Situated along the banks of Lake Geneva at the foot of the Alps, Geneva sparkles as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Home to the European headquarters of the United Nations, Geneva has a long history of diversity and tolerance dating back to the Protestant Reformation. Geneva is the second most populous city in Switzerland (after Zürich) and is the most populous city of Romandy. Situated where the Rhône exits Lake Geneva, it is the capital of the Republic and Canton of Geneva.
The city of Geneva first emerged in about 500 BCE as a fortified Allobrogian Celtic settlement before being seized by the Romans in 121 BCE. Julius Caesar used the city as a blockage against unwanted migration of peoples, meanwhile expanding the city into a significant Roman hub. After the fall of the Roman empire, the city was seized by the Franks, and later the German emperor, while it was simultaneously emerging as an important trading center and home to many successful merchants. Geneva served as an important Christian site through the late Middle Ages, with its local bishops serving as princes of the Holy Roman Empire.
The city was granted a communal self-government in 1387, which the ruling bishops were expected to affirm. In 1457, Geneva established a popularly elected Grand Council to oversee the city’s affairs; however, the council often found itself opposed with the Duchy of Savoy, whose authority Geneva fell under on an international level. Several tumultuous decades of Savoy invasions and failed appeals for independence led the Grand Council to establish a union with the Old Swiss Confederacy in 1526, a union that would later become modern-day Switzerland.
Geneva also served as an important center during the Reformation, becoming the home of Calvinism in the 16th century. This brought discourse to a historically Catholic city; however, Geneva’s Grand Council succeeded in avoiding mass bloodshed by balancing acceptance of Protestant ideas, such French Bible translations, with more conservative Catholic practices. During this period, it also established itself as a welfare state, with a general state hospital and centralized education system, guided by the Calvinist founder, John Calvin.
The 17th century hindered previous progress, as the city became more aristocratic, with the most powerful ruling council now (Conseil des Deux-Cents) mainly composed of members from powerful local families, chosen through nepotism. The 18th century saw the powerful elite use their position to harshly tax the poor, leading to riots from 1734-1737 by a populist faction called “the representatives” who advocated for a more representative Grand Council. Their aims would not materialize until the Geneva Revolution of 1782, when popular representatives were able to establish a wide array of democratic reforms; however, this enlightened period of government was short-lived, as foreign forces soon crushed the revolutionary movement, causing its advocates to flee. In 1798, Geneva was annexed by France, but in 1802 it was granted membership into the Swiss Confederation, where it could once again function more autonomously and declare itself a neutral state.
The 20th century saw the modernization of Geneva’s institutions, adopting a separation of church and state in 1907 and female suffrage in 1960. Geneva also became a significant center of international cooperation during this period. It served as the center of the League of Nations from 1919 until its dissolution, and has served as a center for the UN post-World War II.
Geneva has always served as an important site of cultural exchange, first with its presence in international trade throughout the Middle Ages. Due to its difficult terrain, Geneva was often able to ward off foreign invaders, but also struggled to establish a strong agricultural system. Thus, manufacturing industries, with an emphasis on exportation, have been the most successful for the city, with fine machinery and instrument production being the most profitable in the modern era. Geneva also serves as the center of private banking for both Switzerland and much of international finance, with many financial institutions based in Geneva. As a result, ⅔ of Geneva’s population is employed within the service industries, whether banking, retail trade, or tourism. The city also has developed several major autoroutes and railways for international travel, most notably to major cities in France and Italy.
In 1945, the city’s population saw rapid growth, with new immigrants coming for Geneva’s international institutions, as well as chemical, construction, and financial industries. By the 1990s, the population was only ⅓ native Genevian, with another ⅓ from other areas of Switzerland and the remaining ⅓ from foreign countries; the last component is largely made up of American, Asian, and African nationals. Despite this makeup, French is still the city’s dominant language, with most speaking another second language; the majority of Swiss outside the city, however, speak German.
Geneva is also home to a wide array of museums, particularly addressing the biological and chemical sciences. The city is home to the leading laboratory in particle physics, and also has many programs for international students working in STEM. Unsurprisingly, this has brought Switzerland to produce the most Nobel Prize winners within science of any other country.
Cheese fondue: cheese melted in a large fondue pot, enjoyed by dipping small pieces of bread into the cheese
Raclette: cheese melt on on small pans, often done individually, to be served on top of Gschwellti (jacket potatoes), vegetables, and pickled fruits.
Cenovis: similar to Australian vegemite, this tart vegetable spread is commonly put on small pieces of bread as a snack
Älplermagronen: referred to in North American as Alpine Macaroni, this gratin is made with potatoes, macaroni pasta, cheese, cream, and unions, often served with cooked apple on the side
Rösti: a hotcake made with potatoes and fried in butter or animal fat
Birchermüesli: dish made of oat flakes, lemon juice, condensed milk, apple pieces, and hazelnuts or almonds, left sitting overnight to enjoy for breakfast
Romandie: saucisson, or raw pork sausages served as an appetizer or side with cooked eggs or vegetables
If you would like to learn more about this incredible city, its history and cuisine, check out these sites: