Saturday, December 12, 2009

Spiez, Schlosskirche, Castle Church, Lake Thun, Switzerland

The gem of this castle complex is the old castle church, the Schlosskirche.  Irish missionaries arrived here about 500 AD - a Carolingian church, think Charlemagne era, was built in 762 AD.  This church probably dates from 900-1000 AD. S, but the square tower could be from the original church, ee ://

Early churches also served as refuges. Many had no windows, or very narrow ones at a higher height, not easy eye level, suitable for archers.

Frescoes inside Schloss Kirche, or the Castle Church, are faded - Christ Enthroned - but lighting is provided.  Just put on the spotlights for yourself.  Turn the lights out when you leave.

Narrow doors also were a defensive measure in many early castles and churches.  Persons in armor had a difficult time passing through, and had to go single file.  Meanwhile, on the other side, waited the ....
See the dim insides, with no windows at eye level.  All the light just tumbles in at the altar.

Dignitaries had to be accommodated. 

Here, the Bishop's Chair, we believe. The enclosed foot and leg space would keep out drafts. No heating. Look at old pews as well - often high backed, with partitions and doors to the aisle.

But most of the oldest churches did not provide pews - just straw on the floor of a large milling-around area, where people stood, not sat. Later there may be individual chairs to move about.

Choir stalls, however, may have seating, including fold-up seats with little shelves you could arrange your behind upon, and look as though you were standing but you were really just butt-balancing.  People in the choir and doing the services were not free to leave at any time.  They needed support.

Crypt:  Always ask for one. The crypt here was locked.  Those tend to look alike, so we did not mind. Go down the old stairs, see the niches, the big coffin-holders, the sculptures on top of those within. Was this one different? We'll never know. In Germany, many crypts served as good bomb shelters.

This I hesitate to identify as part of the view from the Schlosskirche, because I am not sure. Is this later Murten, another town to the far west?  Need to check.  The Schlosskirche is on Lake Thun, with a lovely view of the little harbor there.  Spiez or Murten? We think this is Lake Thun, despite the lower mountains to the other side. But the roof tiles look Murten. Will get back to you.

Spiez Castle, Lake Thun, Switzerland

Spiez, Castle at the Town on Lake Thun

The castle complex here at Spiez is located for maximum views of the lake, mountains and countryside. The castle itself, here (see the church at another post) shows the transition from defense to residence, old tower, later stately mansion. Rooms originate in the 1200's through the 1700's, but the castle itself dates from the 10th-11th Centuries. Fortified colonies here date to 1000 BC.

The name:  More Celtic connections - the name of the town came from the Gaelic word for corn, says this site. See :// *

* Corn? We thought that crop was North or South American?

Spijates and Spiez.  The word is "spijates". Have to look that up.  Just did.  Can't believe all you read. Spijates here is defined as "thorn" and not corn at all.  And it is indeed Celtic, not Gaelic. See  Isn't Gaelic later than Celtic?  Yes. Celts were all over Europe before being shoved into the British Isles, and finally the remotes of Ireland and Scotland. See their history at ://

For looks at the relationship of Gaels and Celts, see ://  There are six languages in the Celtic group. Gaelic is English for a cluster of three of them:  the Irish, the Manx, and the Scots.

The tower is Romanesque with 13th Century Graffiti, we now learn, but did not see.  Is that it above the window, preserved? This site calls it medieval castle with baroque style, but that can't be right.  Centuries separate medieval from baroque. Fine to say originated as medieval, later redecorated in baroque.  See //

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Castle Thun at War; Metalwork. Castle Chillon. Armor for Women and Men, Castle Defenses

Part III. Women in War 

Men in War
Metalwork, War, Culture

Without the forge, the smith, there could have been no weapons or defenses as effective as were developed in medieval-renaissance times.  Look at the detail work on the mechanisms, the suits of armor for both women and men here at the Chillon Castle.  The woman's is (obviously) third from right. Room for the busty-chesty (not quite Rubenesque, who would have come later) and with an efficient, tidy, defined waist. 

