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Geneva, Switzerland

The smallest of the big capitals

Magnificently situated on the banks of the Lake Geneva, the largest lake in central Europe, at the foot of the Jura mountains and at the gates of the Alps, Geneva has all that is needed to charm you. Allow yourself to be tempted. You will not regret it.

The town, whose rich past still comes to life today, is a true international capital and can offer visitors a great number of different aspects. These include its humanitarian commitment, its varied cultural activities, its major congresses and exhibitions and its renowned cuisine, beautiful countryside and opportunities for many different excursions.

The beauty of the site, the close proximity a prestigious Alpine region and its privileged location along the main axes of the West, make Geneva naturally one of the largest European centres of tourism.

Transport connections with the whole world

Nearly 80 destinations can be reached directly from GenevaÌs international airport;

  • GenevaÌs international airport is located only 6 minutes by train form the heart of the city, and only 10 minutes by taxi.
  • 10'200 trains leave every year for France and 51'100 for Switzerland, which represents a total traffic of more than 340 trains per day (arrivals and departures): 7 TGV depart every day from Geneva and Pendolino.
  • Direct highway North-South connections.
  • Direct connections to French and Swiss highway networks.


Geneva has been successful in combining the best of both worlds. It is an up-to-date international center of world importance and a small and friendly town of only 180'000 inhabitants

Set on the banks of Lake Léman between the Alps and the Jura mountains in the Southwest corner of Switzerland, Geneva enjoys a temperate climate and a breathtaking scenery, with Alpine lakes, snow-capped mountains, lush forests and enchanting countryside making up much of the 282 sq km of the Canton of Geneva.

Many vital international organisations, the most famous one being the United Nations, have their headquarters here.

The city has over 30 museums, as well as many art galleries, theaters and an opera house where an impressive number of famous artists have appeared.

Fashionable hotels, chic restaurants and elegant shops jostle for position along the flower-decked lakefront which encircles the famous "jet d'eau" fountain. Several local restaurants have been awarded top marks in the Michelin guide. There is also a surprisingly wide variety of establishments from other countries.

Sport enthusiastics will find that Geneva has much to offer and golfers in particular will not want to miss the opportunity to visit 26 golf clubs in the Lake Geneva Region.

There is an extensive range of excursion possibilities to places of interest in Switzerland and neighbouring France and Italy. Geneva, the city in the countryside - the best of both worlds.

Signaling the coming of spring each year, as if from some mammoth whale, a column of water spouts 140 meters (390 feet) over Lake Geneva. Shooting 500 liters (132 gallons) per second through summer, and into fall, the Jet d'eau (jet of water) is visible from all over town. Thus, it has come to symbolize Geneva around the world.

What became picturesque, began as practical. At the end of the last century, the new turbine house on the RhÙne River produced to much water on days when water was not taken up by industrial work. To remedy the situation, an engineer by the name of Butticaz developed a way to pump a 30 meter (98 feet) high stream of water into the air outside the building.

The first purely decorative jet, created in its present location on lake Geneva in 1891, reached 90 meters (270 feet). This grew to its present height over several stages, reaching 140 (390 feet) meters in 1951, when its independent pump was completed. It now operates every day from the beginning of March until the first Sunday in October, except during inclement weather.

Located on Geneva's left bank, the Jet d'Eau is at the end of the Jetée des Eaux-Vives which juts out from Quai Gustave Ador. The shore here provides a haven for swans as well as small ferries which ply the harbor, while at the end of the jetty, a small metal column acts, miraculously, as the Jet d'Eau source. Spewed by electric pumps, the weight of the water as it shoots in the air is a full seven tons. From the week of Ascension Thursday in May until the first Sunday of October, the Jet d'Eau is illuminated at night.

Shopping and markets

Geneva has numerous shopping facilities in a perimetre concentrated in the Rue Basses, around the chic "rue du Rhône" and in the "rues de la Confédération, du Marché and de la Croix-d'Or as well as Rue du Mont-Blanc". The Old Town with its antique shops, art galleries and typical bistros, as well as the more popular Saint-Gervais and Pâquis areas, are worth visiting.

The flower market located on the Place du Molard and the clothingand book market on Place de la Madeleine are open daily, most of the others twice a week.

The largest of these is the market on the Plaine de Plainpalais, which sells mostly fruit and vegetables on Tuesday and Friday mornings and becomes Geneva's principal flea market every Wednesday and Saturday. Here one can discover valuable "finds" amidst old books and clocks, used furniture from recent to antique, various decorative and useful objects and ethnic clothing.

Other picturesque outdoor markets are on the Place du Marché in nearby Carouge and Boulevard Helvétique, in the center of town, Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Every Thursday at the Place de la Fusterie a variety of regional handicraft-work is sold. The perfect shopper's break is a cup of coffee or a light meal in one of the typical neighbourhood bistros or restaurants, many with terraces perfect for relaxing and taking in the scene.

Geneva, the melting-pot of history

"There are five parts of the world: Europe, Asia, America, Africa ... and Geneva!" 

