Landscape: Byron’s Chillon

“Eternal Spirit of the chainless Mind! / Brightest in dungeons, Liberty! Thou art: / For there thy habitation is the heart—” –Lord Byron, from The Prisoner of Chillon

Castle ChillonEven though Switzerland’s Château Chillon has been occupied since the Bronze Age (literally!), it is probably most famous in modern times because Lord Byron wrote a poem about the location after he visited it with Percy Shelley in 1816. Byron became fascinated with the legend of François Bonivard (1496-1570), who was kept as a prisoner in Chillon’s dungeon from 1530-1536. Byron wrote a great Romantic poem on the topic called “The Prisoner of Chillon.” Bonivard was a priest, but he had democratic sentiments, so he was thrown in the Chillon dungeon by Duke Charles III of Savoy. Bonivard wasn’t released until the Bernese took power of this area. Byron’s poem explores the themes of revolution, solitary confinement, and the freedom of the mind.

Château Chillon is just a few kilometers from Montreaux (site of famous jazz festival), and when my friend Hutch and I drove up, this steamer was dropping off visitors on Lake Geneva’s craggy shore.

Boat on Geneva

Byron likely rowed up to the castle, and from a distance, Château Chillon would have been a spectacular sight across the water. The castle is built near the shore, with a bridge connecting it to the land. At one time, guards staged themselves on lookout from the castle’s towers, where they could ward of unwanted visitors with arrows and firebombs.

castle from distance

Of course, we had to go down to the dungeon. From its barred windows, Lake Geneva looked pretty sultry:

Chillon barred windows

For a dorky literary tourist like me, seeing Byron’s name etched in the castle’s walls was definitely a highlight:

Byrons name at chillon

The details:
Château Chillon / Foundation du Château de Chillon
21 avenue de Chillon
CH-1820 Veytaux-Montreaux
www.chillon.ch

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