Geneva : Place Neuve and around
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Place Neuve & Old Town (©_OTG)

At its western end, the Rue du Rhône feeds into hectic Place Bel-Air, sliced across by tramlines and bus-wires. The Pont de l’Île spans the river here across an island, which boasts the diminutive Tour de l’Île, last remaining tower of a thirteenth-century château. Grandiose Rue de la Corraterie heads south to yet more grandiose Place Neuve, dominated by the high retaining wall of the Old Town and a host of Neoclassical temples. The street joins the square beside the Musée Rath, Geneva’s first art museum, opened in 1826, and still holding a changing series of world-class art shows (Tues & Thurs–Sun 10am–5pm, Wed noon–9pm; admission varies). Adjacent is the Grand-Théâtre, Geneva’s opera house and principal theatre stage, which only just clung onto its facade after the devastating fire of 1951, when a rehearsal of the last act of Wagner’s Walkyrie, in which Brunhilde is encircled by flames, got out of hand. Further round the square is the equally ornate Conservatoire de Musique.

Heading south from Place Neuve through the enormous gates brings you into the Parc des Bastions, a tranquil patch of green below the Old Town ramparts that’s much beloved of students (the university buildings are all around) and oldtimers playing giant chess. At the east edge of the park, in a dramatic location propping up the Old Town, is the gigantic Mur de la Réformation, a 100m-long wall erected in 1917 and dominated by forbidding, 5m-high statues of the four major Genevan reformers: Guillaume Farel, first to preach the Reformation in Geneva; Jean Calvin, leader of the Reform movement and spiritual father of the city; Théodore de Bèze, successor to Calvin; and John Knox, friend of Calvin and founder of Scottish Presbyterianism. Behind runs the motto of the city and the Reformation, Post Tenebras Lux (“After the Darkness, Light”). Various figures and bas-reliefs show scenes from Protestant history: just to the right of the main statues is Roger Williams, a Calvinist Puritan who sailed on the Mayflower and founded the city of Providence, Rhode Island. The English Parliament’s 1689 Bill of Rights – which established a constitutional monarchy under the Protestant king William of Orange, and barred Catholics from the throne – is also depicted, but Luther and Zwingli, whom Calvin came to disagree with, are relegated to blocks carved with their surnames flanking the wall.

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