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The fiefdom of Turrettin, also known as CHÂTEAU DES BOIS, was established on feudal land on 14th June 1631 in honour of the memory of François Turrettini, benefactor of the Republic of Geneva.

During the Renaissance Europe was torn apart by religious struggles Geneva was the city of safety. The invention of the printing press and translations of the Bible fostered new ideas. In Lucques, the Florentine Pietro Martire impassioned the city with his lectures about the New Testament and the Psalms. When the Bishop of Rimini came to the “infected city”* in April 1573 to arrest the heretics, many young people left and Francesco fled the city in 1574. Passing through Lyon, where he joined up with fellow believers who had already left, he reached Geneva on 24th November 1575 where he stayed for four years before he continued to Anvers. He lived there until 1585 but had to flee when the town was besieged by the army of the Duke of Parma together with the Spanish. After spending two years in Frankfurt and Basel, he settled in Zurich in 1587 where he married Camille Burlamachi from a family, who like the Micheli, Calandrini and Diodati families, had been forced to flee Lucques. He settled permanently in Geneva in 1592. As he had become considerably wealthy during his life, and in order to thank God for his gifts, François left a sum of 12,000 florins to the hospital of his adopted city in order that “begging and poverty be banished from this city”.

1602 was the year of the Escalade (literally “the scaling of the walls”) when Charles-Emmanuel of Savoy attempted to storm Geneva. The successful resistance concluded in the Treaty of Saint Julien in 1603 which guaranteed “permanent” peace. Théodore de Bèze, the last of the reformers, died in 1606. In 1610, fearful of renewed attacks, Geneva reinforced its defences.

In 1613, as the Republic of Geneva started to prosper, François bought land in Satigny. He already owned houses and parcels of land in the vicinity of the Priory since 1610. On 28th July 1612, he acknowledged that he had obtained from “our magnificent, most honoured and sovereign lords the ownership of the tall house adjoining the church’’. He also bought assets in the Mandement** such as houses, barns, fields, vines, land, woods etc.

François had two sons: Benedict, a famous theologian, and Jean, a businessman. They inherited the lands in Satigny according to the will of their father who died in 1628.

Around 1631 Jean, together with Sève the Seigneur of Bossey, Beaumont, Grange and Mérard built the CHÂTEAU DES BOIS. Unfortunately there is very little information about the construction. A description from the end of the 17th Century states that it is “a tall building in the Italian style” and plans from 1830 show that the courtyard was enclosed with arcades on three sides. According to hearsay, a ramp giving access to the upper floors was similar to that at the Town Hall in Lucques in Italy.

Jean lost considerable sums of money in the project to construct the Entreroche canal joining the lakes of Neuchâtel and Geneva. Another project was to have been the construction of a canal from Collonges to Seyssel, which would have connected the Mediterranean to the North Sea!

In 1831, Jean-Daniel Turrettini left the Château to his nephew Louis. In all honesty, it wasn’t such a good inheritance as the house was in poor condition and no longer benefited from the considerable feudal rights: the right to print money, legal rights, the right to life and death, as well as rights to build towns and villages, mills and prisons.

Louis was undecided whether to demolish the house or not but in the end he restored it, the work finishing before 1850. He was the last Turrettini to own the CHÂTEAU DES BOIS, which came into the van Berchem family through marriage.

Originally from Brabant in Flanders, the van Berchem family had had to flee the threats of the inquisition during the reign of Charles Quint. A noble family whose ancestry goes back to the 11th Century, they fled to Basel in 1544 then to Brême in Holland and ultimately to Geneva where they became citizens in 1816.

The start of the 21st century was very dramatic for this old house. On 28th December 1999 the hurricane Lothar, having already felled 300 trees in the forest in the middle of the night, blew off the roof of the big barn which, with its enormous beams, fell down on to an inhabited building on the other side of the courtyard, smashing its roof and windows. Barely rebuilt, the big barn was totally destroyed by fire on 7th April 2000. Many firemen battled through the night to quench the fire which threatened to engulf the neighbouring buildings.

We have rebuilt everything and are now able to mature our wine in the newly restored cellar as well as sell our wines at the property.

*From a book by Simonetta Adorni-Braccesi
**The Mandements were territories belonging to the Republic of Geneva which were enclosed by French land until the Congress of Vienna in 1815. French conscripts frequently sought refuge in the courtyard of the Château.

© Château des Bois 2010