Although we’ve been to Geneva before, we haven’t really done much in the actual city. So today, after landing, we headed to the historic old town area to take a walk around. We visited the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre at the top of the hill and eventually ended up at the Patek Philippe Museum to the west.
We arrived at GVA early in the morning and were able to quickly pass through immigration and customs. We caught the next train to Cornavin, Geneva’s main train station in the city center. We stored our extra bags in a locker and headed outside.
We started walking to the south and passed by the adjacent Basilica Notre-Dame.
We soon reached a bridge over the Rhône. This bridge leads to a small narrow island in the middle of the river. During our last trip, just over a month ago, we crossed over Rhône a little bit to the east on the next bridge visible here. Lake Geneva is just beyond.
This stone plaque states that Julius Caesar was here in 58 BC. He destroyed a bridge at this location to prevent the Helvetii tribe from crossing to relocate to better land at the beginning of the Gallic Wars. Switzerland’s Latin name, Confoederatio Helvetica, comes from the name of this tribe1.]
We continued to the south, crossing the river again.
We passed by the Fontaine de l’Escalade just to the south of the bridge. l’Escalade refers to a failed attempt by the neighboring Duchy of Savoy in attacking Geneva. We first learned about the Savoy during our trip to Switzerland last year. The Savoys were based out of the Château de Chillon on the east side of Lake Geneva, just to the south of modern day Montreux. They were eventually forced out and occupied the land south of the lake in what is now part of France. We recently learned that they ended up ruling Italy and were kicked out for their support of Mussolini and are forbidden from returning to Italy.
A narrow road just beyond the fountain leads uphill to Geneva’s Old Town area.
Looking back, we could see the Tour de l’Île, a tower that sits on the small island that we just walked over.
We walked to the south for awhile, eventually ending up at the Promenade de la Treille. This park overlooks a lower section of the city. A statue of Pictet de Rochemont was standing right by the road.
The park overlooks the University of Geneva below and is roughly the southwestern edge of the Old Town. The leaves in Geneva seem like they are just starting to change color for the fall season.
This building by the park has a sun clock on the wall. There is a small stone plaque below which reads:
In Commemoration of December 31, 1813 The Grateful Genevans on December 31, 1863
We backtracked a bit to head into the center of the Old Town.
We came across these cannons under a building with tile mosaics in on the wall behind. A small sign reads:
Two of these cannons were among the artillery material of Geneva requisitioned by the Austrians in February 1814 and moved to Vienna. Following a personal initiative of the lieutenant of Geneva Joseph Pinon (1775-1839) these canons and other guns were restored to the Republic at the beginning of 1815.
The city’s webpage explains2 (Google Translated):
In the heart of the Old Town, the cannons of the old arsenal recall the time when Geneva had to defend itself against its attackers. The city's Old Arsenal is located in the Old Town, a stone's throw from the Town Hall. Its cannons recall its warlike past. The building today has a more peaceful function since it houses the State Archives. Originally, then under the Romans, this place was an open-air market, which was covered at the beginning of the 15th century. In 1588, arcades were added on which a granary was built which was transformed into a military depot from 1720 to 1877. Under these arcades five period cannons, similar to those which defended the city walls, occupy the ground paved with pebbles. On the walls, you can admire three frescoes, signed Alexandre Cingria, representing key periods in the history of the city: the arrival of Julius Caesar in 58 BC; BC, the fairs of the Middle Ages and the reception of Huguenot refugees after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. During the historic Escalade festival, vegetable soup in commemorative bowls is sold there.
We continued walking down a narrow street to the southeast.
We ended up at the Place du Bourg-de-Four, the oldest square in Geneva.
There were a few election posters for the Conseil des États, the upper house of the Swiss Federal Assembly. This is perhaps something similar to running for Senate in the United States? “The future depends on you!”
We were planning on visiting the nearby cathedral, however, it wasn’t open yet. We decided to walk to the northeast to Lake Geneva.
We walked past this plaza. The trees were changing color and made for a nice scene. It turns out that this is a school, the Calvin College. It seems to be a city school named after John Calvin, founder of the Calvinist branch of Protestant Christianity here in Geneva. A college in the French language appears to refer to the equivalent of a middle or junior high school in the United States.
We walked down many stairs at the northeastern corner of the school. These little pillars are an art installation from 1987. A small sign on the ground describes these as (Google Translated):
handrail flights on gray cast iron frames
They were made by Henri Presset who lived and died in Geneva.
This fountain, the Fontaine des Quatre-Saisons (Fountain of the Four Seasons) was fully operational!
There were a variety of trees in the garden, some of which were very tall.
