April 4, 2020

Geneva, Switzerland

Aug 2011

Geneva enjoys a picturesque setting.  At the southern tip of the crescent shaped Lac Leman (Lake Geneva)  where River Rhone exits the lake (after having entered it at the northern tip).  The city is surrounded by snow clad mountains on three sides.

Geneva is in the French speaking side of Switzerland; is about 16 square km in size with a population of 200,000 (four times the area and two thirds the population of Mylapore in Chennai). 

Geneva is a rich city.  About fourteen times the per capita income of Mumbai!

Geneva has three things going:

1.  It is a global financial center.  Fifth largest in Europe (after London, Zurich, Frankfurt, and Luxembourg).  About $ 1 trillion of the $ 300 trillion financial assets worldwide is parked in Geneva.  (Yes, small.  The global leaders are New York, London, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Shanghai in that order.  Holding other people's money is a big business).

2.  It is a diplomacy capital.  Hosts more global organisations than any other city.  As a result about half the residents of Geneva are from abroad!

3.  It is the Rome of Reformist churches.  For both Lutherans and Calvinists.  Even though Protestants are outnumbered by Catholics four to one in current demographics!

Geneva was under Roman rule for several centuries; under French rule next; an independent republic later; and joined the Swiss Federation in 1815.

Geneva is built on the shores of Lac Leman with three promenades dotting the western, southern, and eastern shores of the lake and the famous "Jet d'Eau" (Water jet)  on the lake in the centre.

Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) and Jet d'Eau (the Water jet)

The Jet d'Eau is to Geneva what Eiffel tower is to Paris or Times Square to New York.  The jet was originally a mechanism to manage water overflow in the city's hydraulic network; but later got enshrined as a star tourist attraction.  The jet has a 145 m tall plume and its motors propel water up 500 litres a second!

One can go quickly from one part of Geneva to another using launches that cross Lake Geneva.  One can take the normal boats to other cities on the Lake such as Lausanne, Montreux, or Vevey.  Oftentimes the journey itself is more enjoyable than the destination.

Geneva lakeshore: Promenade du Lac

Geneva Lakeshore:  Parc des Eaux Vives

Geneva Lakeshore:  Parc des Eaux Vives

On the western shore, a pier stretching into the lake houses the "Bains des Paquis" (public bath houses and swimming pools), lake side beaches, and the "Phare des Paquis" lighthouse.

Bains des Paquis and Phare des Paquis (Bath houses and Light house)

Mount Saleve (about 40 minutes drive south of Geneva; in France) provides a backdrop to the southern sky of Geneva and offers an excellent aerial view of the city on a sunny day.

Geneva Lakeshore:  Mount Saleve in background

Exclusive mansions on the eastern lakeshore offer a spectacular view of the lake.  Oh, to wake up to that view in one of these mansions would be the height of luxury.  You can of course have the same luxury for free walking on Promenade des Eaux Vives!

Mansions on Lakeshore

And the views they offer of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva)

A cruise around the lake shows even more luxurious villas and even more captivating views!

Cruise on Lac Leman:  Lakeshore villas

Curious onlooker checking out the cruise boat

Another star attraction of Geneva is the "Horloge Fleurie" (Flower clock) in "Jardin Anglais" (English gardens).  A train takes folks around the park.  The clock is set on a slight slope for easier viewing and uses more than 6,500 flower plants (mostly seasonal blooming plants; changed several times a year).  The clock was set up in 1955 and celebrates the watchmakers of Geneva.  This is one of the most popular selfie spots in the city.

Horloge Fleurie (Flower Clock)

Horloge Fleurie (Flower Clock)

The western shore (northwards of Pont du Mont Blanc) houses banks, jewellers selling watches, churches, piers for ferry boats, etc

Pont du Mont Blanc

Western shore of Lake Geneva

The Quai du Mont Blanc on the western shore is a monument in memory of Empress Elisabeth of Austria who was assassinated at this spot by an Italian anarchist in 1898.  Behind it is the Brunswick monument, a mausoleum built for Duke Karl II of Brunswick who left his wealth for the city of Geneva.  The mausoleum is modelled after the Scaligeri tombs of Verona.

Western shore of Lake Geneva:  Quai du Mont Blanc & Brunswick Monument

Western shore of Lake Geneva:  Entrance to Brunswick Monument

Western shore of Lake Geneva:  Brunswick Monument

As said earlier, Geneva is the Rome of Reformist Church.  Geneva rebelled against and forced the Catholic bishop to exile in 1532.  John Calvin, the father of Calvinism (which along with Lutherans constituted the two important components of Protestantism) moved into Geneva in 1532 and wrote several theological theses founding Calvinism.  (Calvinism differs from Lutheran philosophy on whether Jesus' presence in Eucharist is real or substantial and on rules of worship.  However, Geneva was more a battleground of Calvinism v Lutherans than Protestants v Catholics!).

Geneva celebrates its Reformist heroes at the "Monument de la Reformation" in Parc des Bastions.  The 100 m Reformation Wall is in Parc des Bastions.  The monument was erected in 1917 and has the statues of the four statesmen of Calvinism and various other philosophers of the same school.  It also includes memorials at either end for Luther (who offered a differing view of Protestantism) and Zwinglie (who echoed Calvin's view of Protestantism).

Reformation Wall

Reformation Wall

Parc des Bastions, the park where the Reformation monument is located, is a place to relax.  The park has six giant chess boards, in case your idea of relaxation is an intense chess match with someone in your league.

Wife, relaxing at Parc des Bastions

Parc des Bastions

The Old Town in Geneva (Vieille ville in French) is a maze of small streets, picturesque squares,  homey cafes, street side restaurants, and historical buildings.  The Old Town is 25 m higher than the lake and visiting it involves a climb.

Vieille Ville, the Old Town

Vieille Ville, the Old Town

Ballet du Grand, teh Opera House in Old Town 

The Temple de Saint Pierre in the Old Town started as a Cathedral 870 years back (in 1150 AD).  It is the highest point in Old Town.  During the XVI century Reformation, it was converted into a Protestant Church and renamed as Temple de Saint Pierre.  The Calvinists stripped out the Catholic altars, paintings, statues etc and left only the carved capitals and stained class from the original decor.  John Calvin preached here from 1536 to 1564.

Tempe de Saint Pierre

Temple de Saint Pierre

John Calvin's Chair in Temple de Saint Pierre

Our best memory of Geneva?  That is from a different trip two decades back.  With our children.  When we visited a traditional Swiss restaurant for a traditional Swiss dinner.  Hot, sizzling, creamy, rich fondue was placed on a stove and left on our table.  We were given bite size breads on long thin sticks.  We had to dip the bread in the fondue and take it in one go.  Exceptionally delicious.

The quality of a civilisation should be measured by how well it cooks its cheese.  India is the best.  Switzerland is a very close second!


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