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Peace, man. Peace, perfect peace.
The Swiss city of Geneva has long dedicated itself to peace. It’s even been called the ‘Peace Capital’. The whole country was of course, neutral during the Second World War. It’s the perfect place for political organisations to settle, to be assured that knotty issues will be tackled with the utmost diplomacy and calm. This possibly makes Geneva, long famed for the Geneva Convention, the best place to settle for the politically aware, but neutral, kindness and fairness-seeking expat.
Nearly half of the people living in Geneva are not Swiss-born. They come here to work and to settle near enough to be able to get out skiing at world-renowned ski resorts such as Verbier and Crans-Montana – both less than three hours away by car. There are closer opportunities to get going on the white stuff, too. The towering Mont Salève, at 4,524 ft, is just across the border in France and dominates the view from the city centre. You can see Mont Blanc, the highest of the Alps, from most of the city.
Geneva is the European headquarters of the United Nations. Several other agencies are also based in Geneva, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization, International Telecommunication Union, the International Baccalaureate Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization.
Geneva hosts many inter-governmental organisations, such as the World Trade Organization, the South Centre, the World Meteorological Organization, the World Economic Forum, the International Organization for Migration, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Also here in Geneva are the International Centre for Humanitarian Demining, the Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces and the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, as well as other peace, international affairs and sustainable development organisations. In fact, Geneva hosts the biggest number of international organisations of any place on the world.
Many other global bodies have settled here, including the Scout movement, and Geneva is the second most populated city in Switzerland.
Geneva intentionally does not have any sister relationships with other cities. It declares itself related to the entire world. And indeed it is – there are long-held relationships here with so many global companies and organisations the outlook of its people is similarly broad.
The official language of Geneva is French. English is also common due to the high number of expats and people living there temporarily due to work in the many international institutions and in the financial sector.
In the city of Geneva, a whopping 48 per cent of the population are resident foreign nationals.
There is a long tradition of watchmaking in the city, which dates back to the 16th century. Many famous watchmakers have been based in Geneva since they started, such as Baume et Mercier, Charriol, Chopard, Franck Muller, Patek Philippe, Rolex, Universal Genève, Raymond Weil, Vacheron Constantin and Frédérique Constant.
Two major international producers of flavours and fragrances, Firmenich and Givaudan, have their headquarters and main production facilities in Geneva.
Scientists flock to visit and work at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research –the world’s largest particle physics lab.
The city is also at the forefront of tackling environmental issues. The Geneva Environment Network (GEN) publishes a list of the many Geneva-based global organisations working on green issues, called the Geneva Green Guide.
There are nearly half a million people living in the city and its suburbs.
In 2019, Geneva was ranked among the ten most liveable cities in the world.
Although winters are fairly chilly here, summers are warm enough to swim in the lake and visit the beaches, such as Genève Plage and the Bains des Pâquis.
For a very compact city, Geneva has a fair few important sites. There are 82 buildings or sites here listed as Swiss heritage sites of national significance, and the entire old city is part of a heritage site.
The city boasts beautiful religious buildings, such as Cathedral St-Pierre et Chapel des Macchabés, Notre-Dame Church, a Russian church, St-Germain Church, Temple de la Fusterie and Temple de l’Auditoire.
Everywhere you look there are grand civic buildings and archaeological sites include Neolithic, Roman and mediaeval sites.
Geneva was taken by the Romans in 121 BC. It became Christian under the Romans.
In the Middle Ages, Geneva was ruled by a count until the late 14th century, when it was granted a charter to govern itself. The creation of the Grand Council in the 15th century cemented the city’s independence. In 1541, Protestant reformer John Calvin established the Republic of Geneva.
However, by the 18th century, Geneva moved more towards Catholicism as it allied itself more firmly with neighbouring France. The people of the city railed at this, and launched the Geneva Revolution of 1782, to win representation in the government for ordinary folk. The bid failed.
In 1798, France cut Geneva off and it remained outside any formal grouping until 1814, when it was accepted into the Swiss Confederation.
It wasn’t until the 19th and 20th centuries that Geneva started to become the place it is today, with many international organisations adopting it as their spiritual and physical home.
Geneva stands at 1,225 feet, at the altitude of the largest of the Pierres du Niton, two large rocks emerging from the lake from the last ice age. Mont Blanc is an hour’s drive away, but clearly visible from the city.
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If you’re looking for a city that’s a bit different – an accepting, intellectual place full of thinkers and doers – you might just find it in Geneva. Although one of the most expensive places to live in, Geneva offers more than just buildings and mountains. It’s a place for like-minded people from all around the globe to gather and share concepts.
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Geneva Cointrin International Airport connects Geneva Airport railway station to the Swiss Federal Railways network and the French SNCF network, from where you can grab a train to Paris, Lyon, Marseille and Montpellier by TGV. Geneva is connected to the motorways of Switzerland and France.
Public transport is mainly by bus, trolleybus or tram,provided by Transports Publics Genevois, which operates far and wide, including into France. Boat journeys are provided by the Mouettes Genevoises, between the two banks of the lake. The Compagnie Générale de Navigation sur le lac Léman serves more distant destinations – you can even catch a vintage paddle steamer.
There is work afoot to close 200 streets to cars altogether – this is after all one of the greenest places on earth. It’s tricky to get a cab here – much easier to catch an electric bus.
The Geneva Motor Show is held at Palexpo, a large convention centre next to the airport.
Many other events are held at the city’s cultural centres.
Museums include the Conservatoire de musique at Place Neuve 5, Conservatoire et Jardin botaniques, Fonds cantonal d’art contemporain, Ile Rousseau and statue, Institut et Musée Voltaire with Library and Archives, Mallet House and Museum international de la Réforme, Musée Ariana, Museum of Art and History, Museum d’art moderne et contemporain, Museum d’ethnographie, Museum of the International Red Cross, Musée Rath, Natural History Museum, Plainpalais Commune Auditorium, Pitoëff Theatre, Villa Bartholoni at the Museum of History and Science.
The Grand Théâtre de Genève opera house boasts the largest stage in the country. It hosts opera and dance, recitals, concerts and theatre. The Victoria Hall is the home of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande.
The Fêtes de Genève (Geneva Festival) is held here every summer. Hundreds of thousands of people come to marvel at the grand firework display.
There is also an annual music festival, where musicians can be found playing all over the city every June.
The Fête de l’Olivier is an annual a festival of Arabic music and the Genevan Brass Festival has been going since 2010.
In sport, ice hockey is perhaps the city’s favourite activity. Geneva is home to Genève-Servette HC, in the National League, which has a 7,135-seat stadium called Patinoire des Vernets. The team draws three times more spectators than the football team.
The football team are Servette FC, and they play at the 30,000-seat Stade de Genève. The city also has a basketball team Lions de Genève, champions of the Swiss Basketball League. There is also American football here – Geneva Jets Australian Football Club have been playing in the AFL Switzerland league since 2019.
There are scores of public and private schools here. While you can leave school at 15 most pupils go on to colleges and universities.
The University of Geneva welcomes about 16,500 students each year.
The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies was among the first in the world to teach international relations. It offers MA and PhDs in law, political science, history, economics, international affairs, and development studies.
The International School of Geneva is the oldest in the world. It was launched in 1924 with the League of Nations. There is also the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations – a private university in the grounds of the Château de Penthes.
CERN became famous recently for its creation of the Large Hadron Collider – the world’s largest and highest-energy particle collider and the largest machine in the world. Physicists from around the world travel come to research matter here.
Five major libraries complete the astonishing array of learning opportunities on offer in Geneva.
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