First published October 19, 2021 and reproduced here by permission of the Morning News and SCNow.com.
Geneva is a grand city, built on hills along the south-western shore of Lake Geneva, famous for its offshore fountain and citizens with great legs and stamina (the hills, smile). It has become a financial center, a center of culture, a center for international organizations and a center for peace, even though not the Swiss capital. It is ranked the ninth most livable city in the world. It is small, with a metro population of about 500,000. It is in the French sector of Switzerland at the southwest tip of Lake Geneva (see “Going My Way?” Page 7 for a train trip along the lake’s southern shore). I have been there five times.
The name is based on the Celtic, adapted into Latin by Julius Caesar, and means “bend” or “knee” (of the Rhone River). The Swiss tribes first organized the area. It became part of the Roman empire in about 120 BC and then brought under the Holy Roman Empire in the early Middle Ages by the House of Savoy until the Catholic influence was overcome by the Protestant Reformation; John Calvin formed the Geneva Republic and ruled, twice. An important Bastion Park monument was built in 1909, the Reformation Memorial honoring William Farrell, John Calvin, Theodore Bezsa and John Knox; other Reformation/Protestant leaders standing nearby include William the Silent, Gaspard de Coligny, Frederick of Brandenburg, Roger Williams, Oliver Cromwell and Stephen Bocskay – and just across the grass a complicated memorial to the International Red Cross and Henri Dunant. The local youths curiously gather here on weekends to drink, do drugs and cavort, with little regard for the history; the same park is a common site of protests and outdoor chess games. About two hundred years later the French Catholics regained control, until after the Napoleonic wars, when Geneva joined Switzerland. In 1907 Switzerland separated Church and State.
Despite the impact of Calvinism, the city is now once again Catholic, with large French immigration since Napoleon ( now 40% Catholic, 25% agnostic and 15% Protestant). Once I was amused to attend one Sunday morning a service in an old Catholic Church that was being shared by a Brethren Assembly, a Reformed Congregation and a Catholic Mass, all in their own parts of the same structure, each group with its own entrance and signage. The most striking church buildings are Notre Dame, Cathedral St Pierre, the St Germain Church and the Russian Church – several with important art and artifacts. The World Council of Churches is headquartered in Geneva.
Because it is small, Geneva is very walkable, but be prepared for the lake front hills. It is divided into 8 boroughs that they call “quartiers.” Begin your tour along the lake front strolling through the English Garden Park (1854, named for its English style) to admire its many flowers in season, the famous Flower Clock, the National Monument (1869, Geneva joins Switzerland), several monuments to Geneva artists and the Geneva Boat (where the Austrian Princess “Sissi” was stabbed – see previous essay on Vienna) which serves tourist meals and enjoy a Grand View of the Lake – the Riverside Bar also nearby; continue on to the Grange and the Arboretum. Nearby are several museums, an old jail, several old churches in the Old City with remaining Roman walls and old street signs (with amusing names). Along the lake front itself, beware ducks and swans, admire the amazing Water Jet Fountain (1886, moved in 1891) spraying up to a height of 460 feet, and walk in front of famous buildings and monuments, particularly to the International Red Cross (founded in 1863 in the aftermath the Italian wars of 1859 – the original Geneva Convention adopted 1864 ), famous hotels and stunning old homes and some new condominium towers. On both sides of the Rhone the lake front boulevards are very walkable with the Mont Blanc bridge providing easy access to both sides (the north side is called the “right side”).
The city is dotted with public art and statures, some famous: Charlie Chaplin, The People, the Little Mermaid, the mythical Greek Acis (Sicilian lover of Galatea), Captain Corto Maltese (famous fictional Italian/French sailor), Freddie Mercury (surprise!), St. Leger, Henri Dunant (Red Cross founder), Jean Jacque Rousseau, Boy with Fish, Boy with Horse, General Dufour (general and map maker who helped forge modern Switzerland and initiate the Red Cross), The Brunswick Mausoleum (the Duke an infamous, but very wealthy, carouser, French-German who gave millions to the City in exchange for this Mausoleum, having been forced to leave Germany and France because of his behavior), A Woman, Mahatma Gandhi and Princess Sissi.
The UN Headquarters is worth most of a day, the Palace of Nations. The UN established its European headquarters here in 1946. The Palace was built in 1929 (since expanded 6 times) for the headquarters of the League of Nations. The UN has 33 agencies in Geneva, most at the Palace, even though it also has a major European office in Vienna and a lesser one in Rome. The most important UN agencies in Geneva including the High Commission for Refugees, for Human Rights, the World Health Organization, the International Labor Organization and the International Telecommunications Union. The Palace is an impressive building with an entrance lined with the flags of the member nations. Its architecture, walkways and sculpture gardens (the Broken Chair and the Globes – both the ”Sphere Within a Sphere” and the primary globe sculpture called “Thoughts and Desires” ) , the grand Assembly Hall; the conference rooms and council chambers are all well-appointed with important modern art with sculptures, frescos and wall hangings; particularly impressive are the Spanish ceiling in the Chamber of Civilizations, the Russian Peace Sculpture, the French Reception rooms and the Chagall Window. Son Andrew gave his maiden UN speech from the stage of the Assembly Hall, but only his brother and I were in audience, but at least we did not need interpreters. Conveniently, the home of the Russian Ambassador is across the street; we boldly waived at their cameras, but no response.
Surprisingly, Geneva is home to about a third of the World’s Commodities exchange even for oil and sugar, so therefore large international trading companies are in town such as Cargill (headquarters in Minneapolis), OPEC (headquarters in Vienna) and BNP Paribas (headquarters in Paris) and accompanying banks and wealth management private banks such as HSBC, JP Morgan, the Rothschilds, the Lombards and The Mirabaud Group. Geneva competes with the Gnomes of Zurich and has the largest per capita income in all Europe. The world’s oldest International Studies educational program was begun in Geneva in 1924 growing up with the League of Nations, and several other prominent programs that have come alongside.
Geneva has 36 museums, about one third State owned. Their unusual collections of old watches, scientific instruments, musical instruments, ceramics and glass, rare books and famous Swiss artists, including Giacometti, are all noteworthy. Sadly, the most important art in Geneva is locked up in private collections in the Geneva Free Port, possibly to be never seen again by the public.
My favorite Geneva restaurants (there are about 2000 restaurants in Geneva) include L ’Agape (the staff helped me in an emergency), L-Aparte’ (they let us in without ties), Les Armures, Boef Rouge (my friends will know why I like this place), the Living Room, Vieux Port, Le Mexicain (surprise, but excellent), Café du Soleil, Café de Paris Sauce, Demi Luen and the Pekin Palace.