Geneva

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Geneva

Geneva is French-speaking and Protestant, and one of the proudest of all the Swiss cantons. Geneva is the second largest Swiss city after Zurich. It is, of course, the world's most international city: Geneva is the headquarters of dozens of international bodies, foremost among them the Red Cross, founded in 1863 by Henri Dunant. The League of Nations was based in Geneva in the 1920s — precursor to the United Nations. Another claim to fame that Geneva has is the Protestant Reformation: Geneva is the city of Calvin. It is also an intellectual center with much scientific research and discovery.

The history is embodied in the very coat-of-arms of the Geneva canton. One side shows a half-eagle (symbol of Geneva's status as the Imperial City — subject to no king or other country, and protected by the Holy Roman Emperor); the other half shows a key (symbol of the Bishop of Geneva in the Middle Ages). Geneva always had to defend itself from the counts and then dukes of Savoy (to the south), who tried to annex it. The town was ruled by the Prince-Bishop; the best of them was Adhemar Fabri in the 14th century, who granted liberal rights, fostering free trade and free political institutions. The year 1523 marks the beginning of the Reformation influence in Geneva: French "humanists" advocating non-Catholic religiosity, like Guillaume Farel, preached vigorously in Geneva, and won wide support. The Catholic Prince-Bishop fled, and Calvin came to stay. Calvin, ruling Geneva with an iron hand in a theocratic manner, made Geneva the "Rome of the Protestants." Calvin welcomed Reformers fleeing persecution in other countries: English, Scottish, and Spanish Protestants. The most famous Protestant-sponsored burning at the stake occurred in Geneva, when Calvin ordered Servetus — a Unitarian — burnt. The gloominess of Calvin's regime in Geneva means no theater, few amusements, required church attendance, no drinking, no wenching, no nothing! Catholic stained glass, organs, churches, etc., were torn down. No laughing in public, or anywhere — punishable by law. Yet intellectual life flourished: Geneva became the intellectual capital of Protestantism; theological books were written which shaped the course of Protestant theology up to the present. In the 17th century, Geneva had to contend with the Dukes of Savoy again; Duke Charles Emmanuel of Savoy made a surprise night attack, in peacetime, on Geneva's walls. He was defeated. A local holiday honors this aborted Ecalade (Scaling of the Walls).

Geneva's university continues its distinguished academic tradition. Business firms make for much urban activity. International organizations based in Geneva bring in people from all over the world — bustling streets, excellent restaurants of many cuisines, cafés (try some white chocolate, a Swiss specialty), lakefront views, fresh air, flowers everywhere (sometimes arranged in ornate patterns).

SIGHTSEEING

Temple de l'Auditoire  Located near the Cathedral, the Auditoire was first a chapel in the fifth century, and then a parish seat in the 13th century. A place to hear the sermons of Jean Calvin and Theodore de Beze, it also lodged Scottish reformer John Knox in 1555. Knox, along with Thomas Bodley (future founder of the Bodleian library at Oxford) and Miles Coverdale, completed the first English Bible for household use which came to be called the "Geneva Bible." Today, the Council and the Company of pastors use the Auditoire for their meetings.

Palais des Nations (United Nations)  Originally the home of the League of Nations, the Palais des Nations was built between 1929 and 1937. In 1945, when the United Nations was established, the Palais des Nations became its European headquarters. The original wing was built according to plans selected in an architectural competition: Le Corbusier's modernist designs were rejected in favor of those of a group of international architects who followed a style that has, ironically, come to be known as Fascist. In the Council Chamber are splendid allegorical murals in heroic style painted by Catalan artist Jose Maria Sert in 1934; in shades of gold and sepia, they depict mankind's progress in health, technology, freedom, and peace.

Hotel de Ville (City Hall)  With an imposing façade, the Hotel de Ville dates from the 16th century but was restored and enlarged in later years. It's the seat of Geneva's parliament and an important city landmark. Look for the cobbled ramp, which once facilitated the arrival of dignitaries on horseback. Jean-Jacques Rousseau's controversial work "Emile," which revolutionized child-rearing in the 18th century, was ceremoniously burned here. More constructive things happened here as well: the City Hall shelters Alabama Hall, where, on August 22, 1864, the Geneva Convention was signed by 16 countries, laying the foundation for the International Red Cross. Eight years later, in 1872, a court of arbitration was convened in this same room to settle the Alabama dispute between Great Britain and the United States, which was unhappy over British support of the Confederacy during the Civil War.

