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Geneva

The City

Genevans divide their city into the and rive
rive gauche droiteRhône, includes
. The former, on the south bank of the River the high ground of the old town grouped around its hill-top cathedral and the
greyish grid of streets below, which forms the main shopping and business
districts of the city. The latter takes in the hillside suburbs that are home
to most of Geneva's international community. Linking the two are a series of
bridges, most important of which is the central Mont Blanc. On
pont du the Jardin Anglais
rive gauche side, the ornamental flowerbeds of the are renowned for the beyond which
Horloge Fleurie or floral clock, is the lakefront's most visible feature, the 140-metre-high plume of the Jet
d'EauGustave Ador.
 erupting from the end of a jetty just off Quai Immediately right of the bridge, a seated statue
Rousseau Island bears of the philosopher. Rousseau's relations with his native Geneva were always
problematic: he ran away at the age of sixteen and converted to Catholicism,
only returning in 1754 as a way of demonstrating his hostility towards the
degeneracy of Parisian culture. His affection for the Genevan republic soon
soured, and he began supporting those in the city who protested at the closed
nature of its oligarchic government. The city repaid him by banning all his
books in 1756 and issuing a warrant for his arrest; Rousseau renounced Genevan
citizenship and never came back. 

Three blocks upriver, the Pont de l'Île is a more attractive crossing point, its thirteenth-century tower dominating another island in the Rhône. On the southern side, rue de la Monnaie leads up to the main thoroughfare of the old city, the cobbled, steeply ascending Grande Rue, on which - among the secondhand bookshops, antique shops and galleries - the seventeenth-century Hôtel de Ville, and the arcaded front of the old city armoury opposite, stand out. A few steps beyond, the Maison Tavel, rue Puits-St-Pierre 6 (Tues-Sun 10am-5pm; free), is an old patrician house holding the town museum, with several floors of period furniture and material depicting the various trades of Geneva, culminating in a model of the town as it was in 1850, the virtual life's work of local architect Auguste Magnin, who wanted to capture the atmosphere of Geneva prior to the destruction of the town walls. A block away, the Cathédrale St-Pierre (March-May daily 9am-noon & 2-6pm; June-Sept 9am-7pm; Oct 9am-noon & 2-6pm; Nov-Feb 9am-noon & 2-5pm) was originally a late-Romanesque structure with an incongruous eighteenth-century portal. It's bare inside save for the dazzling frescoes of the Chapelle des Maccabées to the right of the main entrance, whose intricate floral patterns and lute-strumming angels are in fact modern versions of much-faded fifteenth-century originals - now to be found in Geneva's main museum. The north tower (daily 9-11.30am & 2-5.30pm; Sfr2.50) offers commanding views of the old town, while outside the main entrance, steps descend to the Site Archéologique (Tues-Sun 10am-1pm & 2-6pm; Sfr5), a modern crypt built over the foundations of the old cathedral containing bits of medieval sculpture. Below the cathedral, the old town focuses on the place du Bourg du Four, a picturesque split-level square perched on the hillside, somehow preserving its small-town charm.

West of here, rue de la Croix Rouge, occupying a bastion of the old city fortifications, looks down on the Reformation Monument on promenade des Bastions, built in 1917 and serving as a pictorial history of Protestantism. Four main figures dominate the centre, Geneva's principal sixteenth-century preachers Farel, Calvin, Bèze and Knox, flanked by reliefs of other people or events important to the history of the reformed church - the Pilgrim, Oliver Cromwell, even Stefan Bocskay of Transylvania, who won freedom of worship for his far-flung branch of the Calvinist commonwealth in 1606. A tree-lined park separates the monument from the university library, home to a small Musée Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Mon-Fri 9am-noon & 2-5pm, Sat 9am-noon; free), with a smattering of manuscripts and mementoes. Immediately north is Place Neuve, at the far end of which the Musée Rath (Tues & Thurs-Sun 10am-5pm, Wed noon-9pm; from Sfr5) hosts a changing programme of high-profile art exhibitions.

Geneva's municipal art collection, the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, is a short walk east of here at rue Charles Galland 2 (Tues-Sun 10am-5pm; free), just south of the old town in a pleasant residential district. The ground floor contains many ancient remains - Egyptology, Greek vases, fragments from Roman Geneva and a large room full of paintings by local artist Felix Valloton, probably better known in the English-speaking world for his Art Nouveau-ish woodcuts. Upstairs a lot of space is devoted to local nineteenth- and twentieth-century painters of dubious merit, although there's a sizeable collection of works by the Bern-born symbolist Ferdinand Hodler, whose luminous blue Genevan lakescapes display tentative steps towards Expressionism. Elsewhere there are a few Impressionists and pieces by twentieth-century artists, including an abstract painting by Le Corbusier, born at nearby La Chaux de Fonds in 1887. The star attraction is, however, Konrad Witz's altarpiece of 1444, commissioned for the cathedral by Genevan bishop François de Metz. The bishop is shown kneeling at the feet of the Virgin Mary on one of the panels, while another panel shows Christ walking on water that is unmistakably Lake Geneva. The museum's collection of prints and drawings is around the corner in the Cabinet des Estampes, promenade du Pin (Tues-Sun 10am-noon & 2-6pm; free), while the nearby Petit Palais on Terrasse St-Victor (Mon 2-6pm, Tues-Sun 10am-noon & 2-6pm; Sfr10) offers a comprehensive summing-up of turn-of-the-century art from Impressionism through to Surrealism, including some vibrant work from Monet, Cézanne and Chagall.

The rive droite is by comparison a drab area of town, although it's worth heading up rue de Lyon from the station to the Musée Voltaire at rue des Délices 25 (Mon-Fri 2-5pm; free), the writer's former residence. A dummy dressed in Voltaire's old clothes sits at a writing desk and presides over pictures, books and manuscripts documenting the various controversies his presence here invited. Further north lie a good proportion of Geneva's many international organizations, concentrated around place des Nations (buses #5 and #8 from place Cornavin). The cavernous interiors of the Palais des Nations at av de la Paix 14, headquarters of the short-lived League of Nations and now home to the European section of the United Nations, can be visited on guided tours (daily July & Aug 9am-noon & 2-6pm; rest of year 10am-noon & 2-4pm; Sfr8), although the surrounding parks, situated high above the lake, are reason enough to visit. Virtually next door, the Musée Internationale de la Croix-Rouge, av de la Paix 17 (10am-5pm; closed Tues; Sfr8), is a state-of-the-art attempt to portray the Red Cross's good works. Below is the most beautiful part of the lakefront, an extensive area of lawns, shrubs and leafy walks, parks and botanical gardens. Housed in a sort of high-tech warehouse close to the airport, the International Motor Car Museum, Geneve Palexpo (daily 10am-7pm; Str15), has around 400 exhibits supplemented by presentations and objects d'art. The collection includes a Cadillac that once belonged to Elvis Presley and a Zig that belonged to Stalin.

A twenty-minute #12 tram ride across the River Arve is the late-Baroque suburb of Carouge, originally a separate town beyond the city walls built by the the King of Savoy in the eighteenth century. A fine example of eighteenth-century town planning, with a network of elegantly proportioned streets around place du Temple and place du Marché, and now largely inhabited by fashion designers and small galleries, its reputation as an outpost of hedonism beyond Geneva's jurisdiction lives on in its numerous cafés and bars. Carouge hosts a large and colourful traditional produce market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, while the flea market at Pleinpalais near the old town is also worth a browse.