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Geneva guide
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Last updated : Nov 2009
Geneva Travel Guide
Geneva Travel Guide and Geneva Travel Information -
Geneva has for long been Switzerland’s most cosmopolitan city. Located at the southwestern end of Lac Léman – the country’s largest lake – and astride the Rhône, Geneva is the departure point for lake steamers. Only an arrival by water can convey just how well positioned the city is, with foreground hills rising against a milieu of mountains. The river bisects the city – some refer to the north side as the right bank and the south as the left bank. The city centre is to be found on both shores, with the main railway station and the suburbs to the north of the river and the Old Town (Vieille Ville) to the south of the river.

Settled since Neolithic times, Geneva became an imperial city in the year 1032, under Emperor Conrad II, before achieving independence in the year 1530 and joining the Swiss Confederation in 1814. Geneva’s reputation for religious tolerance during the Reformation proved to be of major influence on its subsequent development.

For many centuries, exiles from religious or political persecution chose the city as their safe haven, ranging from the English regicides in the 17th century to Lenin in the early 20th century. Even the manufacture of watches was fostered by one of the most intolerant of religious exiles, John Calvin, who resided here from 1541 to his death in 1564. This amazing mix of nationalities, coupled with the fact that most émigrés were of an intellectual disposition, led to the establishment of different centres of learning. These soon developed such a fine reputation that Geneva became a popular choice for the sons (and later daughters) of wealthy families to finish their education.

Switzerland’s famed neutrality had a part to play in encouraging international organisations to locate their headquarters in Geneva, which today boasts over 200, raising an always numerous foreign community to 1/3 of the population. The catalyst for choosing Geneva was the decision in the year 1919 to set up the headquarters of the League of Nations, predecessor of the United Nations, in the city. Although the UN moved to New York in 1945, Geneva has kept its European office in the second largest building on the Continent (Palace of Versailles is the largest). Other important organisations based in the Geneva are the International Committee of the Red Cross – founded by the Swiss Henri Dunant in 1864 – and the World Health Organisation.

The city is also a major banking centre – a ‘city of wealth by stealth’ as the British actor Robert Morley puts it – and plays an important role in the manufacture of watches, scientific instruments, jewellery and foodstuffs. These roles have contributed to it being a costly city in which to live or stay, although it has much to offer the visitor, principally the Old Town and some fine museums.

Geneva is a well organized and clean city. Its exceptional public transport system, coupled with the ease and pleasure of walking around the centre, make a car unnecessary, even a nuisance.

The city enjoys a mild central European climate with moderately low rainfall. The super rich community of international civil servants and tax exiles demand good food, entertainment and top hotels and Geneva provides it all. Beneath the stereotypical surface of diamonds and watches, however, one finds a tolerant and safe society with the Genevois strangely similar to the British – reserved but polite.