According to a small metal plaque at the base of this sculpture, it was created from a 120 year old sequoia in 1992 by two Genevan artists, Sylvio Asseo and Regula Schultz. It was carved in place from a dead tree that stood here3. It reads, in French:
la clef se trouve dans l'arbrimaux
Which translates to (Google Translated):
the key is in the trees
Indeed, there is a key in the tree.
We found this stone statue of Rodo de Niederhäusern, a Genevan sculptor.
We finally reached the lake! We could see many of CGN‘s historic fleet docked at various piers. During our last visit, we departed on the Simplon from the pier on the opposite side of the lake, currently occupied by the Rhone.
We sat for a bit on a somewhat damp bench facing the lake. A nice view!
We planned on taking a closer look at the Jet d’Eau, one of Geneva’s most visible landmarks. However, it wasn’t on yet. We remembered from our previous visit that it isn’t turned on until sometime in the morning. A visit to the fountain’s website revealed some unfortunate news:
The Jet d’eau will be temporarily closed down from 30 October to 15 November 2023 due to maintenance work.
Well then. We decided to head back up the hill into the Old Town to visit the cathedral as it would be open by the time we arrived.
We passed by this large monument erected on September 20th, 1869 in honor of the Canton of Geneva joining the Swiss Confederation.
We headed back up the hill via a slightly different route. We walked by the cathedral which was above us. We didn’t have to walk up any stairs this way.
We were a bit confused at first, thinking that the cathedral was behind the columned building as cathedrals usually look quite different. However, it is the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre.
The entrance ticket includes an audio guide. We found that the guide didn’t always match the numerical placards that indicate various audio topics, possibly because some elements in the museum have been moved. It also turns out they forgot to turn on all the lights. We had to backtrack to ask the ticket attendant about it as many areas were unusually dark. Luckily, he saw that the lights weren’t all on and fixed the problem!
It wasn’t very obvious exactly what was what. However, these seem to be parts of pillars.
This is where a bell was cast. A sign explains, thankfully in English:
This large star-shaped impression, discovered under the Cour Saint-Pierre outside the doorway is what remains of the casting of a bell. It is the diameter, 2.05 meters, that leads us to attribute it to the "Clémence", the greatest bell of the cathedral, cast in 1407 thanks to a gift by Robert of Geneva, Pope at Avignon (antipope) from 1342-94 under the name Clement VII. The casting of the bell was done in a pit, into which the mould was lowered and then interred, to avoid explosion due to the pressure of molten metal.
Apparently, an antipope is someone who claims to the pope but is not.
There were a few displays of artifacts discovered here. These are from the 2nd and 3rd century.
The various ruins preserved below the modern cathedral were all from previous church structures that stood here.
Most of what is left is just rough stone wall. But there were a few examples of finer details like this small section of mosaic tile.
A few decorations here carved into stone.
The audio guide and interpretive panels do try to explain what one is seeing but it all just looks like walls everywhere!
One of the more interesting stories from this site is this half-buried skeleton. It was fairly recently discovered in 20054. It is believed to be the chief of a tribe which resided here 2,000 years ago5. It is believed that ultimately people came here to worship this chief, resulting in more and more elaborate structures built here over the years and eventually resulting in the modern day cathedral above.
There is quite a bit to walk through here!
Various different types of stone wall.
Some additional artifacts that have been found here.
The little colored placards visible in some of the photos indicate specific time periods.
A well. The coins at the bottom are presumably modern.
Probably the most impressive remnant of prior structures is this tiled mosaic floor. Much of it is gone but what remains is still quite intricate with fine details.
After walking through the entire underground route, which was much longer than anticipated, we headed back up to street level to visit the modern cathedral.
The squares with flowers on the ceiling above the entrance was similar to ones that we saw in Paris earlier this year.
15th century stalls from the cathedral’s quire.
This is the tomb of Henri II, Duke of Rohan. He was apparently a Protestant leader during the Reformation. European history is extremely complicated, more so when considering religion. Perhaps the Protestants can be best described as Christians that broke away due to differences with the Roman Catholic church?
The altar at the far end of the cathedral.
We finished our visit around noon. Lunch time! We decided to visit a nearby restaurant, Les Antiquaires, for fondue.
We got two kinds, one with tomato and the other with garlic and shallots. Both were very good! And, the hot cheese was great for a cool afternoon.
This appears to be the Chancellerie d’État (State Chancellery). The outer door was open so we walked into the courtyard to take a look.
We were a bit surprised to see Alabama on one of the buildings! Why? The plaque below reads (Google Translated):
In this room, the first "Geneva Convention for the improvement of the lot of soldiers serving in armies in the field" was signed on August 22, 1864, the initial act of the activity of the International Red Cross. It was also in this room that the sentence of the arbitral tribunal responsible for resolving the dispute that arose between the United States and Great Britain following damage caused by the Southern privateer ship "Alabama" during the Civil War by the United States was pronounced on September 14, 1872.
