Geneva is a funny old city – its dirty, busy, tram ridden high-street reminds me of Manchester in a strange kind of way, while the old city is beautiful and charming – the opposite of the high-street, and the red light district – a neon soaked, vibrant reminder of Switzerland’s open sex laws and also the only place it’s possible to find good chillies, and excellent Thai food, in probably a hundred mile radius! Like I said it’s a funny old place.
We visited Geneva for the day recently and found a grey mono sky covering most of the mountains and descending at a rapid rate towards the cobbled paths of the old town. While we walked, it became apparent that this kind of weather does absolutely nothing for the city – not like those such as York in England and even Venice in Italy, whose streets find a new lease of life during darker times. No, the streets of Geneva lacked a certain vigour – the life seemed drained from them and the lake? A large pool of lifeless grey waters mimicking the sky above (though shades of its usual blue were there but they lacked vibrance). We were tired from a late night and an early morning and so headed to the old town to grab a coffee in one of the prettier cafes by the old style carousel. Refreshed we then headed into Vieille Ville to take a look around its dank stoney streets…and we found a pleasant, almost empty old town – complete with beautiful old squares, antique bookstores and a rather lovely cathedral whose façades show a history that spans some 850 years.
The cathedral sits at the highest point of the Old Town, it was built in the 12th century, and had various bits and pieces added later beginning in the 16th century. On a bluer day I would suggest climbing the 157 steps up the north tower to take in the incredible views of the city and the lake.
The grey building above is the The Maison Tavel or Tavel House – otherwise known as the oldest house in the city – it dates back to the 12th century. Though built by the Tavel family the house now belongs to the city of Geneva and currently houses a museum, that explores the history of Geneva through a series of exhibits and installations.
The above image shows the Old Arsenal with original cannons from the 17th century and three (2 in picture) frescoes by Alexandre Cingria, depicting different periods in Geneva’s history. The arsenal was originally a granary built in the 17th century and later used as a military storehouse up until 1877. There are five cannons exhibited under the archways – each of which were still in use well into the 19th century. The building now houses the Geneva State Archives.
Pictured above is the 15th century Geneva Town Hall, built between 1555 and 1578 by Peter Desfosses. Wrapped around the exterior is a unique access ramp – said to have been built in such a way to allow access to the building on both foot and horseback. This building also houses the Alabama Room – the very room where the first Geneva Convention was signed in 1864.
If you look carefully as you make your way around the Geneva old town – you’ll note lots of beautiful, and rather intricate embellishments on the city’s architecture – the doors are mostly grand and wooden, many, like the one in the picture above and below – have beautiful keyholes in now extinct shapes and door knockers that are truly worthy of the name.
There are literally tens and tens of old antique stores, libraries and galleries dotted around Geneva’s old town – many of them with signage as old as the shops themselves, some grand and others minimalistic to the point of obscurity but no less beautiful.
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