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Mise à jour: 17.04.2018
 

Monuments along the Nations Cultural Trail

Mansions, palatial residences and gardens as far as the eye could see were interspersed throughout the areas of Varembé and Sécheron until the construction of the Palais des Nations, which significantly altered the landscape and urban outline of what would become the Nations district. This neighbourhood resonates with the grandeur of times past and also testifies to the emergence of International Geneva.

The Palais des Nations

Le Palais des Nations © LDD

Place des Nations and Avenue de la Paix

In 1919, Geneva was chosen as the seat of the League of Nations (LN), the first intergovernmental organisation with a political agenda. The need to unite the different buildings occupied by the LN in Geneva, which had become the centre for world diplomacy, soon became evident. The international architectural competition launched in 1926, to which Le Corbusier notably contributed, was stormy, to say the least, with the jury being unable to decide between the 377 projects. In addition, the location of this “temple of world peace”, originally planned for the Perle du Lac site, had to be moved to a larger area as a result of the donation by John D. Rockefeller for a modern library. The Ariana estate was selected, thus contravening a clause in the will of its former owner, Gustave Revilliod, which stipulated that the land should become a public park.

Following the restricted competition of 1928, the architects Carlo Broggi (Italy), Julien Flegenheimer (Switzerland), Camille Lefèvre and Henri-Paul Nénot (France) as well as Joseph Vago (Hungary), were commissioned to produce a joint project. The construction work, lasting from 1929 to 1937, the biggest project in Europe at the time, gave rise to an edifice as vast as the chateau of Versailles. Although the complex, made up of five buildings, is characterised by stark academic monumentalism on the outside, its interior decoration comprises remarkable works of art, reflecting at the same time the cultural diversity of many countries and the Art Deco movement. Two wings were added in 1952 and 1973.

The League of Nations interrupted its activities with the onset of the Second World War. After its dissolution in 1946, the Palais des Nations became the European headquarters of the UN, then in 1966 the United Nations Office in Geneva. Today one of the largest diplomatic conference centres in the world with around 9,000 meetings and nearly 100,000 visitors per year, the Palais des Nations is an important symbol of multilateralism.

Place des Nations

The Esplanade des Nations © M. Levet

A symbolic location at the heart of the international organisation district, the Place des Nations was created in 2007. This large square, known as the Esplanade des Nations, is constructed from 4m wide sections of granite from UN member producing countries – the “international” land – alternating with slabs of grey concrete traditionally used for pavements in the City of Geneva – the “neutral” land. A fountain of 84 water jets representing all the international organisations present in the area that shoot up erratically from the ground animates the esplanade and can be turned off to provide a platform for public assemblies.

Botanical Garden, on the lake side

The Console © LDD

The Console, which formerly housed the herbaria of the Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (CJB). Thanks to a generous donation by Roger and François Varenne from Geneva, this building has been completely renovated and upgraded to comply with current safety standards. It now houses most of the CJB’s cryptogamic collections, that is, principally mosses, mushrooms, lichens and algae, as well as providing space for researchers studying these precious scientific collections.

Parc William-Rappard and rue de Lausanne

The Centre William Rappard © LDD

This was the first building in Geneva specifically designed to house an international organization, after the creation of the League of Nations in 1919. Constructed between 1923 and 1926 from plans by the architect Georges Épitaux, winner of the national competition of 1923, this neoclassical Florentine style “palace” has rather austere façades, with lines of windows set close together, between which are found decorative medallions illustrating various trades, sculpted by Léon Perrin. Proving rapidly too small, several wings were added to the edifice. Over the years, donations of art works and decorative elements from member countries of the League of Nations, associations and institutions have come to enrich the Centre, thus concretizing the spirit of international cooperation. The building has been host to the International Labour Organization, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the library of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies and the Secretariat of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the predecessor of the World Trade Organization. Since 1995, it has been the seat of the World Trade Organization.

Quai Wilson

The Villa Mon-Repos (Plantamour) © M. Levet

As well as being magnificently located on the shores of the lake and an interesting architectural example, due to the subtle play of projections and recesses of its facade, it also has a fascinating history. Constructed after 1856 by Philippe Plantamour on a piece of land purchased from Henri Hentsch, the Villa Mon-Repos was bequeathed to the City of Geneva in 1898. Throughout the 20th century, it has housed a succession of occupants: the Ethnographic Museum, the Académie Diplomatique Internationale, Geneva’s first television station and then the French-speaking Swiss television company, the European Broadcasting Union and, since 1974, the Henry Dunant Institute. However, before all of this, the villa hosted many prestigious guests, including the infamous Casanova in 1762. According to his writings, the great seducer spent a licentious evening there in the company of two brazen young ladies from Geneva.

The Parc Barton Sequoia Grove

The Parc Barton Sequoia Grove © M. Levet

In the mid-19th century, giant sequoia trees from California were very fashionable and were to be found in gardens everywhere. In 1858, Sir Robert Peel purchased what is now the Parc Barton, constructed a villa there (Villa Lammermoor) and had sequoia trees planted around it. These great redwood trees have now grown into a small grove through which winds a narrow path, plunging visitors into a very special atmosphere. Robert Peel’s daughter, Alexandra Barton Peel, bequeathed the property to the Swiss Confederation in 1935, on the condition that it should never be divided up and that the trees should prosper and not be cut down.

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