15 November 2020

Secret Swiss Fortification Opens to the Public

Fort de Chillon, opposite 12th-century Château de Chillon, was part of WWII defences

FROM THE END of November 2020 the Swiss will open the defences carved into the rock opposite the 12th-century Château de Chillon during the Second World War. The tunnels and caverns were part of the “national redoubt,” a series of fortifications begun in the 1880s to defend Switzerland by denying an invader access to the country by controlling its mountain passes. The Fort de Chillon works were constructed in 1941-2, when the country was surrounded by Axis powers, as the system’s western gateway. It had a garrison of more than 100 soldiers.

The site, decommissioned in 1995 and kept secret until 2001, promises to let visitors to its maze of galleries “discover life in the fort, the strategy that prevails there” through augmented and virtual reality.

What the interactive displays choose to highlight or ignore could be interesting. Nazi Germany had expected to include Switzerland in its “New Order” and, as Switzerland’s 2002 Bergier Report, which looked into the country’s ostensibly neutral stance during the war, noted, two competing strains of thought were at work in Switzerland during the war. “One evokes a Switzerland and its highly developed industry and its close association with the Axis powers. The other highlights the will of a people to defend itself and the political, social and cultural independence of a small neutral state.”

The Château de Chillon, about three kilometres southeast of Montreux on the north shore of Lake Geneva, is among the best-preserved medieval castles in Europe and so one of the continent’s most-visited. There has been a stronghold on the site since at least the 12th century; like the modern Fort de Chillon, its purpose was to guard the mountain passes.

The British poets Byron and Shelley visited the castle in 1816. Byron wrote a poem, Prisoner of Chillon, a fictitious account of the actual 1530-1536 imprisonment of scholar François Bonivard. That brought the castle to the attention of wealthy 19th-century tourists just starting to explore the Alps.



For more information on Fort de Chillon visit its website at www.fortdechillon.ch.

For more information on the Château de Chillon visit its website at www.chillon.ch.