Flower Clock, Geneva Attractions

The world-famous Geneva Flower Clock sports 6500 flowers; credit Mazel Purnell

Geneva Attractions

Geneva Attractions are headlined by old narrow, winding, cobblestone streets, and buildings with rich architectural features. Historic St. Peter’s Cathedral, one of the world’s most famous cathedrals, was built over 70 years, from 1160 to 1230 AD. The cathedral has a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles with a neoclassical façade.

Today’s relatively austere interior resulted when its statutes, alters, icons, and the original organ was destroyed during the 1536 conversion from a Catholic cathedral to a Protestant church. Frescoes on the interior walls of the Nave were whitewashed over. Among the few Catholic decorations to survive the purge is the beautiful stained glass in the chancel.

The Cathedral has two towers but only the north tower is open to the public. At the top of the narrow 157-step staircase, the tower offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the city, Lake Geneva, and the surrounding Jura Mountains to the north and Mont Blanc to the south. Before descending the staircase, take a closer look at la Clémence, the cathedral’s largest bell.

At over six tons, it is six times the weight of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. La Clémence was hoisted to the tower over 600 years ago.

Near St. Peter’s Cathedral is the Place du Bourg-de-Four, the heart of the Old Town. This broad open square with a lovely 18th-century fountain and buildings fronting 16th, 17th, and 18th-century architecture is a commercial and social meeting place for both Genevans and tourists just as it has been since Roman times.

A short stroll from Place du Bourg-de-Four is Promenade de la Treille where you will find the world’s longest bench. Originally built in 1767, the 394-foot (120 meters) bench is set along a wall on a high hill that was once an observation and artillery post for the defense of the city. The bench faces two long rows of chestnut trees which stretch the length of the promenade.

Worlds Longest Bench, Geneva

View from the World’s Longest Bench at U. of Geneva; credit Mazel Purnell

The last tree on the left, bent and leaning with age, has been designated the city’s official Chestnut Tree. On a daily basis in early spring, a specially appointed sautier (guardian of the land) inspects the nearly 80-year-old tree for the first sign of spring. When the first leaf buds forth, the sautier proclaims to anyone within earshot that spring has arrived.

This occasion is known as l’eclosion or “the budding.” The sautier then records the date on a special notice board in the Town Hall.

Promenade de la Treille now overlooks the grassy lawn of the University of Geneva which was founded by John Calvin. Facing the lawn is the International Monument to the Reformation or simply Reformation Wall. The 330-foot-long, 33-foot high wall is built into the old city wall of Geneva and honors the main individuals, events, and documents of the Protestant Reformation. It was built in 1909 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Calvin’s birth and the 350th anniversary of the university’s establishment. At the center of the wall are the more than 16-foot tall statues of the leaders of the reformation (John Calvin, his successor, Theodore de Beze, Guillaume Farel, and John Knox) as well as the nearly 10-foot tall bas-reliefs of other religious leaders.

Visitors can spend an entire day exploring Geneva’s Old Town. For about $15, you can rent a walkman and map which will take you on a 2-hour walking tour with historic comments on 26 points of interest. These sites include Maison Tavel, the oldest house in Geneva; Palais de Justice, the location of the city’s law courts since 1860; Hotel de Ville, site of the 1864 First Assembly of the Geneva Convention; and the Old Arsenal with its five cannons and an archway with three mosaic frescoes depicting key periods in Geneva’s history. Along the tour, you will pass scores of boutiques and antique shops on the narrow, windy, and sometimes steep streets of Old Town.

Even though Old Town with its labyrinth of narrow, angular streets, antique shops, and cafes is a prime tourist destination, the Cité Internationale (the base of international organizations) and the rest of the Right Bank hold a number of attractions that shouldn’t be missed.

The United Nations Office (Palais des Nations) is the most important UN Center after the New York headquarters and the most active international conference center in the world. Behind the security gates of the main entrance to the UN are two rows of flagpoles flying flags of all member nations. This entrance is used only by UN staff. To get to the public entrance, proceed left up the hill to Avenue de la Paix.

If you plan to take the tour, be sure to bring your passport since you will be effectively leaving Switzerland and entering international territory after going through the visitor’s security gate.

On the hour-long guided tour of the huge complex, you will hear about the history and tradition of the organization, see the magnificent pieces of art donated by member nations and see the Council Chamber decorated with magnificent gold and sepia murals painted in 1934 depicting the progress of humankind.

You also get to sit in the Great Assembly Hall with a seating capacity for more than 1,200 members and observers and simultaneous translation into the language of all member nations.

On the Place des Nations, the broad plaza in front of the UN main entrance is the 39-foot tall Three Legged Chair. The lost leg symbolizes what so many landmine and cluster-bomb victims suffer. The chair was the brainchild of Paul Vermeulen, Director of Handicap International. The broken leg is intended as a daily reminder to UN staff who use the main entrance to urge their governments to take action to help victims and avoid similar injuries in the future.

Across the street from the UN visitor entrance is the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum. Through displays, sculptures, objects, and original photographs and film clips, the museum pays tribute to the extraordinary deeds of the men and women of the Red Cross. By following the recommended display route, visitors can trace Red Cross and Red Crescent contributions during wars, floods, earthquakes, and other grave events on every continent except Australia during the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.

You will leave with a renewed appreciation for the works of these extraordinary organizations.

A short walk down the hill from the Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum is the Adriana Museum, the Swiss Museum of Ceramics and Glass. Lovers of kilncraft, including pottery, stoneware, porcelain, and faience will be thrilled with the more than 20,000 objects in the museum’s collections.

Sanctuary of St. Peters Cathedral, Geneva Attractions

Dramatic looking sanctuary inside St. Peters Cathedral, Geneva; credit Mazell Purnell

Modern art aficionados will enjoy the artwork on display at the MAMCO Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. The museum exhibits a broad range of works from the early 1960s to the present day including videos, paintings, photographs, and sculptures.

The Natural History Museum of Geneva, Switzerland’s largest museum of natural history, is popular with tourists as well as Genevans and includes attention-grabbing displays for both adults and children. With over 86,000 square feet (8,000 square meters), the museum is dedicated to the preservation of natural heritage. Ongoing research includes the restoration of Lucy, the skeletal remains of an adult female estimated to have lived over 3.2 million years ago.

A naturalist will enjoy strolling through the Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Bastions Park. This living museum has a greenhouse, a rock garden, an arboretum, banks of protected and medicinal plants, one of the largest public scientific libraries in the world, and many other opportunities to look and learn. Of particular interest to the visually impaired is the garden of scent and touch.

Numerous excursions by coach, cable car, or boat are available to the Swiss countryside or locations in nearby France. From the center city, it takes about 20 minutes to reach Mont Salève where you can take a five-minute cable car ride to the top of the 4527-foot-high peak overlooking the streets of Geneva. From the peak, you can also see Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps.

In 90 minutes, you can travel to Chamonix, a famous mountain village at the foot of majestic Mont-Blanc. Before exploring Chamonix, you can take a two-stage cable car to Aiguille du Midi where you can experience the panoramic views of the Chamonix Valley and major peaks of the French, Swiss and Italian Alps.

On boat cruises lasting less than an hour to a full day, you can see Geneva‚s exquisite parks, gardens and residences, and castles of famous celebrities or visit some of the other cities on the shores of Lake Geneva such as Lausanne, Coppet, Nyon, and Montreux.

If you want to experience European history and culture without the language barrier or the economic drain of paying with the euro, Geneva Attractions should be high on your list of places to visit. Plan to spend 2 or 3 days in the city.

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