How was the metalwork done. Forges used to be commonplace. See a forge, for farm implements - like scythes - at :// For a history of medieval technology, see ://  It sounds like a short step from the sharp heavy blade of the scythe to the fine steel of the sword, but the differences in tempering, honing, took centuries. Locks, bolts, hinges, not just the swords and armor, all needed for survival. Anything could be a weapon. See ://

The sword - mastery of it began in childhood, with gradual strength building so that the young adult and adult eventually had the shoulder, back, core and arm, hand and wrist strength to wield the 4-foot blade, length estimated here.
Castle stairs as a defense.  The coiled stairs to the tall towers wound up to the right, so that the attacker coming up the stairs (assuming a right-handed assailant) could not swing his sword from his strong side.  The defender, however, looking down at the attacker, had the room and advantage of a full right-arm swing at him.  Ropes were used to thread through as railings, so that if attacked, the rope could be severed and not interfere with the sword's action. A metal railing would obstruct.

Armor.  Armor that covered the entire body was designed for equestrian use. Thus, it is logical that a woman could play that part as needed, and did. Some armor has a female appearance.  It takes time to recognize it, however, because we are not taught that role in history classes. It takes seeing. Then do the research and find that it was so.

Other armor has no such suggestion, just accommodations for different body types.  These do not look at all female.

Now look back at the woman's armor, in its position next to the man's at Thun Castle Museum.  The two are intentionally juxtaposed to show the difference. See Women and Knighthood in the Middle Ages at

Women in war.  Not unusual. Done as needed, and done as the skills and interest warranted.  Then quietly slipped out of the history books as her cultural role became as constricted as the castle coiling staircases, deny the one trying to get up.

Medieval Female Knights.

There were female orders of knights.  See Women Knights at ://   Read about the Order of the Hatchet in Catalonia (Spain) 1149 AD - and the women who defended Tortona against the Moors.  A dame so admitted to the order received benefits, tax exemptions, "and took precedence over men in public assemblies." They were called cavalleros or knights - the author suggests using cavalleras,

Read on there about the Order of the Glorious Saint Mary in 1223, where women of Bologna were granted the rank of militessa. Pope Sixtus dissolved this group in 1558.

On and on.  Netherlands, England, military orders, the female grand-cross. Modern military orders include the French Legion of Honor where the women are called "chevaliers".  Take a day with the heraldica site.  Order thee some armor, lass.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Castle Thun, Schloss Thun, Switzerland

Thun Castle was built in about 1195. Celtic tribes had lived here until their defeat in 58 BC, that defeat beginning in France with Roman victories, and then extending to Switzerland. The Celtic lands were vast, and culture was longstanding, but they left no written records. Their word for fortress, something like "dun", or "dunum" at this site, became Thun. See ://

The Romans were pushed out in about 400 AD, Irish priests came and converted folk in the 500's AD and then two groups battled it out:  the Latin-speaking Christian-Burgundians; and the German-speaking Allemani. Enter the French, after a time of this and that with the Charlemagne group, and more centuries of jockeying. See the steffi site above.

Locks, door to prison in tower, Castle Thun, Switzerland

The dynasties and fighting would take pencil and paper and a graphic outline and time line to absorb. Ultimately, Bern and the Germans assumed a greater role in governing the area.

Thun, Manacles, prison in tower, Schloss Thun, Castle Thun, Switzerland

In 1322, during an inheritance dispute, one royal brother, Eberhard, wounded his competing royal brother, Hartmann, and had him hurled from the parapet. See ://

View down, Schloss Thun, Castle Thun, Switzerland. Brudermord from here?

Brudermord. The Brother Murder.

Enjoy this site for more photos, see ://

Architecture for the Elements and Uses: Heavy-Duty Chalets, Balconies, Recesses

The weight and blow of the snow can be difficult to imagine in the fall or summer months in Switzerland.  But the architecture is a reminder of the practical need to deflect the elements, hold up the tons, keep windows clear.  The size of the front overhang tells the story. See the supports needed to hold and protect that overhang from yet more weight. Read about the development of the architecture at ://

The balconies are useful for drying clothes, and even storing fruits and vegetables, says the Origins and Architecture site.  In the mountains, roofs can be timber planking combined with thatch and/or slates of limestone, or spruce tiles.

