Morgarten (or Letzi) Tower

The Morgarten Tower or Letzi Tower is closely related to other late medieval defensive structures dotted around the Schwyz valley.

These permanent defence installations were not erected ad hoc or in hurried response to imminent threat. Rather, they point to the existence of a systematic and thought-through system of fortifications. The stone towers and walls featuring timber defensive structures close to the shoreline (Brunnen, Arth) or enhanced by natural reinforcements in the terrain (Schornen, Altmatt) had a clear function: to prevent aggressors from proceeding any further, or at least slow their forward momentum.  

The fortifications (letzis in the local parlance) were erected at places of possible ingress into the valley. At Brunnen, for instance, walls were erected, as were palisades along the lake shore to prevent a water-borne attack. We come across the same combination of stone fortification and palisade at Arth, designed to prevent the landing of boats on either side of the lake. The relatively open terrain at Arth and north of where Goldau is now located received a second line of defences in the shape of fortifications running across the valley equipped with towers. Use was made of the depth of the terrain, as it were, to keep invaders at bay. At Altmatt a barrage was built to close off the valley; it ran through the middle of what is now the village of Rothenthurm. This installation (or possibly a predecessor) was mentioned in documents as early as 1310 ("mur ze Altunmatta") and must have existed at the time of the Battle of Morgarten. The Letzi Tower at Altmatt also shows that the walls were not only a safeguard against enemy attack, but were also intended to prevent cattle raiding. The stealing of cattle during the Marchenstreit pasture quarrels of the 13th and 14th centuries was an effective method of checking the expansionist aspirations of the valley people of Schwyz (Altmatt, Ybrig), driven northwards by a desire for alpine pasture and livestock grazing.

Schornen near Sattel, like Brunnen, Arth and Altmatt, represented yet another (if far from ideal) place for the enemies of Schwyz to enter their valley. The terrain is relatively straightforward to close off or defend. Tradition surrounding the Battle of Morgarten has it that Austrian forces advanced against Schwyz. Exactly why Duke Leopold decided to pass through Schornen remains unclear. Faced with the defence installations at Brunnen, Arth and Altmatt, could it be that this remained the only available route into Schwyz? Schornen was devoid of defences in 1315. That said, the terrain could be defended relatively successfully by the locals using improvised means. So even Schornen would have been no easy matter for the Austrians to negotiate. The precise reason for Leopold's decision is destined to remain a mystery. In the end, the marshy terrain by the lake, the steep flanks of the mountain, the narrow passage at Schornen and the combined might of the men of Schwyz and their allies were to seal his downfall.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Morgarten, the people of Schwyz reinforced the passable area between Sattel and Lake Ägeri with a strong defensive installation. All that remains of this letzi is the so-called Morgarten Tower and a few scraps of wall. Like the one at Altmatt, the tower at Schornen was equipped with a large gate. A number of documents dating back to 1322 mention sales of land, revenues from which went towards financing the building of the mure zu Houptsee (fortified wall with tower). Featuring unusually thick walls which taper upwards, the tower has a footprint measuring 6.30 x 6.10 metres. The sole entrance is on the second floor: the holes created for beams bearing the former battlements remain extant. Standing between the Morgarten Chapel and the Schornen restaurant, the Morgarten Tower and remnants of the 13th and 14th century fortifications are unique witnesses to the founding epoch of the Confederacy. They bear testimony to a clarity of vision with regard to defence, but they also indicate a remarkably advanced degree of political and military maturity on the part of the valley dwellers of Schwyz.

›› Burgenverein: architectural and historical investigation of the Morgarten Tower (PDF)