Château de Prangins (Vaud). Photo, foto: TES.

Prangins Castle

The Prangins Castle, a national museum since 1998, is the most significant 18th-century Swiss building open to the public.

Beautifully situated on Lake Geneva, surrounded by a (English) garden laid out from the eighteenth century onwards, which has been adapted to new insights until the twentieth century and overlooking the Mont Blanc, the castle was built around 1730 by the Swiss banker Louis Guiguer (1675-1747) with headquarters of his bank Tourton & Guiguer in Paris.

Already before and in Roman times this strategic spot on a hill was already inhabited and in the Middle Ages there was a castle, which went up in flames when Bern conquered Vaud in 1536.

Guiguer acquired not only the castle but also the title of baron of the Baronnie Prangins. The brand new baron had the castle (re)built from 1730 onwards according to the French model “entre cour et jardin” in the U-shape, as was fashionable in Vaud (and Paris) (among others still visible in the castles of Hauteville, Vincy, Vullierens and Crans).

This family inhabited the castle for almost a century. In 1814 it was sold to Joseph Bonaparte (1755-1830), the expelled king of Naples, Spain and its colonies, who prepared for the flight of his brother Napoleon (1769-1821) from Elba at this castle, together with other conspirators, the reason why Austria requested his arrest in March 1815. However, he had already fled, first to Rochefort, then to America.

After that, the castle changed owners several times. It was a boarding school for boys from 1873-1920. Then it came into the hands of the American Josephine Dexter and her daughter Katherine McCormick (1875-1967), famous suffragettes and women’s rights activists.

Kathrine donated the castle in 1962 to the American government, which initially wanted to establish its embassy at the United Nations in Geneva here. In 1975 the Swiss Confederation became the owner, and the castle became the national museum for the French part of the country.

The opening took place on 18 June 1998. The castle itself is already a monument and a history in itself, with a part of the authentic interior and especially a diary of one of the barons as a guideline of life in the eighteenth century and the contemporary history. (Source: H. Bieri Thomson, Le château de Prangins, Bern 2015).