Seasoning over generations.

Long-seasoned (aged) wood, old spruce, with the tannin that darkens with age, would be held back and used for roofs only when the seasoning had made them strong enough. In some cases, wood would be stored for the roof use, at the lowest level where the firewood was, the big logs facing out, for generations before being put in place.

Here are some interiors of classic chalets. See ://  There, see the wood stacked at the lowest level for fireplace use (accessible from inside), and the logs being seasoned, facing out.  The wood-stacking added a layer for insulation as well. Mosses and lichens stop up the drafts inside.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Einigen, Kirche, Church and Legend; Lake Thun

There are twelve churches on Lake Thun, and this, St. Michael's,  is apparently the "mother" church, see // It was built in 1223, see
Read the legend of the Duke Strattlingen, his patron, the Archangel Michael, and the miraculous return of the Duke to his wife just before she was to be remarried (he had given permission years before, if he did not return to claim her), and the building of this church in thanksgiving.

See that and more legends at Legends of Switzerland, at google books at page 116 give or take; at ://

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Oberhofen Castle, Lake Thun, Switzerland

Drive around Lake Thun, going the high road, not the easy coastal lake road, and find Oberhofen - dating from the 13th Century, passed into the hands of the Austrian Habsburgs, then the Bernese from the north (also German-speaking), other comings and goings and, ultimately a museum, and now an independent foundation again. See ://; remembering that schloss means castle.

There are parks and gardens along the lake, Lake Thun. The castle is a branch of the Bernese Historical Museum. See also :// Oberhofen am Thunersee. We even tried to find more of its history using the non-English, and find little. Still looking. Who were the original people?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Minaret ban, Switzerland. Height; and Vista Preservation; not Xenophobia

Articles and comment about the Swiss ban on minarets.  These can be really high.  Here is one, a mosque with its minaret on Gibraltar, the minaret at least double the height of the mosque below.

The articles against the Swiss ban on more minarets focus so far, mostly, on outrage: that Switzerland would restrict how people worship; that it is intolerant and closed.  See overview at the Harvard Law Review, at ://  Does the Swiss ban really signify a high degree of fear and uncertainty. No.  It is pragmatic.
  • Pragmatism.  
Minarets are no more necessary to religious practice than steeples.

Focus instead on the pragmatic impact of minarets on the practice of the religion.  Is it necessary.  No.  No more than our steeples are. What role does the minaret really play in the practice of the religion: it is no more symbolic than a steeple is. And the practice can go on without it. See role of the minaret at Swiss Minaret Ban, Narrow Tourist Vista Purpose.

Minarets do impact negatively on the tourist industry on which Switzerland substantially relies. How about the pragmatic impact of the proliferation of minarets on an industry on which Switzerland relies:  the tourism industry, the photographic opportunities, the lure of pretend.

Interlaken, for example, is more Eastern-Indian-Other foreign than Swiss, it appears in walking about, and the experience is just that: global, great food, international, but not "Swiss" if that is important to you.

This idea of preserving the history, the tourism (that brings in money) also applies to Austria, and Northern Italy, the other angles of this most recent regional trip. Our photos and desire to return depend on fantasy. Is that worth preserving? Maybe not.

What if there had been minarets or other religious symbols dotting the landscape above roof level at Castle Bruck, Lienz, Austria;

or Turin, Italy, a city with a vast eastern and middle eastern population - just follow the trolley lines to the center, and go through vast markets.
  • Fostering some "Pretend" in our lives
People make all kinds of things up to get by. Religion and romance and regret (the real Three R's) are full of it.

The "Pretend" involved here, in this minaret issue, is that you live or lived in this castle, yodeled on that hillside, were watching Heidi, or learning of William tell, or there when the Romans were, at Avenches or other places with Romans in Switzerland, or you were in a medieval canton, a renaissance or baroque church as it was being constructed.  I am a princess, yes, I watched from this window as my knight rode ever nearer.  Nuts, yes, but fun. Disney is made of fantasy.

