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11 Facts about Geneva, Switzerland

Updated on April 23, 2014
Lake Geneva
Lake Geneva | Source

Geneva is a city and canton in Switzerland. The city of Geneva, enclosing the western end of Lake Geneva, was the bastion of Protestantism in the 16th century under John Calvin. Between World Wars I and II it was the home of the League of Nations, and after World War II it became the European center for the United Nations. The canton, which, in 1815, was the last to join the Swiss Confederation, is predominantly French-speaking, and its primary religious affiliation is Calvinist.

1. Geneva has become an important center for tourism. Tourists are attracted by the beauty of Lake Geneva and of the Mont Blanc massif, which lies to the south. The high mountains can be reached easily from the city.

2. The center of the old city lies on a hill that rises above the southern, or left, bank of the Rhône River just after it leaves Lake Geneva. The hill was the site of Celtic and Roman cities and of the walled city of the Middle Ages. It is crowned by the Cathedral of St. Pierre, which was begun in the 12th century, partially rebuilt in the later Middle Ages, and drastically altered in the 18th century. Around the cathedral are the narrow streets of the old city. Though rebuilt in modern times, they still contain buildings associated with the life of John Calvin and with that of Calvin's followers Théodore de Bèze and John Knox.

Views of Geneva
Views of Geneva | Source

3. To the south of the old city are the buildings of the university, founded in 1872. They incorporate the academy that Calvin established in the 16th century. Nearby is the Promenade des Bastions, which has a striking monument built in the 20th century to honor central figures of the Reformation. To the east is the Museum of Art and History. The modern city has developed between the old city and the lake and on the right, or northern, bank of the Rhône.

4. The river contains two islands, one of which is the well-known Île Rousseau. Eight bridges cross the river within the urban area. A short distance below the sixth bridge, the Rhône is joined from the southeast by the Arve River. The Arve Valley leads to the Mont Blanc tunnel, which cuts through the Alps.

5. Geneva's suburbs now extend along the lake's north and south shores. There is a well-planned waterfront with gardens and promenades, backed by hotels, office buildings, and shops. Geneva is noted for the number and large extent of its parks and open spaces. In the midst of the Parc de l'Ariana, on rising ground to the west of the lake, is the Palais des Nations, the European headquarters of the United Nations.

Place du Bourg-de-Four
Place du Bourg-de-Four | Source

6. Geneva is primarily a business and cultural center. Banking has long been a mainstay of its economic life, and the city is one of the principal shopping centers of Switzerland. It also has some light industry. Swiss watches are made there, especially in the suburb of St.-Gervais. Jewelry and a number of other craft products are made, including enamelware; these are produced in small workshops rather than factories. Among the city's other industries are printing and publishing, the manufacture of clothing and electrical and precision machinery, and the processing of foodstuffs.

Musée d'Art et d'Histoire
Musée d'Art et d'Histoire | Source
Jet d'Eau
Jet d'Eau | Source

7. Geneva suffers in some respects by being in large part enclosed by France. If border restrictions were not relaxed to some degree, the city would serve a very small area. In fact, however, it is an economic center for northern Savoy as well as for the southern parts of the French Jura.

8. Geneva is a transportation center of great importance. Roads converge on the city, which commands the key crossing of the Rhône above Lyon. The opening of the Mont Blanc tunnel has made the road from Geneva to Aosta, Italy, the easiest and most-used crossing of the western Alpine system. An international airport is northwest of the city and there are railroad lines along both shores of the lake and down the Rhône Valley to Lyon, as well as across the Jura mountains.

9. The canton of Geneva, which covers an area of only 109 square miles (282 sq km), is surrounded on all sides except the northeast by French territory. Almost two thirds of the canton's population lives in the city of Geneva. The rest inhabit small towns and large villages in the rural parts of the canton and along the lake's shores.

10. The canton consists essentially of the lake shore and the Rhône Valley, overlooked from the northwest by the steep face of the Jura range and from the southeast by the precipitous Mont Salève. Both these mountain areas lie in French territory, just outside the boundaries of the canton. The Arve River, which rises in France, flows through part of the canton before joining the Rhône in the city of Geneva.

11. Between World Wars I and II, Geneva, as the center of world diplomacy, enjoyed a period of high prosperity and growth. This was followed by an abrupt decline, which reflected the fortunes of the League of Nations. Though its successor, the United Nations, settled in New York, Geneva was made the center of its European operations, and several UN affiliates, including the World Health Organization, established themselves in the city. Geneva has continued to be the site of important international diplomatic conferences. The revival of the city's fortunes is linked not only to the presence of the international organizations but also to the growing prosperity of all of Switzerland.


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