Walking Geneva – The City’s Historic Sites

Geneva, Switzerland (photo: Geneva Tourism)
Geneva dates back to at least 58 BC when the Romans established it as a settlement. It finally became an independent republic in 1536, but only really gained autonomy in 1602. Filled with lots of historic sites, the majority of which are located in the Old Town, a historical walking tour can be done at your own pace and time frame as not everything is clustered together. Considering the history of Geneva it makes sense to stay at Geneva’s very first hotel, the stately neoclassical Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues, which dates to 1834. The building hosted the first assembly of the League of Nations in November 1920. There is also the Beau Rivage, which opened in 1865. Regardless of where you stay, Geneva is ripe with history…

Maison Tavel
The Maison Tavel (house of Tavel) is the oldest private residence in all of Geneva. In spite of a fire destroying it in 1334, it was rebuilt and is a classic example of medieval architecture, actually meant to identify with its original construction in the 11th Century. Currently it houses the Museum of Urban History and Daily Life of Geneva, featuring a number of relics from Geneva’s past including engravings, paintings and models. The attic contains an impressive scale model of pre-1850’s Geneva when it was still a walled city. Medieval graffiti in the basement of the house is a must see.

Pont et Tour de I’lle
A small island located in the Rhone River (directly in front of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel), this nondescript chunk of land was once a checkpoint for commuting between Northern and Southern Europe. It was accessed by bridge, however Julius Caesar destroyed the original bridge in 58 BC. A château was built here in 1219, although it too was demolished in 1677, and the tower is all that remains today of its historical past. The château was used as a prison and place of execution by the counts of Savoy.

Cafe Papon's Interior: (Photo: Cafe Papon)
Café Papon
One of the oldest cafes of Geneva, Le Café-Restaurant Papon opened in 1808. A restaurant, creperie, tearoom, and cafe, it has been hosting drinkers and diners under its vaulted ceilings and a terrace that stretches out onto the medieval fortifications of the Old Town for over 200 years. Papon has complemented its historical roots, conspicuous in the beautiful stone cellar in which it is located, with modern Swiss style. The menus draw on local, seasonal produce and if available, sample the monkfish cheeks and foie gras.

Courtyard of Hotel de Ville (photo: Geneva Tourism, Olivier Miche)
Though we define a “hotel” differently now, the original meaning included a place where kings and royalty convened. The Hotel-de-Ville in Geneva served as the seat of government as far back as the 15th Century. Its Baudet Tower, the only original structure left, was constructed in 1455 and the building has a cobblestone ramp instead of a staircase, still an architectural oddity and a unique element. Notable accomplishments of this power center; the Red Cross originated here in 1864, the first convening of the Geneva Convention occurred here, and it hosted the early meetings of the League of Nations in 1920.

The Canon and Mosaics (photo Geneva Tourism)
The Arsenal
This arcaded structure dates from 1634 and in the courtyard of the building is a cannon that was cast in 1683. It also houses several pictorial mosaic scenes, each depicting a different moment in Geneva’s history, created by Alexandre Cingria in 1949 including one illustrating Caesar's arrival in Geneva in 58 BC. There are a total of five cannon in all, which were still in commission (though never fired) up to the beginning of the 1800s. They all bear an inscription in Latin, which translates to, “light after darkness,” an homage not only to John Calvin and his impact on Geneva, but also what Switzerland has come to mean to a global population – civility and a lack of violence.

Place du Bourg-de-Four
Bourg-de-Four is the oldest square in Geneva and this spot was first a Roman forum and later a medieval town square. The Palais de Justice here was built in 1707. There is some evidence to suggest it was occupied by an East Germanic tribe in the 5th century, though not confirmed, but we do know it was once a cattle market. Today the square is made up of cafés and bars, each with umbrella-covered terraces. There is a constant hum of activity here, and the neo-classic fountain where six streets converge today was once a Roman aqueduct that brought water from the mountains to the city.

This house-museum is dedicated to the life and works of Voltaire. The museum is housed in Les Delices, which was Voltaire's home from 1755 until 1760. The property was bought by the city of Geneva in 1929, and the museum opened in 1952. It contains about 25,000 volumes on Voltaire and the 18th century as well as a collection of paintings and prints from the period, many depicting Voltaire, his relatives and acquaintances. Tours are available and the gardens are open year round.

Towering over the Old Town in the heart of the city, Saint Peter's Cathedral is Geneva's oldest and most impressive architectural treasure. The Cathedral was begun in 1160 and took over 400 years to complete, suffering numerous makeovers and fires throughout the years. The north tower offers incredible panoramic views of the city, while the basement houses an Archaeological Museum chronicling the excavation of artifacts found beneath the Cathedral, some dating back as far as 350 AD.

No comments:

Post a Comment