Archaeological objects

The visitor itinerary is punctuated with display cabinets exhibiting archaeological objects uncovered during the excavations carried out at the end of the 19th century. These objects illustrate everyday life in a medieval castle and act as media for various thematic developments. They range from crockery to reliquary, interspersed with coins, locks and even children’s toys.

From 1896 onwards, major archaeological research was carried out at Chillon led by Albert Naef (1862-1936), castle architect and future archaeologist for the Canton of Vaud. All the walls, floors and floorboards in the castle were systematically excavated, along with the courtyards and even the moat, which was drained for the occasion in 1903.

Hundreds of objects were found: lances, arrows, nails, earthenware dishes, pottery, bowls, knives, polychrome decorations, reliquary, glasses, wooden combs, coins, toys, leather shoes, decorative stove tiles, joint covers, swords, etc. These items, often just small fragments, would play a significant role in the castle collection. Naef paid them particular attention as they enabled him to rebuild the castle’s history, piece by piece.

In 1925, the findings were moved into the castle attics alongside several pieces of furniture. Only a tiny portion of the findings were exhibited, firstly in the Aula Nova, and secondly in the Domus Clericorum. An inventory in 1991 placed the collection at around 4,000 items.

Lionel Pernet, Révéler les invisibles : Collections du Musée cantonal d’archéologie et d’histoire de Lausanne. 1852-2015, Gollion: Infolio Editions, 2017.

Catherine Kulling, Catelles et poêles du Pays de Vaud du 14eau début du 18esiècle : château de Chillon et autres provenances, Lausanne: Swissprinters IRL, 2010.

Claire Huguenin, Patrimoine en stock : les collections de Chillon, Lausanne IRL, 2010.

Denis Bertholet, Olivier Feihl and Claire Huguenin, Autour de Chillon : archéologie et restauration au début du siècle, Ecublens: DIP SA, 1998.



Bone reliquary from the crypt

Primitive chapel, room 10

In 1897, excavations in the first courtyard uncovered the crypt of a primitive chapel that served the castle and its village (room 10). Research led by Albert Naef, the first chief archaelogist to the Canton of Vaud, found bone fragments from a reliquary in the alter. The receptacle itself contained a relic, a small piece of scapula, attributed to Saint Triphon, patron saint of the crypt.

The reliquary was hugely significant in the eyes of researchers. In an effort to reconstruct it, they tried to date the primitive chapel more precisely. It had been abandoned and backfilled in the 13th century when the entrance tower was built and a new place of worship consecrated in the third courtyard. They marked its installation on the paving at the beginning of the 20th century.

In 1914, three facsimiles were made from plaster casts of the receptacle, which had been used to test hypotheses for mounting. The plates they were made up of were fixed on a wooden structure, like the original fragments. The shape of the reliquary and its ornamental patterns first led researchers to date it to the Carolingian period. The chapel and crypt are therefore considered to date back to a period between the late 9th and early 10th century. However, in the latter half of the 20th century, this statement was reevaluated. There is now a tendency to attribute a slightly different shape to the reliquary and to revise its dating in line with typologies specific to the 11th or 12th centuries. This also knocked two centuries off the age estimate for the crypt itself. The reliquary on display to visitors is one of the 1914 facsimiles.

Bone reliquary from the crypt (facsimile)
Resin on wood core
Musée cantonale d’archéologie et d’histoire (Lausanne)

Medieval coins

Aula Nova, room 14

Archaeological excavations carried out by archaeologist Albert Naef at the end of the 19th century revealed hundreds of archaeological objects, including nearly 680 coins and related items. In 1909, a real treasure of the 13th-14th centuries was discovered in the magna turris or ‘the great tower’, i.e. the keep.

These testaments to the past are one of the material sources of the castle’s history;  they reveal the extent of money circulation in Chillon and more generally on the Via Francigena, the road network that linked France to Italy from the Roman times to the Middle Ages.

The coins discovered coincide with the time the House of Savoy was in the Pays de Vaud; the first mention of the castle dates to 1150 and the series begins with a penny from Humbert II of Savoy (count from 1094 to 1103). Albert Naef also discovered many coins minted in principalities or cities such as Asti, Paris, Lyon or Marseille. Their presence underlines the sheer extent of money circulation in Chillon, a real strategic lock straddling the cliffs and the lake.

Tolls, markets and fairs granted significant benefits to the House of Savoy. The founding of the village of Villeneuve – the new town of Chillon – by Count Thomas I in 1214 resulted from this strategy and the need to accommodate the local toll, which had become too big an operation to be managed from the castle. The city quickly became an obligatory passage for the rich Italian merchants who went to the famous Champagne fairs. In addition to the discovery made in the keep, Albert Naef uncovered sets of coins in several other parts of the castle. Most of the time, the coins matched their location, as was the case with the 507 round copper plates that came from the Domus Clericorum, i.e. the ‘house of the clerics’ which was in fact the administrative and accounting centre for Chillon Castle.

The nine Savoyard pieces minted between the end of the 11th and the end of the 15th centuries in workshops as far away as Turin, Susa, Chambéry, Annecy, Cornavin, Bourg and Nyon reveal the powerful geographical and political expansion of the House of Savoy in the Middle Ages.

These coins, generously lent by the Cantonal Museum of Archaeology & History of Lausanne, were on display at Chillon Castle from 14 September 2018 to 28 April 2019 as part of the temporary exhibition ‘Mouthwatering – Eating and drinking in the Middle Ages’.

Medieval coins
12th-15th centuries 
Musée Cantonal d’Archéologie & d’Histoire, Lausanne
PM72576, PM/2578, PM/2579, PM/2580, PM/2581, PM/2587, PM/2589

Fragments of medieval pitchers and cups

Castellan’s Dining Hall, room 13

During the excavations carried out at Chillon Castle at the beginning of the 20th century, Vaudois archaeologist Albert Naef discovered the fragments of many drinking containers. Most of them date from the medieval period.

The fragments found were made from different materials. Some of them were ceramic and were part of drinking vessels. Several typical features – such as their shape for instance – allow us to date their manufacture to the 13th century. In 1904, Albert Naef had a reconstruction of a pitcher made from several fragments. He also discovered hobnail beakers, named after the protruding dots positioned at regular intervals around the glass. This type of drinking glass was used in eastern France, southern Germany and Switzerland between the end of the 13th century and the beginning of the 14th century. They then identified the pitchers as drinking containers, indicating a change in the way people drank; the desire to highlight the liquid content reflected aesthetic concerns linked with enjoyment (contemplation before tasting). These elegant cups were themselves replaced in the 15th century by so-called ‘Strangenglas‘ glasses, which had a glass cord wound in a spiral around the base.

Pitcher (replica)
13th century
Musée cantonal d’archéologie et d’histoire, Lausanne

Pitcher fragment
13th century
Musée cantonal d’archéologie et d’histoire, Lausanne
PM/0064 ab, PM/0065 ab, PM/0066, PM/0076

Hobnail beakers 
13th-14th century
Musée cantonal d’archéologie et d’histoire, Lausanne
PM/1251 ab, PM/1284, PM/1287, PM/1371, PM/1377

Strangenglas‘ style beakers
14th-15th century
Musée cantonale d’archéologie et d’histoire, Lausanne
PM/1142, PM/1282

Online ticket office