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Mise à jour: 25.02.2015
 

Monuments along the Tranchées' Cultural Trail

In the mid-19th century, some remarkable buildings were constructed in the Tranchées district, after the demolition of the fortifications that previously surrounded Geneva.

The Promenade du Pin

© M. Levet

The former Bastion du Pin, with a pine tree at its farthest extremity, extended in a point towards Champel. It was connected to the latter via a suspension bridge with wire cables that cost 2 centimes to cross. Converted into a Promenade in 1865-66, modelled on an English-style garden, it formed a small park full of mystery and hiding places where winding paths meandered among areas of deep shade. The creation of gardens and promenades in all the new districts fulfilled a double objective: to offer rich foreign visitors a more attractive environment and to provide more salubrious recreational spaces for the growing population – 38,000 in 1850, 60,000 in 1870. The new posts of Head of the Promenades and of Gardener-in-Chief of the City attest to the importance accorded to these tasks.

Petit Palais 

Rue Saint-Victor 2

© M. Levet

Installed in the Rue Saint-Victor in a fine Second Empire private mansion designed by the architect Auguste Pompée, the Petit Palais was completely altered and extended when converted into a museum, going from two floors to six levels (three below ground level, where vestiges of the former ramparts of the Old Town were found). Created by Oscar Ghez, an industrialist who had made his fortune in rubber, the museum – now closed – was inaugurated in 1968. It houses a remarkable collection of works by French painters, covering the period from Impressionism to the School of Paris.

Dr. Senn’s series of houses

Angle boulevard des Tranchées – rue de Beaumont

© M. Levet

The land beyond the current Boulevard des Tranchées was, until the mid-19th century, a vast fertile meadow – which moreover gave its name to the district : the Contamines, alluding to an area of land owned jointly by two lords or exploited by peasant farmers – that belonged to Geneva Hospital. The institution did not wish to part with it and it was only after lengthy negotiations that the surgeon François-Louis Senn managed to purchase one of the plots of land for the construction there, in 1853, of an innovative series of houses at this time of major urban changes. In the form of an L around a square, these semi-detached houses sold to different buyers possess the uniformity desired by Doctor Senn. The latter had realised early on that it was vital to increase the density of the outlying parts of the city, irrespective of the country properties. The first urban milestone to be built in mid-19th century Geneva, this square would be echoed in the future urban planning of the Tranchées district – that we have just visited. François-Louis Senn himself lived in the corner house, the largest of this residential ensemble.

La Villa Bryn Bella

Parc de Malagnou, route de Malagnou 15

© M. Levet

In 1842, when Louis Antoine Stouvenel began the construction of his mansion, the land was covered with vines and gave its owner an exceptional view of the lake. This just shows how much the landscape of this area has changed over time! In 1852, Stouvenel sold his property to Thomas Molyneux who made numerous modifications to it and named it “Bryn Bella”, after his wife Anna Bella William – “bryn” meaning “hill” in Welsh. As for the park, in 1878 it acquired roughly the form that we can observe today. In 1964, once the plans for the forthcoming Natural History Museum had been formulated, it was suggested that the future Museum of Watchmaking should be housed at the Villa Bryn Bella. It was subsequently installed there in 1972, and its collections delighted enthusiasts until 2002, the year when hundreds of precious objects from its collections were stolen in a robbery, which led to the permanent closure of the museum.

Originally, this mansion, probably built by the architect Jean-Philippe Monod, was only quadrilateral in form, though richly decorated: the entrance on the main facade is surmounted by a pediment, there are double columns and niches for sculptures. In 1854-55, two rectangular wings were added to the Villa Bryn Bella, which blend with the existing building and one of which has windows for an orangery on the west side. A bow window was also added to the rear of the building and French windows there provide access to the garden. With these additions, Molyneux upset the original balance that characterized Stouvenel’s house. The proprietor was in accordance, on the one hand, with 17th century architectural trends that favoured wings set at right angles and, on the other, with a relative modernity in the asymmetric, picturesque option of the orangery.

The Russian Church

Rue Rodolphe-Tœpffer 6

© M. Levet

On a plot of land donated by the government of Geneva, the Russian Church was constructed between 1863 and 1866 thanks to funds raised in Russia (Emperor Alexander II sent 3000 roubles). It was designed by an architect from Saint Petersburg, David Grimm, but built by two local architects Jean-Pierre Guillebaud and Antoine Krafft. Originally, the eight golden cupolas – a ninth one was added above the porch created in 1916 – towered above a complete desert, as the future Tranchées district did not then exist. It is therefore moving to see, on old photographs, elegant women in their hats and long dresses hurrying to this splendid and completely isolated place of worship. Inside, the faithful prayed in opulent, sacred surroundings: the painted decor is the work of the artists Joseph Benzoni and Giacomo Donati. Louis Rubio created the icons on the doors of the iconostasis. The paintings on the latter are by Grigori Kochelev, a colleague of Grimm at the Fine Arts Academy in Saint-Petersburg.

Sophie, Dostoyevsky’s daughter (who wrote part of „The Idiot“ in Geneva) was baptised at the Russian Church and her name features in the registry.

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