Tourbillon, 13th century

Summer holiday resort of the Prince-Bishop

Mid-March - April
October - Mid-November
Monday - Sunday
11.00 - 17.00
May - September
Monday - Sunday
10.00 - 18.00
Mid-Novembrer - Mid-March
closed

free entrance

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The construction of Tourbillon Castle dates back to the very start of the 14th Century. However, the hill on which it is located had been used since prehistoric times as a defensive vantage point in battles. Made from earth and wood, the primitive defences erected there were temporary structures, which have long since vanished without trace.

Due to the site's strategic importance, at the end of the 13th century (around 1297), the Bishop of Sion, Boniface de Challant, decided to build a castle there. Construction was carried out at an opportune time, in parallel to the strengthening of the defences of the city of Sion and the Valère hill.  

From the time of its construction, the castle occupied the area we can still see today. Over the years, the only changes made were the upgrading of structures and changes in the internal layout.

From a defensive point of view, it took advantage of natural defences and its design followed the topography of the land.

It was an innovative construction, featuring, a few decades before these became commonplace across Europe, a comfortable main building and a large banquet hall.

Inside the walls, we can see the ruins of several buildings.

On the left as you walk in, were the barracks for the garrison. In the centre, the main building was divided into two parts. On the left was a large room that was used as a banquet hall, or "aula". On the right, in the tower, were the private stately living quarters. The large window we can see shows the location of the Bishop's apartments. The remains of a large fireplace have also been found. This tower is not precisely the traditional kind of keep found in the Middle Ages. It was not highly fortified and comfort took priority over military considerations.

The tank that collected the rainwater running off the roofs was situated behind this building. It provided a certain amount of autonomy in the event of a siege. On the right, the chapel, the masterpiece of the castle, was built at the same time as the wall supporting it. The corner turret was probably used as a church tower. It is comprised of two bays: the first was reserved for the bishop's court and the second, topped by a ribbed vault, housed the consecrated altar.

Tourbillon did not remain the main residence of the bishops of Sion for very long. Less than a century after its completion, it was abandoned in favour of the Majorie, bought by the bishop Guichard Tavel in 1373. However, it still played an important military role for many more centuries. Several times during the XIVth century and up until the start of the XVth century, the castle was occupied by inhabitants of Sion who, supported by local lords, were attempting to liberate themselves from the bishop and contest his temporal powers. Tourbillon found itself at the centre of these power struggles and endured them very harshly. It was attacked a number of times and was finally destroyed by fire and demolished at the start of the XVth century.

It was not until the time of William VI of Raron, who was bishop from 1437 to 1451 and an enlightened patron, that the castle was fully rebuilt. The initial structures were retained but everything was redeveloped in the tastes of the time in order to make it a comfortable residence where the bishop lived only during the summer. It stayed this way until the XVIIIth century and did not sustain any more damage, despite the many sieges and internecine struggles that continued in Valais.

On 24 May 1788, a fire ravaged the town of Sion. Fanned by a strong wind, the fire spread to Tourbillon and completely destroyed it. At first the bishop planned to rebuild it but, due to the troubled political situation, this work was never carried out. Thanks to the emergence of an interest in historical heritage during the XIXth century, various conservation campaigns were undertaken in order to prevent the stonework from deteriorating. Tourbillon then became a favourite walk. It was classified as a historic monument in 1907 and now the Tourbillon Castle Foundation actively restores and maintains the site.

 

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