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FRENCH SWITZERLAND


A


tour of the grounds begins in perhaps Chillon’s most famous room — the under- ground prison that stirred Lord Byron to write his celebrated poem, “T e Prisoner of Chillon.”


T e jutting rocks of the castle’s founda-


tion serve as its treacherous fl oor and con- trast sharply with the dignity of the Gothic vaulted ceilings. It was here that Byron’s muse François Bonivard was imprisoned in 1532 for his defi ance of the Catho- lic Church. T e column to which he was chained is a place of legend, some saying Bonivard paced around it so oſt en he leſt his footprints on the surrounding fl oor. “T is is the Mystery of Chillon,” Jenni


shared with a grin. “Visitors say, ‘Oh, we want to see the prison of Lord Byron,’ and they look and then say ‘I think we can see the foot [prints] of the prisoner!’” It is more likely visitors will see remnants


of the author himself. T e name “Byron,” clearly etched into one of the columns, is rumored to have been leſt by the lord dur- ing his inspiring visit to the dungeon. For twelve-year-old Sierra of Vancouver,


British Columbia, the prison was the high- light of the tour. “It’s kind of neat to have a prison,” she


said without hesitation. “But it is cold down there.” From the prison, a spiral staircase leads


visitors to the great halls of pomp and pag- eantry long ago inhabited by Dukes of Sa- voy and bailiff s of the Bernese monarchy. Touches of royalty are everywhere, from


the fl awless concave ceiling of the Aula Nova room erected by Genevois ship build- ers to the ornately painted border along the walls of Coat-of-Arms hall. Here, the border crests of the 50 Bernese bailiff s to preside over the castle dazzle guests while documenting 250 years of Chillon’s history. “I just love whatever is going on around


the top of this room,” Sterling said in re- sponse to the lavishly decorated hall. Continuing through the stony labyrinth,


visitors reach the private chambers of castle residents where they’re provided with an


98| ALPINE LIVING 2011


oſt en-perplexing, always fascinating glimpse into medieval life. T e Bernese bedroom, described by Jenni as “a fi ve-star palace of the middle ages,” show- cases a bed of surprisingly diminutive proportions. “People in this time


slept sitting [propped] up on cushions. T ey thought lying down only for the dead,” Jenni explained. “If the soul saw the body lying in sleep, it would think it dead and fl y up to heaven.” She shared an equally


absorbing notion on hy- giene from the 1300s, ex- plaining that doctors urged people not to bathe on the assumption that the Black Death would have a harder time getting through the


A view from a prison window in the Château.


fi lth to infect them. “Louie XIV bathed only two times in his


whole life,” she said. A framed map of Lake Geneva on the


wall of this room may look odd to obser- vant visitors. It is upside down, drawn from the perspective that the Bernese saw the landscape. Toward the tour’s end, one of Chil-


lon’s most astounding rooms awaits. Saint George’s chapel was built as the private cha- pel of the Count of Savoy, and as such, the interior was adorned with intricate, sweep- ing paintings of Christ’s life, from Gabriel appearing to the Virgin Mary to the Last Supper. Jenni said when the Bernese Protestants


gained control of the castle in 1536, the Catholic chapel’s artwork was painted over, presumably not to be seen again. Remarkably,


the stunning motifs were saved for future generations by restoration eff orts in 1914 that successfully scratched much of the white paint off the chapel walls, exposing large portions of the original artwork from 1314 underneath. As visitors depart the Château de Chil-


lon, they may appreciate its deep history and reminisce about its splendor. But it will take a lifetime to fathom the secrets a castle can keep in a thousand years. A fi ercely de- fended fortress that never saw battle, wit- ness to Protestant martrydom and vandal- ism, and birthplace of genius and absurdity — Chillon is a serene, striking beauty that boils with wisdom and terror just below the surface. Perhaps Sierra said it best when she


admitted, “It’s scary, but still a nice place to live.”


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