Peney- Life at a castle of the XIIIth Century

The first written reference to Genava was made by Julius Caesar in 58 BC – a fisherman’s village which was to become Geneva. Geneva was also mentioned under Ginivis, Gineva and Ginève. It was only natural then that the garland of earlier names of Peninge, Peniacum, Penacum – all referring to a dwelling on a hill – should give way to Espigny, Pignez or Peney. Moreover – “What a happy sound those names make!»

The “Fort de Penay” (as the original spelling goes), the famous castle which is our subject here, was, in fact, a fortified castle of the crest of the hill overlooking the Rhone and Geneva. Built in 1234 at the order of the Archbishop Prince Aymon de Grandson, the castle was to survive only three hundred and two years. The existence of the castle of Peney was to be a particularly dramatic one and was destined to play an often poorly appreciated role in the history of Geneva and its close – and sometimes even distant – surroundings, out of all proportion with the relative modesty of the site which is, furthermore, providentially located in an admirable landscape. The brief and harsh life of the castle was to be followed much later (today in fact) by a “lordly life” thanks to the “Domaine de Châteauvieux” – but that’s quite another story. During the far distant era to which I am referring, the period of gentle idleness had not yet arrived. Rather it was the rule of combat and its train of suffering. And for example, the confrontation between the legitimist and courageous Peneysans, the Bernese and the Savoyards. The diplomatic relations these people did, in fact, have with each other were far from being true alliances.


Throughout its history, the castle of Peney had assumed the vocation of a refuge for the “determined” Genevese:

During the cruel XVIth century (a cruelty, which was admittedly not new but nevertheless, intensified at the time) the ever valiant Peneysans were staunch Catholics who, body and soul, withstood the Reformation which was finally proclaimed in 1536. Nevertheless, if I may be brief, this resistance collapsed under Calvin when, the same year, the Genevese destroyed the castle and, possibly, killing two birds with one stone, rased the adjacent church on which has been built the existing chapel that dates back to the XVIIIth century.


The year of 1536 – a date which was certainly glorious for some but disastrous for others! As one might well imagine, the historians have not always been unanimous in the way they have recounted the circumstances that led up to this campaign. The Peneysans who went to mass each day, proclaimed “Pro Christo et Patria” on their flag. At the risk of death, exile and destitution, they refused submission. Depending, as it is only too frequently the case, on the verdicts of history, they were heroes or traitors. We attach considerable credit to the account given by a one-time pastor of Satigny who, over a century and a half ago, paid moving homage to the unfortunate Peneysans. This Professor Jean-Isaac Céllerier (the pastor in question) noted that, for the Geneve protestant, “these Peneysans were brigands, cruel, dangerous, without faith and traitors to their country . . . When a Genevese was discontented and as an ardent Catholics he wished to combat the Reformation, he fled to Peney. In 1536, the Genevese burned the woebegone castle, and even its ruins which still seemed dangerous to them, were carefully demolished shortly after. Never did the fugitive Peneysans return in grace; they fled in horror of the Genevese – no one knows where – and always exiled from their native land.”

To conclude this only too rapid overview of the noble and tragic deeds, it should be remembered that Peney – there where the castle was and there where “Châteauvieux” is now – became Peney-Dessus. What a glorious sign!

"To understand will not suffice.

All is not written in books;

 It’s the sign that must be heard.”

Beyond the topographical precision of “Dessus”, let us discover like the fruit of staunch independence and – After so much blood and tears have been spilled – the symbol of original or renewed peace; the simple taste of being able to live and of letlive.

"Happiness, in this lofty site, is a thing of the present"                                                      

 Jean-Paul Darmste

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