoners, chained to its rough-hewn walls, languished in the stone-cold spaces for decades.

During the Romantic Movement, Lord Byron found the medieval dungeon aesthetics (note the alluring juxtaposition of rough prison walls and the Gothic cathedral roof overhead in the castle tour link, above) fascinating enough for a romantic's a quick excerpt:

Chillon! The prison is a holy place,
And thy sad floor an altar - for 'twas trod,
Until his very steps have left a trace
Worn as if thy cold pavement were a sod,
By Bonnivard! - May none these marks efface!
For they appeal from tyranny to God.
from The Prisoner of Chillon/a fable

At the castle exit, I am thrilled to return to the sun and the al fresco picnic waiting at the edge of the lake. I am glad to walk free of the wailing, sobbing prison walls, grateful for the gift of the experience, and happy to walk in light of the past.


Susan Erickson said...

What a cruel world it was in those days....I guess this still goes on in some parts of the frightening! The cells would give me nightmares...I'm sure you were feeling years of anguish and suffering echoing off those ancient walls.

lakeviewer said...

The mighty and the powerful did what they wanted when they wanted, to whom they pleased. Lucky that we evolved a bit since those times. These places bring conflicting emotions. On the one hand, I feel pride for the work done, the architecture and the workmanship. On the other hand, so much power unchecked and unfettered was so cruel to so many people.

Dimple said...

Hi Becky,
Congratulations on including the links, the one to the castle's site worked fine!
This castle is much less ornamented than the German one, but each is interesting.
How are you liking Iowa?

Julie@beingRUBY said...

HI Becky...
Well this is beautiful shot and what must be a eerie place.. it looks almost fairy tale from the outside.. but reading your words about descending into the chambers below gave me the chills... in fact I think the thought that it is under water.. chills me more... Thanks for the link... xxx Julie

RuneE said...

I think I would have preferred to be prisoner in a more modern institution, although it looked very interesting and aesthetic on the outside :-)

PS Thank you for the nice comment! :-) - and congratulations with your own newborn grandchild!

S. Etole said...

I feel a sadness set in when I read this ... the beauty contrasted with the harshness ...

Pooch Morning Glory said...

beautiful photo becky!
reading about this place and the sadness you felt reminds me of the vibes in the colloseum in rome.
neat to visit once i imagine
~laura x

sharon said...

Hi Becky, Nice pictures. Being a prisoner in those days can't have been much fun.
Thanks for putting the link, have a great weekend

simpledaisy said...

What an interesting story....
Gorgeous place but eerie~

Barefoot from Heaven said...

Ohhhh Becky I just saw you put my cards in your sidebar!!! Wonderful. But how on earth will they understand how to order in Dutch, I'll better start working on that. Thank you so so much sweet wonderful lady friend.

Love this post and it's beautiful old castle...might take it up for a visit since I"m so close...

Hugs Dagmar

Shellbelle said...

I understand your relief upon exiting and to have a picnic waiting? This is a good thing!

I agree that places like this are fascinating and interesting to visit, but your description of the wailing, sobbing wails, sent chills down my spine.

btw, love what Jane did with your photo from beachsnaps, she is so talented!

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Not too much fresh air in there, I'm sure. Needs a few more windows. One can imagine the stale, cold, air. Beautiful outside, though. The sky, the blue of sails.

Jeanne Klaver said...

Stark beauty, gorgeous lines, but still...cold and lonely.

Helen Young said...

Thank you for sharing this. The website was so informative and the pictures beautiful. I am fascinated with castles.