Moving with the times at Chillon

Above the entrance to Chillon Castle you will find a huge clock. Have you noticed it before? It’s been blending in with the castle architecture for over five centuries – you could easily miss it, in amongst the tall walls and towers.

But all that’s about to change – as we dive into each tick and tock.

The Bernese clock at Chillon Castle

Big Bern

In 1536, the Bernese conquered Vaud, ousting the Savoys after over three centuries. They laid claim to their premises and repurposed them, turning their castles into seats of Bernese local government. For these pragmatic new arrivals, nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed…

Chillon Castle was no exception. Through the castle, these conquerors could assert their dominance over Vevey and Villeneuve and secure the axis connecting Chablais to Lausanne. Not far from here, in Villeneuve, they also held onto two galleys, which they inherited from the Savoys, to guarantee their supremacy over this end of Lake Geneva.

Soon after, in 1540, the Bernese had a clock   First, they painted the clock face. Then, three years later, the mechanism that powered the clock was transported here by boat and installed. The clock was completed in 1583, when a bell was added inside the top of the tower.

Bell of the Chillon Castle watchtower

Time is money

During the Renaissance, timekeeping was a job for the authorities. Clocks were relatively rare. So, a clock chime was just not just a clock chime, but an instrument of power for a modern State.

Building a clock at Chillon meant mastering time itself. It demonstrated the new regime’s prestige, wealth and modernity to nearby inhabitants. It also reminded them who’s boss. The Bernese were very good at this particular game and employed many different techniques…

They continued to maintain the clock. In the 18th century, they even added their canton’s crest to the painted clock face. Ding dong? More like bling bling.

Nowadays, the clock is silent. Its cogs no longer work – they’re too fragile and in need of restoration. The ancient 16th-century mechanism, on the other hand, is still here; as you explore the castle, you’ll spot the counterweights, not far from their original positions – an important vestige of Swiss Renaissance artistry.

Come and see a whole new side to our monument’s architecture. But don’t be late!

Venez plonger dans ce pan du passé de l’architecture de notre monument. Ne soyez pas en retard !

Item of the month: the clock


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