We reached the bottom of the staircase and stepped into a gloomy vault. Seven pillars held up the ceiling, barely lit by the lost rays of light that from time to time bounced into the dungeon. How dreadful it must have been for François Bonivard to sit here for six years, chained to one pillar. And how dreadful it is that once again the cause was that of faith; or supporting the Protestant reformation.
Lord Byron recognized the scent of drama, too, and it grew on him during the rainy, unforgettable “Year Without a Summer” of 1816. Oh, the most fantastic tales he, Polidori, and Mary and Percy Shelley conjured! Frankeinstein, Vampyre – and a curious, gloomy poem about a forgotten soul withering in the dungeon of chateau Chillon.
Perhaps Byron sat in the vault for hours. Perhaps he imagined what it must have been like to be chained to a pillar, believing oneself to be trapped below the water level. Perhaps he found nobility in that limbo between no-life and nothingness. As I thought of the selection of chilling stories chateau Chillon has collected during the centuries, I could not help but wonder why he chose to befriend the thoughts of a libertine prisoner who ended up free, instead of growing a liking to the sad fate of the many women tortured and then burned as witches in the courtyard?
A double dungeon wall and waveHave made—and like a living graveBelow the surface of the lakeThe dark vault lies wherein we lay:We heard it ripple night and day;Sounding o’er our heads it knock’d;And I have felt the winter’s sprayWash through the bars when winds were highAnd wanton in the happy sky;And then the very rock hath rock’d,And I have felt it shake, unshock’d,Because I could have smiled to seeThe death that would have set me free.(Lord Byron)