Chateau de Coppet  In the castle above this little town's arcaded medieval streets, the remarkable Madame de Stael spent many years in exile. She was the daughter of Jacques Necker, a Genevan banker who later became financial adviser to Louis XVI. Banished from France, first by the Revolution's leaders and then by Napoleon, Madame de Stael established an intellectual court at this chateau. Her literary salons were attended here by giants of the early Romantic period: Lord Byron, French writer Benjamin Constant, Swiss historian Jean-Charles Sismondi, German writer August Schlegel and historian Edward Gibbon. Built in the 18th century, the chateau has been kept as it was in Madame's time, with luxurious Louis XVI furnishings arranged in a convincingly lived-in manner.

Arsenal  Surprisingly fanciful weapons on display at this former arms storehouse include five 17th-century cannons decorated with dolphins and other animals. Contemporary mosaics on the arcade walls also brighten the stark 15th-century building by depicting several proud moments in Geneva's history: Julius Caesar's stately entrance, the bustling medieval trade fairs and the warm reception of French religious refugees. Next to the murals, an old stone staircase leads up to the state archives, which boast a rare set of Geneva documents.

Chateau de Chillon  The inspiration behind Byron's poem The Prisoner of Chillon, this infamous 13th-century castle housed Reformation leader Francois de Bonnivard for six years in the 16th century, until the Genevese navy unchained him from a pillar in the underground dungeon. The Swiss royals' penchant for torture spilled into the upstairs rooms in the 17th-century, when several bed chambers contained racks and other punishing devices. Little of that ominous atmosphere remains, though; full restoration has adorned the castle with vibrant tapestries, antique ceramics and other elegant furnishings.

Eglise St-Germain  This is a pleasantly peaceful medieval church, built on the site of an early Christian basilica from the fourth or fifth century. Restored in 1959, it has the remains of an altar from the 14th century, the time of the present building's construction. The stained-glass windows are by famous local modern artists.

Cathedrale St-Pierre  Built between 1160 and 1232, the Cathedral ranks as the Old Town's most impressive landmark. It's an architectural hybrid that started out in Romanesque style, with later Gothic and neo-classical accretions. The people of Geneva voted in favor of the Reformation in 1536, resulting in the city's title of the "Protestant Rome." Important figures of the Reformation, such as Theodore de Beze and Jean Calvin, preached here — you can still see "Calvin's Chair" at the Cathedral and a statue honoring the Protestant Duke of Rohan. A spiral staircase leads up to a panoramic view from the north tower; the Cathedral's huge bells change their tune 11 times a year. Under the Cathedral is one of Europe's largest subterranean sites, showing how the Cathedral grew from a simple chapel to its present size.

Voltaire Institute and Museum  "It is the palace of a philosopher with the gardens of Epicurus," said Voltaire of his home-in-exile from 1755 to 1760. He baptized it "Les Delices" ("The Delights"). Since 1954, the house has served as a museum and research center dedicated to Voltaire. In the museum, one senses the energy of the man who championed intellectual liberty through his voluminous writings. On display are his furniture, manuscripts and letters. For an in-depth discovery of Voltaire's life and works, also visit the castle of Ferney, in the city of Ferney-Voltaire, a suburb of Geneva on the French side of the border, where the philosopher lived from 1760 until his death.

Ile Rousseau  Adorned with a 19th-century statue of Geneva's native son Jean-Jacques Rousseau, this little islet is where the philosopher used to go for strolls or contemplation. Now it's the happy home of swans, ducks and all the other lake birds, with a small outdoor cafe that still invites philosophic thought in the summertime. Further down is Tour de l'Ile, all that is left of a 13th-century castle used as a prison by the counts of Savoy; today it's the headquarters of the Geneva Tourist Office (open March through October only) and the home of street stalls selling modern art.

Quai du Mont-Blanc  A lakeside promenade with views of Mont Blanc and the Alps. Stop at one of the sidewalk cafes or shops as you admire the stately mansions. You can sample the "sweet pride" of Geneva at the numerous chocolateries or have a civilized drink in a real crystal goblet at one of the four-star hotels that overlook the lake.

