Geneva : Around the Old Town
Home > Tourist Guide > Table of contents > Geneva > Rive Gauche > Around the Old Town

Old Town & the Cathédrale (©_OTG)
It’s a few steps west from the Maison Tavel to a cobbled crossroads. To the right is Grand-Rue, birthplace of Rousseau, and parallel to it Rue des Granges, named “Street of Barns” but in fact graced by huge mansions built in the eighteenth century in French style to house Geneva’s wealthiest residents. Looming over the junction is the Hôtel-de-Ville with an atmospheric internal arcaded courtyard, from where it’s easy to spot the different styles of the building – going counterclockwise, the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Ahead is the Alabama Room, where the Geneva Convention on the humanitarian rules of war was signed by sixteen countries in 1864, and where, in 1872, conflict between two states was solved in a neutral state for the first time, when Britain and the US settled their differences over British support for the Confederacy during the Civil War. The League of Nations also assembled here for the first time in 1920. This is one of only three buildings in Europe to have a sloping ramp inside instead of stairs (the others are on the Loire and at Schaffhausen), both to facilitate cannons being pulled up to the ramparts and, so it’s said, to enable councillors to arrive at meetings on horseback or in their sedan chair. You can work your way up to the top – feeling like an Escher drawing come to life – but the doors are all firmly locked. Behind the building is the lovely Promenade de la Treille, with the longest wooden bench in the world, at 126m, and a view over the city framed by chestnut trees. The last tree on the left, bent forward, is the official tree of Geneva – tradition has it that the chief city councillor must record the day its first bud blossoms as being the first day of spring. A board of dates has been kept in the Town Hall since 1818 and is added to annually.

Back along the Rue du Puits-St-Pierre, you’ll come to a set of stairs leading down towards the Rues-Basses. Off to the left is Rue Calvin, with, at no. 10, the Musée Barbier-Müller (daily 11am–5pm; Fr.5; SMP), housing a striking and beautifully displayed collection of non-European sculpture and artwork. Notes are copious, guiding you from an incredible room filled with antique gold from Africa to huge carved masks from Oceania, and more.

Musée d’Art et d’Histoire
A few metres east of the Old Town at 2 Rue Charles Galland is the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire (Tues–Sun 10am–5pm; free), Geneva’s biggest and most important museum and Switzerland’s unofficial national collection. It’s a gigantic place, that covers in encyclopedic fashion the whole sweep of Western culture from antiquity to the present; to do it justice would take days, but you could spend a worthwhile few hours absorbing the different areas.

For the marvellous fine-art collection, head up the grand staircase. What confronts you at the top is perhaps the highlight of the museum, a graceful and heart-stoppingly romantic sculpture in marble of Venus and Adonis, standing alone and lit by a skylight. Antonio Canova, a pre-eminent but now little-known Neoclassical sculptor, has given Venus the fingers of a pianist. Also at the head of the stairs are two powerful Rodins, TheThinker and TheTragic Muse. The collection begins in Hall 401 to the right of Venus and Adonis and, although it more or less keeps a chronological thread, don’t be surprised if you come across photography, concrete installations or even video art scattered in amongst the painting. In room 402 you’ll find Konrad Witz’s famous altarpiece, made for the cathedral in 1444, which shows Christ and the fisherman transposed onto Lake Geneva. As you work your way around the perimeter rooms, Rembrandt and other Dutch and Flemish artists are in room 406, nineteenth-century Swiss in 408–9; the inner ring of smaller rooms features work by the eighteenth-century Genevois painter Liotard in 419–20. Perimeter rooms 412–14 are devoted to Vallotton, Pissarro, Cézanne, Renoir and Modigliani, with some striking Hodlers on the inner ring, including a mystical Lac de Thoune (1909) in room 425.

Back downstairs, the applied arts collection is on the mezzanine gallery and the ground floor, a wealth of silverware, pewter, armour and costume. The Cartigny room, with 1805 wood panelling by the Genevois craftsman Jean Jaquet, shows exquisitely elegent Louis XV and XVI furniture. The ground floor also often features temporary exhibits (admission charged).

The lower floor is given over to the massive archeological collection. Turn right for the breathtaking Egyptian rooms, including sections from the Book of the Dead, a complete ninth-century BC mummy, and a beautiful granite statue of the goddess Sekhmet, with the body of a woman and the head of a lioness, from the fourteenth century BC. There’s also an excellent display on hieroglyphics. The halls devoted to Ancient Greece and Rome are no less impressive, filled with statuary, glassware and good historical notes.

© Micheloud & Cie 2013     No part of this site may be reproduced in any form or by any means without our prior written permission. Printed from http://Switzerland.isyours.com/e/guide/geneva/aroundoldtown.html