Talleyrand, the Congress of Vienna.  In the Middle Ages, the town was a city of the Empire, ruled by a bishop-prince. Progressively Geneva became part of the territory of the princes of Savoy, which finally extended from the Mediterranean to the borders of Bern and of Burgundy, and as far as the Valais.

An abrupt turning point in GenevaÌs history came in the 16th century when the works of Luther reached the city. In 1536, the Reformation and the Republic were proclaimed and Calvin was called to Geneva to build a "Protestant Rome".

The Wall of the Reformation

In the 18th century, the town became a banking centre, an industrial city developing precious arts and watchmaking, enamel work and chintz, and a capital of the sciences and printing. Voltaire contributed to the reputation of this city which received him. At the same time, Rousseau's efforts in favour of tolerance and the cult of nature were a moving force. In 1815, Geneva became a Swiss canton. The vogue of tourism marked the first urban changes of the banks of the lake and of the Rhone in the centre of the town. The neo-classic transformation of the small city, which at the beginning of the 19th century had a population of only 25'000, went hand in hand with the modernization of the hotel trade and beginning of pleasure cruises on the lake in steam boats.

The most ancient finds evidencing human occupancy of the Geneva area date back to about 3000 BC : they were unearthed on the shores of Lake Geneva, where there had been huddles of pile dwellings. The hill on which the later centre, now the Old Town, would be built was uninhabited probably for another two thousand years, then in about 500 BC members of the Celtic Allobroges clan stockaded themselves there. The conquest of the Allobroges homelands by Rome from 122 to 120 BC turned Geneva into a Roman stronghold, and in 58 BC Julius Caesar had to defend it against a foray by the Helvetii. His account of this incident in Comments on the Gallic Wars, written in 52 BC, is the first known reference to Geneva in a text. The township spread space when the Roman Empire was at its zenith, and shortly before 400 AD it was awarded the status of a bishopric at the centre of a vast diocese.

The Germanic Burgundian tribe moved into the area in 443 AD, and Geneva became the seat of their kingdom for thirty years. The Franks occupied their territory in 534, and the town later became part of the Merovingian Kingdom and subsequently the Carlovingian Empire. The Second Burgundian Kingdom rose out of the remains of the Empire in the IX century, including Geneva within its pale, only to fall under the domination of the German Empire by 1032. However, while Geneva was legally a dependency, it was in point of fact governed by its bishops as their own seigneury from the XI century right through to the Reformation.

The town never acquired more than secondary importance until the XVth century, when its great trade fairs placed it on the world map. Its independance was however threatened by the House of Savoy, whose princes did their utmost to wrest it away from the XII to the XVII century. The first three decades of the XVI century were the time of greatest peril, until the cantons of Fribourg and Berne sent in reinforcements to secure the town's autonomy.

1535 heralded the triumph of the Reformation, and Geneva assumed the political status of a republic. Calvin settled here in 1536; and under his guiding spirit the Republic was elevated to the rank of Mother of the Protestant Church. From 1550 onwards a host of Protestants, mainly French and Italian people fleeing persecution in their countries of birth, poured in to establish Geneva as a beacon of faith and learning under the auspices of Calvin and Théodore de Bèze: the Academy, forerunner of the present University, was founded in 1559. The refugees also helped restore the economy, which had been in recession ever since the decline of the trade fairs at the end of the previous century.

On the night of 11 December 1602 Charles-Emmanuel, Duke of Savoy, tried to storm the town. His "Escalade" was repulsed, to be commemorated thereafter by the Genevese in their main patriotic event of the year. A second wave of refugees arrived when Louis XIV moved against Protestants in France in the late XVII century. The XVIII century was a period of great prosperity, when Geneva's industries - the best-known of which was watchmaking - commerce and banking all flourished. Rousseau was born here in 1712 and Voltaire lived nearby from 1755 to 1778. It also bred famous scientists such as the biologist Charles Bonnet and the natural philosopher and geologist Horace-Bénédicte de Saussure, although being torn by strife between the classes and parties.

The Geneva Revolution of 1792 ousted the aristocratic Ancien RÈgime and political equality for all was proclaimed. The Republic was however annexed by France in 1798 and appointed the chief town of the "Département du Léman". The defeat of the Napoleonic armies gave it back its freedom on 31 December 1813, but the aldermen of the restored Republic were aware that it could not continue in isolation: they accordingly applied to join the Swiss Confederation and the state became a Canton in 1815. In 1846 another revolution, led by James Fazy, overturned the government of the Restoration and drew up the constitution that survives to this day. In the course of the XIX century and the carly part of the present one. Geneva harboured a number of political refugees, the most famous being Lenin, who stayed here from 1903 to 1905 and in 1908.

The Red Cross

Urged by the ideas of the Genevese Henri Dunant, a group of citizens founded the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1864, to be the first of the international institutions that were to burgeon in Geneva.

The town's international calling was asserted after the First World War, when it was chosen in 1919 as the seat of the League of Nations, the predecessor of the United Nations Organization. The headquarters of UNO were transferred to New York in 1945, but Geneva has retained its European Office The United Nations in Geneva

Scores of international organizations are now based here, examples of which are the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) and the World Council of Churches.

Source of Text and Images: Geneva Tourism

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