Chillon Castle (Chateau de Chillon), Switzerland’s most famous castle, is also known as the Water Castle on Lake Geneva. The Castle was built on a rocky island, which helped early owners (including the Counts of Savoy who owned the Castle for almost 400 years) control the flow of goods and passage of ships from northern to southern Europe. The Castle is over a thousand years old, and is comprised of over 100 buildings, from the luxurious lake side to the fortress-like mountain side, with watch towers, a moat, and more military accoutrements.
The Castle has made an appearance in several pieces of literature, notably Lord Byron’s poem, The Prisoner of Chillon (1816), Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Julie or the New Heloise, and Henry James’ Daisy Miller (1878). Of special note within Lord Byron’s poem are the subterranean gothic rooms, in which he placed his hero, Bonivard, in the underground dungeon. .
Today, visitors can see a fully restored Castle, complete with guided tours and excavated antiques, including weapons. There is the aforementioned underground dungeon, four great halls, three courtyards, several unique rooms (including Camera Domini, which boasts a bestiary of 14th century murals), a chapel, and a weapons room.
Download a larger image and share the photo with your class, then try these discussion questions and classroom activities:
Look at a slideshow that shows the history of the chapel. From the austerity of the late 13th century to the comparative luxury of the 15th century to a place of worship for prisoners in the 1700-1800s, the chapel has served many purposes. Reflect upon the importance of religion during these times, and how worship was conducted.
Read this history of the Castle, and discuss the difficulties in living in the middle ages, when toilets emptied into the lake, and women sewed by daylight at large windows. What do you think were the biggest challenges for nobles living in the Castle? For servants? Then look at some of Joseph Mallord William Turner’s paintings and drawings of the Castle, at the Tate. Do you see in Turner’s work the jobs that some of the servants do?
Watch this video about the Chateau de Chillon. What role do writers have, in terms of immortalizing a place? Think of Bram Stoker and the Carpathian Mountains in Dracula, Kansas from the Wizard of Oz, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, set in Verona. Discuss how Lord Byron may have changed the face of tourism at Chillon, because of his famous poem.
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