United Nations World Capital Geneva

Geneva is mostly seen as the seat of the United Nations and the International Red Cross. This is flattering, but it is also a very old city full of history with a unique international charm. At some time or another, it was capital to three kingdoms, home to a handful of saints and to many more less saintly. Situated on Lake Geneva (in French Lac Leman), it is a beautiful place to spend some days of a holiday.

Geneva was known as the capital of the Allobrogi until the Romans conquered most of the area of modern Switzerland in 120 BC. It became an important Roman provincial town and was an early Catholic bishop's see after 400. In the fifth and the ninth century, Geneva was first a royal residence to the kings of the Burgundians and later for the kings of Burgundy. When the last king of Burgundy bequeathed his kingdom to the Holy Roman Emperor in 1032, Geneva became part of that dual entity with the rest. In 512, the first great cathedral to St Maximus was built by Princess Seleuba of the Burgundians, a sister to Queen Clotilde.

In 1124, the bishop of Geneva was elevated to the worldly rank of prince in the kingdom of Burgundy, but he was caught in a constant power struggle with the Counts of Geneva. In 1394, the line of the Counts of Geneva died out. Their lands and titles fell to their neighbors and cousins, the Counts of Savoy, who were duly elevated to the rank of dukes. This gave even more pressure on the prince-bishops who finally joined the Swiss Confederation in 1526 in a bid to shift power. The power shift succeeded but coincided with the Reformation and cost the Duke of Savoy his city and the prince-bishop of Geneva his see.

After Napoleon's defeat, Geneva regained its independence despite pressure by the Dukes of Savoy, who had meanwhile become kings of Sardinia as well, and the Kings of France to become part of one of their realms. It became part of the united Swiss state in 1848. The House of Savoy went on to become kings of Italy; it is quite logical that they live in Geneva today and this since the abdication of King Umberto II.

Geneva, also called the city of Calvin, offers a plethora of views and interesting things to see. It is also called the diplomats' city as so many international organisations have their seats there. Just to name a choice few, besides the UN there are the International Red Cross and Red Halfmoon, The Aga Khan Trust, and my favorite organisation of all: the ICC (International Committee of Committees). Due to this international flair, you will find a restaurant in the city serving food from every country you may possibly think of.

The city’s first bishops are a historic muddle, but no matter which documentary source you follow, they definitely all were made saints, no matter if they ever existed or not. Later inhabitants of Geneva include less saintly persons such as Lenin, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, as well as Calvin. The city has housed many refugee royal families at one time or another, from Spain, Greece, Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, and Albania as well as the Imperial families of Persia and the Ottoman Empire.

The language spoken and used in Geneva is French. The rest of Switzerland makes fun of the city because of its tax rate. Even though the per capita income is the highest in Switzerland, taxes are as well, as all income derived from international organisations is tax free, thereby excluding the highest earners from paying any taxes at all.

Geneva also hosts CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, best known for the Hadron Collider simulating the Big Bang. The Hadron Collider is a little machine in a tunnel loop with a diameter of 25 km, all underground, crossing and recrossing the border between France and Switzerland. In another test published in 2007, they had been able to beam matter particles over the distance of 25 km; a joy to all Star Trek fans, I hope.

For further information on the city of Geneva you may want to go to the official homepage of the city government geneve.ch.

Further reading