Interestingly, the tribunal was for damage claims by the United States against the United Kingdom for violating neutrality during the Civil War. Many of the Confederate ships were built in the UK with British knowledge that they were ultimately for the Confederate Navy.
The ceiling above the passageways at the side of the courtyard. The square tile at the arched center has Latin text around it. The only part that is legible reads “corum et nav rex,” “king of hearts and ships” according to Google Translate.
We walked through the Place du Bourg-de-Four, which we passed through earlier in the day. There were more people around now but it was still pretty quiet overall.
We walked to the southwest, descending below the Promenade de la Treille.
We arrived at the Reformation Wall, at the northeastern edge of the University of Geneva and below the Promenade de la Treille. It depicts people and events related to the Protestant Reformation.
This section is inscribed in Latin.
This next section was in English! It talks about what we presume is the UK’s Bill of Rights from 1689, the document that established the Parliament as well as some rights held by the people. The statue on the left is of Oliver Cromwell, who is sometimes seen as both a villain and hero.
The section to the left talks about the Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower. In elementary level United States history, the Pilgrims were described as Puritans who were fleeing prosecution. Apparently, the Puritans were Calvinist Protestants, hence their appearance here.
The statue on the left is of Roger Williams. He was a Puritan leader and founded the Providence Plantations, part of the state formally known as Rhode Island and Providence Plantations until 2020 when they dropped the Providence Plantations part of the name. Now it is just an state named after an island which makes up a minority of the state’s land.
Around this time, we were approached by a Christian proselytizer. He did kind of give a good explanation of what this site was, and of course hoped that we would accept Jesus as our savior. Overall, as far as proselytizers go, he was pretty harmless.
The next section is for John Knox, a leader of the Reformation in Scotland.
At the center, four large statues of important leaders of the Reformation. Calvin is the tall one. Is he tall because he actually was taller than the others? Or because he is a local hero?
The Latin inscription below, iota eta sigma, apparently refers to the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Latin and is a symbol of Christianity, described as a Christogram.
The wall continues with sections in Italian, French, Dutch, and German.
We continued walking to the west after reaching the end of the wall. We came across this bust of Jean Piaget with Japanese on the plaque below! It seems to be a gift from (Google Translated):
Kimio Matsui: President and all members of the Japanese Association for Early Childhood Education. Osaka-Geneva, September 10th, 1996
We ended up by a tram stop at the northwestern edge of the university.
The Grand Théâtre de Genève was just to the north. “Tragedy, Lyric Poetry, Comedy” is inscribed on the building.
We continued walking to the west, coming to a large diamond shaped plaza, the Plaine de Plainpalais. There wasn’t anything going on here this afternoon. It was pretty quiet, other than some activity at the large skate park at the northern tip of the plaza.
We continued walking past the plaza to reach the Patek Philippe Museum. Photography is not permitted so there are no photos here. Admission includes an audio guide. While there are some interesting watches and other timepieces on display, overall this museum is best left for those who truly like watches. There unfortunately isn’t really anything that tells why Swiss watchmaking is considered the best in the world or why Patek Philippe is important, other than selling very expensive watches. The audio guide serves more as a reference with a audio for each individual item in the collection.
After our brief visit to the museum, we walked back to the northern tip of the Plaine de Plainpalais to catch a tram back to Cornavin. We got our bags out of the locker and caught the next train to Montreux where we will be staying for the next four nights at the Grand Hotel Suisse Majestic. We stayed at this same property during our trip here last year. It is in a convenient location for the places that we want to visit this time around.
Our room, on the 7th floor, is very similar to the one we had before. The only difference is that last time we had a tub while this room only has a shower.
Like our last visit, we had a room high enough to have a clear view above the trees in front of the hotel. Although we saw some blue sky this morning, the clouds rolled in and it was overcast skies the entire afternoon. The forecast calls for rain, rain, and more rain.
We headed out to find dinner at around 5:30pm. We ended up going to La Table de Montreux, a restaurant with a variety of items that tends to lean Italian.
We decided to order a pizza and a risotto. Both were interesting and different from the usual Italian fare that we find back home in the US. The pizza was served with the cheese in a ball in the middle. We smooshed it and spread it out atop the pizza. The risotto was particularly interesting because the curry and coconut milk made it taste very much like Singaporean laksa!
After eating, it started to pour outside. We walked back via the path next to Lake Geneva. It was cold and dark so we couldn’t see anything but we could hear the water slamming against the sea wall, or perhaps, lake wall. We did notice some small wooden structures in the process of being setup for Christmas markets though!