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History on the banks of Lake Geneva


There’s nothing like traveling in Europe to shake up your perspective on history.

In the United States, we get excited about things that are 200 years old; in the West, where some states have yet to celebrate their centennials, even newer items and places get the historic treatment. But visit Europe, where cities and buildings have stood for over a thousand years, and you begin to see the past along a different timeline.

A classic example is Switzerland’s Chateau de Chillon, a castle built by French dukes in the 800s. Sitting atop a bluff on the banks of beautiful Lake Geneva, this castle was lived in and expanded by nobility for over 1,000 years – the last residents moved out in the 1800s.

The castle was made famous by the English poet Lord Byron, who wrote about it in his popular work “The Prisoner of Chillon.”  During our tour of the castle, we visited the dungeon, where as many as 250 prisoners were held at one time, and saw where Byron carved his initials into a stone pillar.

The tour of the large castle afforded us interesting glimpses into the lives of people who lived there.  We saw the artwork and furniture that was created for them centuries ago, and much of it is still beautiful today. A full-time staff of curators and maintenance personal works to make sure the castle is preserved in its original state.

Along the way, our guide also pointed out how the inhabitants dealt with more mundane affairs, such as cooking and bathing.

“We often think that in the middle ages, people were very dirty,” she said. “They were not – they were very clean. They washed their hands and faces often, and took baths just about every day.”

Nobles, she explained, had baths in their homes, while commoners used public bathhouses. It was only after the bathhouses became frequent spots for illicit rendezvous that that Catholic church ordered them closed, and spread the rumor that contact with water was dangerous.

When  you do a little bit of digging, history is always more interesting than you expect.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.