Geneva Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Geneva

The city of Geneva enjoys picturesque location at the southern tip of the expansive Lac Léman (aka Lake Geneva), surrounded by the Alps and Jura mountains, including the dramatic Mont Blanc peak.

The city was mentioned for the first time in Latin texts, by Caesar, with the spelling Genava, derived probably from the Celtic genawa- or genu- ("bend, knee"), in the sense of a bending river or estuary. It was an Allobrogian border town, fortified against the Helvetii tribe, when the Romans took it in 121 BC. The town became Christian under the Late Roman Empire, and acquired its first bishop in the 5th century, having been connected to the Bishopric of Vienne in the 4th.

After 1400 medieval county of Geneva became the Genevois province of Savoy (albeit not extending to the city proper, until the reformation of the seat of the Bishop of Geneva). In the Middle Ages, Geneva was ruled by a count under the Holy Roman Empire until the late 14th century, when it was granted a charter giving it a high degree of self-governance. In the first half of the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation reached the city, causing religious strife, during which Savoy rule was thrown off and Geneva allied itself with the Swiss Confederacy.

In 1541, with Protestantism on the rise, John Calvin, the Protestant Reformer and proponent of Calvinism, became the spiritual leader of the city and established the Republic of Geneva. By the 18th century, Geneva had come under the influence of Catholic France, which cultivated the city as its own. At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, on 1 June 1814, Geneva was admitted to the Swiss Confederation. The French influence, however, is still widespread here, from the language to gastronomy and more.

Geneva flourished in the 19th and 20th centuries, becoming the seat of many international organizations, such as the Headquarters of Europe’s United Nations and the Red Cross, and a global hub for diplomacy and banking.

Today mostly known as the city of watches and jewelry making, Geneva boasts of number of notable landmarks, such as the famous Jet D’eau, the Flower Clock, to mention but a few. To acquaint yourself with these and other attractions of Geneva, take this self-guided tour.
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Geneva Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Geneva Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Switzerland » Geneva (See other walking tours in Geneva)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
Author: john
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Place du Bourg-de-Four (Bourg-de-Four Square)
  • Murs des Réformateurs (Reformation Wall)
  • Cathédrale de St. Pierre (St. Pierre Cathedral)
  • Old Arsenal (Ancien Arsenal)
  • Hôtel de Ville (Geneva Town Hall)
  • Place du Molard (Molard Square and Tower)
  • Rue du Rhône (Rhone Street)
  • Horloge Fleurie (Flower Clock)
  • Jardin Anglais (English Garden)
  • Jet d'Eau (Water-Jet)
1
Place du Bourg-de-Four (Bourg-de-Four Square)

1) Place du Bourg-de-Four (Bourg-de-Four Square) (must see)

Place du Bourg-de-Four is one of central squares of Geneva and a top tourist sight that is important from both, historic and cultural standpoints. Unlike most squares of a rectangular shape, Place du Bourg-de-Four appears more like an hourglass, with its north side dominated by the imposing Palais de Justice, widening out until it finally splits into two streets (Rue de la Fontaine and Rue Verdaine) with a Lutheran church in between. The south side of Bourg-de-Four looks more like a square, with an 18th century fountain and buildings forming a harmonious ensemble, bordered by a small tree-lined promenade at the beginning of Rue de l'Hotel de Ville.

The square has been a popular gathering spot since the Roman times, when it was used as a marketplace and fairground by merchants. Its name apparently derives from the Latin “Forum des Burgondes”, which means Forum of the Burgundians, the east Germanic tribe that lived here in the 5th century AD.

Some of the buildings on the square were erected in the 17th century to accommodate Protestant exiles from France. The Lutheran community, present in Geneva since 1707, built in 1766 the first non-Calvinist church in the city to replace the old castle of Coudrée. They were allowed to do it on the condition that the building would not look like a church from the outside, therefore it does not have a steeple.

