What’s Doing in Geneva

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Flower Clock 4

As you stroll through the lakefront area, make sure to take note of the botanical sculpture known as l’Horloge Fleurie, or the Flower Clock. The clock is located on the western edge of the Jardin Anglais not far from the Jet d’Eau. It is 16 feet (5 meters) in diameter and is comprised of over 6,500 flowers and shrubs sculpted and arranged to form the image of a large, colorful clock on the lawn’s surface. The clock is equipped with satellite-controlled hands that display the precise local time. The sculpture was first created in 1955 to honor the city’s famed clockmakers, and different colors are presented with the passing seasons.

North of the Flower Clock are the city’s Botanical Gardens, located in the Parc de l’Imperatrice on the northern bank of the lake. The Botanical Gardens are both a popular site for visitors and a scientific research facility. They feature terraces with over 500 different species of plants used in food and medicine, an interactive mini-garden where visitors can identify plants by smell and touch, a group of greenhouses, and a small zoo with spotted deer and flamingos.

Located to the west of the gardens is the Palais des Nations, or Palace of Nations. The official complex houses the United Nations Office in Geneva, where thousands of intergovernmental meetings and negotiations take place every year. The Palace offers public tours that take visitors through the main rooms of the complex, including the Assembly Hall, the Council Chamber, and the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room, which is used primarily by the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Palace of Nations was originally built between 1929 and 1936 as the headquarters of the League of Nations, and later became home to the Swiss branch of the United Nations in 1946.

Beneath the city’s gleaming modern façade, however, lies a deeper cultural history waiting to be unearthed.  Nothing epitomizes the traditional side of Geneva like the Vieille Ville, or Old Town. If you’re looking for a workout combined with a history lesson, head over to this hilly neighborhood of narrow streets that stretch upwards at a steep incline.

Old Town is famous for its cobblestone streets, plazas, and historic buildings that give it a quaint, old-fashioned atmosphere. The Place du Bourg-de-Four, the central plaza at the heart of the neighborhood, is a place where visitors can stop to enjoy a beer at one of the square’s numerous pubs and cafés. Also situated in Old Town are Geneva’s Town Hall, where the City Parliament holds its meetings, and several museums that showcase the history of the area. These include the Maison Tavel, a small museum that depicts life in Geneva in the Middle Ages, the International Museum of the Reformation, which details the history of the Protestant Reformation in Geneva, and the Espace Rousseau, a tiny gem of a museum that commemorates the birthplace of French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Perhaps the most notable landmark in Old Town is St. Pierre Cathedral, an important historical site that combines Neoclassical and Gothic architecture. The cathedral features several attractions worth the visit, including two towers that offer a panoramic view of the city to visitors willing to climb hundreds of winding steps; the Chapel of the Maccabees, which served as a warehouse and lecture hall at the time of the Reformation; and a wooden chair that once belonged to John Calvin. The cathedral was built in the 12th century under the reign of Arducius de Faucigny, the prince-bishop of the Diocese of Geneva, and was converted into a Protestant church in the mid-16th century. History lovers can also explore the archaeological site beneath the cathedral, which contains the remains of several early Christian sanctuaries and churches, mosaic floors from the late Roman Empire, and a crypt dating to the 11th century.

To the south of Old Town lies the Plainpalais district, a neighborhood in the city’s downtown area and the site of the University of Geneva. In many ways, the Plainpalais area is just as steeped in tradition as Old Town. Teeming with college students enjoying its many sidewalk cafés, the neighborhood also hosts a popular flea market in the Plaine de Plainpalais, a large, diamond-shaped area near the university. The market, which first began in 1970, is open every Wednesday and Saturday, as well as the first Sunday of each month, and features hundreds of stalls selling vintage clothes, jewelry, books, antiques, used household items, and fresh local produce at bargain prices. Shoppers are advised to visit the market early, as it typically empties out around noon. The Plaine de Plainpalais also features a skating park, and is a popular site for traveling circuses and carnivals.

Jet d'Eau

Jet d’Eau


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