I may well have had my own armor, yes, I did.  Take that, you stereotypers.

  • Promoting photography, scenic vistas.  Would we have taken this picture or that, if there had been a minaret there.  
 Probably not. Minarets are counter-old history. They are modern amalgamation symbols in modern countries with diverse populations.  Switzerland is modern and a mix, but its broad ethnic diversity should not hinder its tourism industry that profits on the old.

So: as tourists, we would have tried to move to another angle if a minaret had appeared in the lens, to avoid the intrusion of another culture's modern symbol when we were indulging our fantasies, much as we also avoid power lines and tour buses and Big Macs.
  • Xenophobia?
Fear of the new, different, strange to oneself? See ://

Not necessarily.  We see banning minarets as a desire for the experience we paid for:  the imagination, the fantasy, the beauty of the old scenes, untouched by the modern. Learning history. Is that worth anything? Maybe not. Maybe the new economic order (why don't steeples get allowed in the east?) makes minaret construction necessary. Are they needed to worship? No.
  • The minaret, to the West, means Our Failure, Mistake, Blunder with Repercussions Centuries Later
Think of it.  What do minarets really mean to our Western culture?  Failure. Ours. Failure. Our failure.  The Crusades were the biggest religious, theological, political, and humanitarian mistake of that era.

We are still living the Crusades' repercussions. Minarets as symbol.
  • Resolution.  
 So, why not allow new minarets at a height and in a location that will not disturb the photo-scenery industry - that is pragmatic - and no more until there is an exchange: western people's steeples can shaft as high in eastern and middle-eastern lands as they would have minarets shaft in the west.

Fair and balanced. Use zoning, height limits, placement, and a tourist's perspective if you want that. Ban entirely, okay since a feature of architecture is only that.

History-fantasy. That is what tourism thrives on. Why not. The minaret, the steeple, don't overblow what either means.

Interlaken: The Golden Pass RR, Changing Demographics.


Interlaken is a venerable, old Grand Tour Town between Alpine lakes, with famous peaks - the Junfgrau, the Eiger and the Monch nearby.  Some like railroads to get there - The Golden Pass Line, the narrow-gauge railway takes the scenic route from Montreux through Gstaad to Interlaken, see ://; and :// You can also take a scenic railway Jungfraujoch Top of Europe.  We were running out of time, and will do that next time.  Be careful of the high altitudes if you have heart and blood pressure problems. Go to the NYT Archives, Sunday January 19, 2003 at Travel section p. 11 for a fine overview and photos. The Aletsch Glacier is there.

You will probably not stay in Interlaken, however.  It has changed.
1. Getting there: The Way to Interlaken. In the old days, passage was treacherous: carriages, horseback, mules and donkeys. Here are some donkeys.
We like the drive. There were more switchbacks, indecipherable signs to the smallest possible destinations rather than a big town on a map that would have been more helpful, but finally we found Gstaad and the ski resort, farms, cliffs, valleys, and - exhausted - Interlaken.

2. The beauty. 

Here is the gorgeous view to Lake of Thun, from above Interlaken, the high cliffside route toward Thun, the town.

Switzerland is in the news lately with its recent ban on construction of minarets.

3. Now:  Fast forward to Current events, balance of interests. Minarets.

What is the place, in such a place as Interlaken, of tradition and whether tradition should be maintained at the expense of other people's desired architecture for their places of worship.  Would minarets here add to, or not, the breathtaking sight.

3,1.  Pro: a blanket ban on minarets preserves traditional views that lure tourists, foster a local and national economy, establish identity for its people sharing its history. 

3.2.  Con:  a ban on one group's desired architecture may be too broad.  Why not go a lesser route, to impose height restrictions.  Minarets are not necessary to the worship, but, like steeples, evolved and serve secular as well as religious-symbolism purposes.

3.3.  Require reciprocity.  As soon as the homelands of the newer people will foster steeples and churches for Western worship styles (United Arab Republic, for example, permits none) in their countries, then figure out a reciprocal fostering for Eastern worship styles in Western countries.
.Lake Thun, Interlaken, Switzerland

4. How to weigh the issues.

These height/zoning restrictions do not denigrate the Eastern religion, but instead balance the interests of vacationers from other cultures who may want, or do want, to settle, set up their own communities; against the nation's established tourism and the views that produce it.