Surrounded with numerous stores, restaurants, galleries and upscale boutiques, today the square represents a cool place for a stroll or some shopping, meeting with friends, or a bit of socializing and relaxing. At Christmas, it gets romantically decorated with lights, becoming astonishingly beautiful.
Sight description based on wikipedia
2
Murs des Réformateurs (Reformation Wall)

2) Murs des Réformateurs (Reformation Wall) (must see)

The International Monument to the Reformation, usually known as the Reformation Wall, pays tribute to the key figures of the reformist movement, and is regarded somewhat as a religious site since it depicts important periods in the evolution of the movement, as well as different notable personalities who had contributed to it.

At the center of the monument there are four 5-meter statues of Calvinism's main proponents: Jean Calvin himself (1509–1564), Guillaume Farel Théodore de Bèze, and John Knox. Calvinism is a major branch of Protestantism that follows the theological tradition and forms of Christian practice set down by John Calvin and other Reformation-era theologians. Calvinists broke away from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century.

The Wall sits on the grounds of the University of Geneva founded by Jean Calvin, and was erected in 1909 to commemorate 400th anniversary of Calvin and the 350th anniversary of the university. It is built into the old city walls designed to solidify the role of Geneva in the Reformation process.

During that period, Geneva was the center of Calvinism, and its history and heritage has been closely linked to Protestantism ever since. Due to the close connections to that theology, the individuals most prominently depicted on the Wall are Calvinists; however, key reformation figures in other countries are also featured here.

To the left of the central statues, facing the Wall, there are 3-meter statues of Frederick William of Prussia, William the Silent of Neitherlands, and Gaspard de Coligny of France; to the right, there are similar statues of Roger Williams of America, Oliver Cromwell of England, and Stephen Bocskai of Hungary.
3
Cathédrale de St. Pierre (St. Pierre Cathedral)

3) Cathédrale de St. Pierre (St. Pierre Cathedral) (must see)

The St. Pierre Cathedral is probably one of the best-known religious sights in Geneva. Originally built as a Roman Catholic cathedral, St. Pierre became a Reformed Protestant Church during the Reformation, and was actively used by the reformists for their daily sermons. It is known as the adopted home church of John Calvin, one of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation; inside there is a wooden chair he used.

The history of this church, however, goes back to the 12th century, hence the mix of Roman, Gothic and Neoclassical architecture. Although there had been a cathedral on this site since the fourth century, the present building was begun under Arducius de Faucigny, the prince-bishop of the Diocese of Geneva, around 1160. The interior of the large, cruciform, late-Gothic church was stripped of its rood screen, side chapels and all decorative works of art, leaving a vast, white-washed interior contrasting sharply with the interior of a typical Roman Catholic Church.

A Neo-Classical main façade was added in the 18th century. In the 1890s, Genevans redecorated a large, side chapel adjacent to the cathedral's main doors in polychrome, Gothic revival style. In 1444, German artist Konrad Witz painted here the so-called “Miraculous Draught of Fishes”, which is now held in the Museum of History in Geneva.

Each summer there are bilingual services held in the cathedral for both German and French speaking worshipers.

Tips:
Inside, you can find an exquisite little chapel with astonishing carved figures and a beautiful organ - Chapel of the Maccabees.
Underneath the cathedral there is an interesting archaeological site.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 10am-5:30pm; Sun: 12pm-5:30pm (Oct-May); Mon-Sat: 9am-6:30pm; Sun: 12pm-6:30pm; carillon concert: 5pm; organ concert: 6pm (Jun-Sep)
Free admission. Last entry to the tower: half an hour before Cathedral's closing time.
Sight description based on wikipedia
4
Old Arsenal (Ancien Arsenal)

4) Old Arsenal (Ancien Arsenal)

The Old Arsenal (French: Ancien Arsenal) is a former militarily installation in the heart of Geneva's Old Town, located just a stone's throw from the Town Hall. Back in the day, it was used for storing arms and gun powder, but today serves a more peaceful function, housing the State Archives.

The building’s architecture, resembling a fortified mansion with five cannons set to defend the city against the attackers, recalls Geneva's distant warlike past. Under the Romans, this site was an open-air market, and was covered only in the early 15th century. In 1588, arcades were added, upon which a granary was built that was eventually transformed into a military depot, between 1720 and 1877.

