Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Fort Champillon

It's August and it's hot! I don't know if you are aware but, it can get really hot here in Switzerland and the months of July and August can mean temperatures in the 90's everyday. That's why these months are perfect for visiting Swiss military fortifications. As I've mentioned before, during World War II the Swiss were neutral but were realistic in their thinking that neighboring Nazi Germany or Italy could easily decide to invade. Hundreds of fortified underground bunkers and fortresses built into the mountainsides were built to make such an invasion costly to the invaders. In the mid-1990's the Swiss government started decommissioning and abandoning many of the fortifications. A few are now open to the public. Artillery fortress Fort Champillon was snapped up by Martial Baudin, who turned it into a pyrotechnics (fireworks) museum and a secure, temperature controlled-by- nature setting to store his company's unusual products--fireworks.  
This is Aigle Castle, situated among vineyards and a stone's thrown away from the town of Aigle, population 10,000. The Rhone River runs through this narrow valley.
The castle dates from the 1200's and in 1804 was acquired by the town. Until 1976 it was used as a jail and now houses a vine and wine museum.
My climb to reach Fort Champillon starts outside of Aigle and it's going to be a real belly buster as I need to cycle up near the peak you see in the middle of this photo.
Somebody's nice home in the midst of vineyards.
The road up the mountain is steep and filled with switchbacks. Except for this sign in the parking lot, there's no signage at all.
Following a narrow road around the mountain I come upon the visitor center and a very large pile of discarded concrete boxes. What the heck were these used for?
Passing the visitors center I can see the fortress opening.
In the visitor center I find Veronica manning the desk. Matter of fact, Veronica and I are the only ones here. I ask if she speaks English and am delighted to find out she does as she's American. This is Veronica standing outside the fortress/museum entrance before we set off on our tour. To my horror, Veronica announces photography isn't allowed inside. "Why", I ask. It seems owner Baudin doesn't want photos ending up on the Internet. Veronica and I don jackets. As expected, it is nice and cool inside (around mid-50's). The tour takes an hour and we walk about a half-mile into the mountain. As usual I'm utterly amazed at the ability of the Swiss engineers to carve out these fortresses. Begun in 1942 and finished in nine months, almost 200 soldiers were stationed inside. Display cases on the history of fireworks (the Chinese invented them) are scattered in several large rooms. The huge gun cannon (installed in 1942) is still in position and was/is capable of lobbing artillery shells up to a dozen miles away. The only places off-limit during the tour are the two large rooms formerly housing the munitions--now they house fireworks. Remember my wondering what all those discarded concrete boxes were doing outside next to the visitor center?  Many years ago there was a massive explosion inside a similar fortress with many dead. They think some of munitions leaked causing the explosions. Measures were taken to make sure it didn't happen again. One was to stack munitions inside the concrete shells--limiting possible leakage. The other important measure was to install massive blast doors leading to the rooms where the soldiers slept.
I thought the visitor center was special-built for the museum but, it has actually been here for many, many years. My thanks to Veronica for the excellent visit!
Leaving the museum my bike and I continue up the mountain.
Corbeyrier isn't much but this village of about 150 inhabitants has great views and plenty of quiet.
I find a festival going on in Corbeyrier's village center and snap a few photos of the locals.
That's cheese heating up and it's used for cheese fondue.--melted cheese over potatoes.
Sausage, burgers and steaks grilling.
Music provided by accordion player.

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