Les Paquis  A district of bars, discos, cigar shops, chocolateries and boutiques as well as some artisans' workshop outlets, Les Paquis (the name is an old word for "meadows" and recalls a time when cattle grazed here) sprawls on the Right Bank opposite the harbor. It offers fashionable strolls along the Mont-Blanc quay with its landing stages. This is where the French exile Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand settled, at the Hotel des Etrangers on 22 Rue des Paquis, near the Palais Wilson — the original site of the League of Nations, until 1936. This was also the place where in 1898 Empress Elisabeth of Austria was assassinated at the landing stage where lake steamers embark by an Italian anarchist wielding an ice-pick.

Old Town  The heart and soul of Geneva can be found on its Left Bank, in the compact and remarkable Old Town (Vieille Ville), dominated by the Gothic cathedral of St. Pierre — recently revealed to have early fourth-century Christian foundations. Next door is the Temple de l'Auditoire, where Calvin and Scottish Reformer John Knox preached hellfire sermons to save souls, and across the square is Maison Tavel, oldest house in the city.

Monument de la Reformation  Geneva's most famous monument, built between 1909 and 1917, is a gigantic wall more than 300 feet long, as impressive for its simplicity and clean lines as for its sheer size. It is worth sitting down on the terrace steps — made of Mont Blanc granite — which face the wall, just to take it all in. The central group consists of four statues of the great leaders of the Reformation — Beze, Calvin, Farel, and Knox — each more than 15 feet high. On either side of these giants are smaller statues of other Protestant personalities, such as Oliver Cromwell. The carving on the right depicts the presentation of the Bill of Rights to King William III by the British Houses of Parliament in 1688. Above it, in English, are listed the bill's main features — the guiding principles of democracy.

Carouge  Just across the River Arve to the south is Carouge, once Geneva's rival and controlled by the French dukes of Savoy. Because its 18th-century dukes also ruled Sardinia, it flourished as the "ville Sarde" and boasts a hundred houses built in the Sardinian style — its central squares are still arcaded, shuttered and mysteriously Mediterranean in mood. Some are now converted into bars and discos, although a few country-style cafes and restaurants still exist.

Flower Clock in the Jardin Anglais  Like the nearby Jet d'Eau (known to Genevans as "jeddo") that spurts out of Lake Geneva, the Flower Clock is a city trademark, and a constant feature of postcards and souvenirs. A variety of flowers make up its face and it keeps exact time. It is adjacent to the point where it enters Bridge, which spans the Rhone at the point where it enters Lake Geneva.

Jet d'Eau  Here's one landmark you could hardly ignore — even if you wanted to. It's Geneva's trademark and Europe's highest fountain, spraying a plume of water 460 feet above Lake Geneva, often drenching those who stand watching it on the quays. Originally a simple security valve at the hydraulic plant, it was transferred to the lake in 1891 to become a major tourist attraction. However, it was not until 1941 that it was provided with an autonomous pumping station, propelling 150 gallons of water per second at a speed of 125 miles per hour. Eight 13,500 watt floodlights light the fountain's majestic column in the evening as it soars skywards, from early March until the second Sunday of October (usually not in operation during strong winds). For a lakeside view, take a "commuter" cruise of the lower end of the lakes with the "Mouettes Genevoises."

Quays of Geneva and Lakeside Parks  Lucky Genevans have many choices when it comes to green shore-side parks. North and south of the Rhone's mouth and the Pont du Mont Blanc, you'll come to a necklace of gardens where flocks of ducks, seabirds and swans cavort freely and fatten up for the winter. If you walk north along the quays, you'll find some of the most beautiful parks in Geneva; Parc Mon-Repos off the Avenue de France, La Perle du Lac (with interesting modern sculptures) and the Jardin Botanique with its tiny zoo, Alpine garden, greenhouse and exhibition areas. Take a "mouette" across the lake to the Parc de la Grange with its abundance of costly rose gardens, and the equally gorgeous Parc des Eaux-Vives.

Place du Bourg-de-Four  Built as a Roman forum, this tiered square still attracts a broad spectrum of the citizenry to its many outdoor cafes and quaint shops. Commercial interests have long ruled this strategic area of Old Town, where medieval roads offered farmers, traders and merchants easy access to Italy and southern France. Today, bohemian students browse through the stores in the idle manner of those shabby speculators who once milled about the fringes of the Place's livestock and grain markets in the Middle Ages.

Place Neuve  A cultural centerpiece, this elegant square boasts both the Conservatoire de Musique and the Grand Theatre, site of operas, ballets and occasional concerts by the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Outdoor events in the park include chess games with two-foot-tall pieces, which men move around the large boards every afternoon in warm weather.