Presently, underneath these arcades is a compact artillery museum with a collection of five period cannons, similar to those used to defend ramparts of the city, plus three colorful, battle-themed mosaics depicting key periods in the local history, namely: the arrival of Julius Caesar in 58 BC; the Fairs of the Middle Ages; and the reception of Huguenot refugees after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

Also, each year on December 11 or the closest weekend, visitors to the Old Arsenal can treat themselves to some vegetable soup served here in commemorative bowls during the historic Escalade festival, celebrating the ill-fated attempt to conquer the Protestant city of Geneva by the Catholic Duchy of Savoy in 1602-1603.
5
Hôtel de Ville (Geneva Town Hall)

5) Hôtel de Ville (Geneva Town Hall)

For over 500 years, Geneva’s Town Hall has been at the heart of local and even international political life. As the seat of the government of the Canton and the Republic of Geneva, this place has witnessed a number of events of great historic importance.

In 1864, the building’s Alabama Room saw the signing of the very first Geneva Convention, the founding act of the International Red Cross. Also, in 1872 it was here that the international arbitration court ended a long-standing conflict between the United States of America and Great Britain.

The 16th century building boasts three stories of neoclassical design, with a large courtyard and a huge paved ramp. The ramp is a unique cobbled spiral staircase built between 1555 and 1578 enclosed within a square tower, allowing direct access to the upper floors on horseback. Today, visitors can walk up in their forefathers' “hoof-steps” only on foot!
6
Place du Molard (Molard Square and Tower)

6) Place du Molard (Molard Square and Tower)

Once described as Geneva's “economic lung, urban matrix, and political arena”, Molard Square is one of the city's oldest commercial areas since the 16th century. The first mention of it as a port dates back to 1271. The word "molard" is the Latin for levee of earth and probably refers to a riprap, a dyke, that used to protect the port. In 1309, the first hard hall was built in the area, making it a commercial and customs port.

In the 16th century, the area around Molard became an economic center of the city fitted with warehouses, customs and foreign exchange offices, hotels, numerous craft shops, public writers and notary benches, printers, etc. Eventually, there appeared a fish and poultry market with new halls established in 1690.

At the center of the square is the Molard Tower (aka Clock Tower) which is a remnant of the defensive wall that used to protect the port of Molard in the Middle Ages. In 1906 it was adorned with a painted frieze taken from the demolished house of Rolle. The frieze features the coats of arms of the key actors in the Reformation history and a sculpture, called “Geneva city of Refuge”. Some find the male character depicted on the sculpture to bear a striking resemblance to Vladimir Lenin, although there is no proof that the author used Lenin as a model.

In addition to that, the square hosts a myriad of small boutiques and big brand stores, plus a number of excellent souvenir shops. Twice a week, Molard Square transforms into an open-air flea market organized by local authorities.
7
Rue du Rhône (Rhone Street)

7) Rue du Rhône (Rhone Street)

Rhone Street is one of the best-known shopping lanes in downtown Geneva. However up until the 15th century the area where Rhone Street is today was still the shore of Lake Geneva. Historically, this street was a gathering spot for horse-dealers and a place for fodder warehouses. It gradually took its current form in the 18th century, and was extended further east from the riverside in the middle of the 19th century.

Today, Rhone Street is a shopper's paradise. If you're a shopaholic, your eyes will sparkle in this bevy of temptations, featuring practically all the known luxury brands, vying with one another in elegance and style. Shopping addicts will find all their dreams come true at Rhone Street, as the local retailers are committed to fulfilling all your longings for luxury, be it watches, fashion or jewelry, handmade chocolate or whatever else you may discover (or rediscover) in what has given Geneva its reputation. Nowhere else will you find such a dense concentration of prestige!

You'll need at least half a day to resist this! And if you're craving for a break while shopping, come and admire the Malbuisson Clock, its chime and mechanical procession, which scrolls by every hour.

