Château de Nyon

Nyon was my first Swiss (Vaudois? Savoyard?) castle that I experienced, and as such it was a perfect entry to the local scenery. A wonderfully compact construct in a Roman-era settlement which still towers above the local landscape, I was especially lucky as I could also experience the sense of Nyon disappearing into the landscape when I took the watertaxi across Lake Geneva.

The first difference between this and what is an archetypal English castle is the enclosed feel to it. So rare in England (though more common in the drearier Scotland), this is indicative of an entirely different logic in constructing one’s home. Though, it will be said, Nyon much as the majority of other keeps by Lake Geneva, has been burned to the ground and rebuilt extensively in the tumultuous history that was accorded to this border region, so this construction is also indicative of the changing wishes of the aristocracy, and older places (like Batiaz in Martigny) are more similar of the older English localities.

Nyon’s history, as mentioned above, is repeated elsewhere in these lands. The county it is located in now, Vaud, was given political coherency by the Savoyard rulers in the 13th century, and it is since then that we can talk of Vaud as an entity. 1293 was an important year when a Savoyard invasion burned many of the local keeps, and Nyon was one of the settlements to suffer in this time. The next common event in the region was the Bernese invasion in the 16th century which also brought the Reformation and oppression of the local French-speaking population. However, it is not uncommon to see local castles and houses change possession to a Bernese financier or nobleman from their former owners. The following five centuries can be summarised by the Napoleonic period being the most disruptive, but there were also interesting times during the mid-19th century when Switzerland as we know it today was created.

I should add, before going on to the rest, that Nyon has plenty of Roman ruins as well from what it looks like. I noticed an amphitheatre in my trip around it, but a person more interested in that period would do well to investigate also some standing columns by the lake that I missed out on.

However, back to Nyon:

Another hilltop sentinel

Is it not imposing? This white-faced structure is the work of the aforementioned Bernese invaders who, between 1574 and 1583, invested heavily in upgrading and rebuilding Nyon though some parts of it, like the two-towered addition facing the lake and the inner courtyard date to the mid-14th century and the Savoyard counts.

As mentioned, this was a beautiful first look into what scenes Swiss history can offer to the interested and I would recommend people to visit this without hesitation. Some parts of this were very reminiscent of the Germanesque constructions with roofed walls (primarily to protect against the weather, I think, though other advantages would also have presented the defender — yet, for all this, I can’t think of a single place in Britain where indication is given of roofed walls) and a generally compact, enclosed space, which would have been heavily defensible.

The lakeside touch just adds to this location, and while the Leman can be very troubled in some seasons and often foggy in others, plenty of beautiful days are sure to present themselves and with them also the opening of a revealing look at the across-lake mountains, and with that imaginary scene I will leave the reader to dream for a bit of time.

About the author