Mont Saleve  Four miles south of Geneva across the French border, Mount Saleve ("house mountain") is 4,410 feet high, offering an unparalleled view of the Arve Valley with Geneva and Mont Blanc's distinctive molar in the background. It's a great playland for kids; you can hike or just watch the hang-gliders and model-plane pilots.

PRACTICAL STUFF

Considered one of the healthiest cities in the world, with one of the most temperate climates in Switzerland outside Lugano, Geneva enjoys a magnificent location on a large alpine lake. A mild north wind dispels any pollution, while lake breezes make the city pleasantly cool in summer. Autumn can bring with it the infamous wind called the Föhn, turning tempers bitter but giving a clarity to the skies which allows you to see forever.

March  Temperature 36ºF to 50ºF
July  Temperature 57ºF to 77ºF
October  Temperature 45ºF to 57ºF
January  Temperature 28ºF to 39ºF

Synchronize your watches  Local time is 6 hours ahead of E.S.T. If it's 2:00pm in New York City, it's 8:00pm locally. Please note that Switzerland changes to and from daylight-saving time a few weeks before the U.S., so time differences still vary in March and October.

Money, money, money  The Swiss unit of currency is the Swiss franc. There is no better way than to use your ATM card to withdraw money in the local currency whenever you need it. You will never have a problem locating a suitable ATM machine. If you do need to change dollars (cash or traveler's checks) into Swiss francs, try to do so at a bank. You can expect a slightly higher rate of exchange for traveler's checks and you should always keep your passport handy. Bank opening hours are 8:30am to 4:30pm Monday through Friday. Banks are closed on weekends and public holidays.

The joy of servitude  Restaurant checks always include a service charge, but it's still customary to leave a few additional francs behind in a café and an additional 5% of the total bill in other restaurants. In the fancier restaurants, which pride themselves on their service, an additional tip of 5% to 10% is customary.

The mailman cometh  Mail service to and from Switzerland is reliable and inexpensive, however, sending a parcel abroad will be expensive. You can purchase postage stamps at vending machines outside the post offices, some train stations, souvenir shops, newsstands and hotel reception desks. Post offices are usually open from 7:30am until 6:00 or 6:30pm Monday through Friday and 7:30 until 11:00am on Saturdays.

Please wait while we try to connect you  As usual, the golden rule is never call home from your hotel. It will cost a fortune. Public telephones are easy to find and easy to use. They accept telephone cards that can be bought in at hotel reception desks, post offices and kiosks.

The access code to put you through to an ATT operator from Switzerland is 0800 89 0011. For MCI it is 0800 89 0222.

FOOD

Although Switzerland offer a wide range of dishes, French, German or Italian cuisine dominates in the regions where the language is most widely spoken. The most obvious food when you think of Switzerland is cheese fondue. This is a melted mixture of cheese, white wine and Kirsch (a cherry brandy). Then, using long forks, chunks of bread are dipped in the cheese. Cold beverages should be avoided during and immediately after a fondue meal. It is recommended that white wine or hot tea be drunk instead. A huge variety of hearty soups are also available as well as freshwater fish, meat, sausages, potatoes fried with onion (rösti) and countless breads. Delicious desserts include, bricelets (wafer-thin cream biscuits), fruit tarts which are sometimes eaten as a meal, a substantial Swiss ice-cream sundae or Swiss chocolate.

SHOPPING

When shopping in Geneva, you will come across the obvious Swiss items, such as Swiss army knives, dolls in costumes, cowbells, Swiss watches, a variety of cheeses, clocks and Swiss chocolates such as Lindt, Nestlé and Tobler. Other notable souvenirs include antiques, music boxes, woodcarvings, jewelry, embroidered linens and pottery that has been hand-painted with simple designs. Most shops are usually open from 8am to noon and from 1:30 to 6:30pm Monday through Friday and Saturdays until 4pm.

FESTIVALS

On August 1, fireworks and bonfires commemorate the confederation's birth and also in August is the Geneva Festival with its folk processions and musical fireworks. In early December, the Geneva Escalade celebrates the housewife who heroically defeated the Duke of Savoy and his invading troops by dumping scalding hot soup on their heads from atop the city walls.

HOLIDAYS

New Year (January 1)
Good Friday/Easter Sunday/Monday (late March/early April)*
Ascension Day (late May/early June)*
Whit Monday (late May/early June)*
Labor Day (May 1)
National Holiday (August 1)
Christmas Day (December 25)
Christmas Holiday (December 26)

* These dates will change according to the date on which Easter falls.

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