Albeit ultimately posh, this shopping street does have some sales taking place here also. So, if lucky, you can grab a bargain in one or more of the local stores.
8
Horloge Fleurie (Flower Clock)

8) Horloge Fleurie (Flower Clock) (must see)

As the mother of high-end watches, Geneva has long been recognised worldwide for its watchmaking tradition. In tribute to this tradition and in dedication to nature, the Flower Clock was installed on the western side of English Garden in Geneva in 1955.

Measuring 5 meters (16 ft) in diameter, with the second hand being 2.5 metres (8.2 ft) long, it took some 6,500 flowering plants and shrubs to create the clock face. Geneva's Flower Clock remained the world's largest outdoor clock made of flowers until 2005, when it lost premiership to a 15-metre (49-ft) counterpart in Tehran, Iran.

Being in service for over half a century, the acclaimed Swiss clock has never stopped nor been out of order. What's also interesting is that it always looks different, being made of various flowers which bloom at different times during the year. The plants are changed according to season thus bringing in a new set of colors each time, making the Flower Clock truly unique. The entire mosaic is produced and maintained in a natural way without use of chemicals.
Sight description based on wikipedia
9
Jardin Anglais (English Garden)

9) Jardin Anglais (English Garden)

Spread over 25,430 square meters of land, the English Garden is a spacious urban park, one of the greenest in Geneva. Originally built in 1855, it was modeled on traditional English landscape design. In 1863, the park had its form drastically changed to a trapezoid following the construction of the nearby Mont Blanc bridge.

Whilst an attraction in its own right, the English Garden is also home to several notable landmarks, such as the National Monument, the world-famous Flower Clock, the bronze Four Seasons Fountain, several pavilions and a coffee house.

The latter, called "The Gossips", is a great place to relax in the middle of the Garden and, as its name suggests, exchange some gossips. Another local attraction is the Geneve Boat. This boat was made famous when, on September 10th 1898, the Austrian Empress Sissi, after being stabbed in the heart by an Italian anarchist, ran to catch him and collapsed on the deck only to die an hour later. The boat is now a welfare association, offering counselling and free meals to the people in need; tourists are also welcome to hop on for a lunch or dinner.

The three busts found in the Garden celebrate the great Swiss painters, Alexandre Calame and François Diday, as well as sculptor Auguste Rodo de Niederhausen.

From mid-July to mid-August, the English Garden serves as one of the hosts of the annual summer Geneva Festival.

The Garden is also home to several hundred-year-old trees, like a ginkgo planted in 1863 and a purple beech planted in 1895 for the National Exhibition. A giant cedar, a majestic sequoia, a large-flowered magnolia, horse chestnut trees, a tulip tree and other species complete the enchantment of the site. The entire green space of the park is managed ecologically, without any chemicals.
Sight description based on wikipedia
10
Jet d'Eau (Water-Jet)

10) Jet d'Eau (Water-Jet) (must see)

The Water-Jet is a large fountain in Geneva, and one of the city's most famous landmarks.

The first Water-Jet was installed in 1886 at a site a little further downstream from its present location and was used as a safety valve for a hydraulic power network. The installation was soon recognized for its aesthetic value so in 1891 it was moved to its present location to celebrate the Federal Gymnastics Festival and the 600th anniversary of the Swiss Confederation. The Water-Jet you see today was installed in 1951 in a partially submerged pumping station.

Nowadays it is regarded as one of the largest fountains in the world. It is visible throughout the city as well as from as high as 10 km (33,000 ft) in the air. Five hundred liters (132 gallons) of water per second are jetted to an altitude of 140 meters (459 feet). The water leaves the nozzle at a speed of 200 km/h (124 mph). When in operation, at any given moment there are about 7,000 liters (1849 gallons) of water shooting upwards.

The fountain can be reached via a stone jetty from the left bank of the lake. Unsuspecting visitors to the fountain may be surprised to find themselves drenched after a slight change in the wind direction.

Since 2003, the fountain has been operated during the day all year round, except for frosty or particularly windy weather. It also operates in the evenings between spring and autumn, when it is lit by a set of 21 lights.
Sight description based on wikipedia

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