Explore the issue. See it at :// The Bernese Oberland. Aljazeera is wrong to frame the issue as mere misogyny.  See :// 200912281637353840.html/  It is more like Connecticut restricting home construction on mountain ridgelines - have your home, but preserve the view for the rest and, in Switzerland, a country dependent on photography and tourists, for its economic health.  Or allow steeples unrestricted in other countries.  Would that be fair?

5. Back to Interlaken itself.

Even Rick Steves says not to come here. Or of you do, you will probably stop briefly then move on, as we did.  It is a haven for backpackers, and a multitude of ethnic groups those styles of shops etc. have changed the town completely.  That need not be a bad thing financially because it looks like the town is prospering, with well-heeled visitors.  But it changes what the town means. 
  • The name of this town, Interlaken, means between two lakes, here the Lake of Thun and the Lake Brienz, in lovely Alpine Switzerland.  The name used to mean large Victorian hotels, the Grand Tour of the Uppers,  a town where carriageways and private passages by horse and mule (luxury along the way, of course) and trains converged;  with the ladies in large hats with huge wooden trunks (the domed steamer trunks were preferred and indicated status, because they had to be at the top of the stack, in the baggage rooms, deep in the steamers coming over the oceans, and were retrieved first; the flat-topped steamer trunks were for others, or for less important accoutrements/ The trunks opened to reveal a side for hanging things, and the other, had drawers for the bloomers).
  • We were here in the 1960's - a different family era.  It is little like that now, perhaps for the good, but the issue here is an industry.  Do a search on Maps - there are no easy roads over to Interlaken - either you take the autobahns going like huge pentagrams from urban center to urban center, Lausanne to Bern and down: or you go over the mountains and through the woods, and after a while, with all the beauty, it gets to be a slog.
6.  For us, see Interlaken, but do not expect it to be "Switzerland."  

We did the heavy narrow road sneak past the blind turns up and over from Vevey, Montreux, Villeneuve - across, not up easy and down. Dan and I enjoyed a leisurely lunch at the big hotel, still there, tablecloths, people discreetly bowing hither and yon, old days. Go outside, and that atmosphere is no more.

Now, Interlaken is a skeleton.

It has the bones.  It offers excellent food, fast service where you may want that, but only the shape is there:  Lake Brienz on one side, this little isthmus that is Interlaken, and Lake Thun on the other. The old hotels are still there, but the street levels that used to house fine watches and couture is immigration central, are now fast food, trinkets. Vacation central for all parts of the world. 

Enjoy it as the east-west global vacationer magnet that it is.  For the old Swiss Switzerland of the Grand Tour, head elsewhere.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Black and White at Chillon Castle: The Bath, Vincent Freischling, and Bernese Governors

 The Frustration of Heraldry

Where can you find a castle better than Chillon, one so manageable in size, and so varied in what has been preserved.  We wonder about the "preservation" of the obvious (to us) modern Santa Claus, instead of even a traditional Saint Nicholas, in the heraldry, but move on to the prevalence of blacks. And learn little.

Regardless, get comfortable, be sure the linen is laid in the tub to prevent splinters, have a monk (isn't that a tonsure?) and a lady nearby; emerge from the soak, and consider:

Heraldry and portraiture with numerous black faces or black and white themes at Chillon, some blurry because I messed up:

Chillon Castle, black figures, unknown reference

Motto: "Learning to observe is learning to respect." Whom from, pray tell?

Who is this Vincent Freischling. There is a Freischling in Austria, but that is east of Linz. We see no Vincent at the Freischling history site, at ://

 What is the black ram?  Nothing like it at this coats of arms site: ://  Black in heraldry is "sable," see :// but still no clue.

There is Saint Vincent, and the Cathedral in Bern is St. Vincent's, see :// We see no connection with his biography at ://  Who is that?

Why the half dog white and half dog black. Just whim of Bernese governors?  See ://