This was a fascinating tour. The castle has been used as a fortified castle since the 12th century, right up to WWII when it was still used to fight back the Germans. The Chateau de Joux was first established as early as 1034, although at that time it was just a wooden structure. The founding dynasty, the Sires of Joux, can be traced back to here as early as 1410. The chateau is in a very strategic location, the gateway into France through a small pass, coming from Italy, Switzerland and Germany. The Romans used did, as did the Germans – twice.
There’s an amazing winding staircase that goes from one of the top towers to the bottom of the moat, 35 meters deep and dug between 1879-90, and a well was dug starting in 1690 through the rock down to fresh water, going down 120 meters. That must’ve been fun to dig, mostly by hand, by prisoners, back in those days where the only tools were chisels and perhaps some gunpowder for explosives. A few things were most notable: It has been a military fortress since the 11th century, right up until the 2nd World War, where it held back the Germans for eight days before being overtaken. Today it just provides tours to the public and is no longer active as a fortress.
The chateau can only be seen with a tour guide, and because of its rich history, its the only way you want to do it. Tours are available in French and English, and there are also audio guides provided. The Chateau served as a prison numerous times during its history and three interesting prisoners in particular.
Celebrity Prisoner #1: Honoré Gabriel Riquieti, Count of Mirabeau, or most commonly remembered as “Mirabeau,” a leader of the early stages of the French revolution. A noble, before 1789 he was involved in numerous scandals that left his reputation in ruins. However during the early years (1789–91) of the French Revolution he rose to the top and became the voice of the people. Mirabeau’s violent disposition led him to quarrel with a country gentleman who had insulted his sister, and his exile was changed by lettre de cachet into imprisonment in the Château d’If in 1774, and in 1775 he was transferred to the castle of Joux, where he was first confined to a tower which you can visit today. When he died (of natural causes) he was a great national hero, even though support for his moderate position was slipping away. The later discovery that starting in 1790 he was in the pay of the king and the Austrian enemies of France caused his disgrace. He received a grand burial, and it was for him that The Panthéon in Paris was created as a burial place for great Frenchmen. The street where he died (rue de la Chaussée-d’Antin) was renamed rue Mirabeau. In 1792 his secret dealings with the king were uncovered, and in 1794 his remains were removed from the Pantheon and were replaced with those of Marat. His remains were then buried anonymously in Clamart’s graveyard. In spite of searches performed in 1889, they were not found.
Celebrity Prisoner #2: Toussaint Louverture was was a slave, who become the leader of the Haitian Revolution during the 18th century. His military genius and political acumen transformed an entire society of slaves into the independent state of Haiti. The success of the Haitian Revolution shook the institution of slavery throughout the New World. Toussaint began his military career as a leader of the 1791 slave rebellion in the French colony of Saint-Domingue, where he became a free black man and eventually the first black French general. Initially allied with the Spaniards of neighboring Santo Domingo, Toussaint switched allegiance to the French when they abolished slavery. He gradually established control over the whole island and used political and military tactics to gain dominance over his rivals. In 1802, unfortunately, he was forced to resign by forces sent by Napoleon Bonaparte to restore French authority in the former colony, and who once again legalized slavery. So Toussaint went from being a slave, a French general, to once again a slave, over a period of about ten years. He was deported to France, where he died in 1803, inside one of the towers of Chateau de Joux. Today, it is a pilgrimage for many Haitians, to visit where he was imprisoned.
Celebrity Prisoner #3: Madame Berthe Joux. In the 12th century, the chateau was home to Sire Amaury de Joux, who left for some time participating in the Crusades. He left behind his just married wife, Beathe, staying just long enough to get her pregnant. She had a son and lived alone, until an old friend, the knight Amey de Montfaucon, came to visit and stayed, becoming her lover after she was told her husband had been killed fighting during the Crusade. But after four years the Sire returned to find his wife with another, so he had the lover hanged outside of the Chateau and her imprisoned in a very small cell in another one of the towers. She was let out one a day so that she could watch the body of her lover rot. She stayed locked up until her husband dies and her son freed her. She spend her remaining days in a convent.