Tour Locations | A Stroll Through Carouge: Geneva's Little Italy
LOCATION 1 | A Stroll Through Carouge: Geneva's Little Italy
The heart of the city
Welcome to Carouge, also called little Italy or Greenwich village of Geneva. Until Napoleon, this was another country.
I’m Ariel Peter Haemmerlé, official guide of Geneva and Carouge. I was born in Switzerland, grew up between here and other parts of Switzerland, and live here for over 50 years. I was also involved for many years in Civil protection and in the Town Council, so I know this place pretty well!
We start here in the open square, in front of the church, near the bust of a man called Moise Vautier, a great statesman from here.
Standing with your back to the church, you can admire the heart of our city.
Did you notice that coming here you crossed a bridge over a river called Arve? It comes down from Chamonix and the Mont Blanc and joins the river Rhone a little further down. On the other side was the city of Geneva. But on this side, as of the 12th century, the land belonged to Savoy, which was governed by a duke. Carouge has therefore a totally different history and style compared with her big sister.
In the early 18th century, the Dukes of Savoy had also become Prince of Piemonte and Nizza and then even kings of Sardinia. This added up to a big country and its capital was Torino. Geneva across the river was an independent republic, being very important and prosperous, but protestant. Here, in 1750, there were but three hamlets. Then the king of Sardinia Charles Emmanuel the 3rd decided to build a catholic city to compete with the protestant Geneva. He sent urban planners, architects, and masons. Building started. And as most of them came from Piemonte, they built it in this Italian style. It really started in 1760 and 30 years later there stood a little city of some 4,500 residents.
Now, turn around to face the church and walk towards it.
To assert that this was a catholic town, the king ordered to build a big catholic church. The idea was to erect something even bigger than the cathedral of Geneva. But the soil was so soft that they had to make foundations with stilts. This cost so much, there was not enough money, it had to be smaller.
Now this church is somehow very special. Look at it, what could be so unusual?
[3 SECONDS PAUSE]
Carouge has been built on an axis east-west and the church is situated on this axis. By the way, you're facing west. Now catholic churches always have their entrance on the west side and the altar on the east side, towards the orient, they are oriented. That’s where the word comes from. But look, here, the entrance is on the east side and the altar on the west. It’s the wrong way around! – Initially, it was built in the right way. But as the city developed around the market, they decided to turn it in 1824.
The neoclassical portal from then is surmounted by a bell tower wherein in 1926 a big carillon has been installed. In 2001, we augmented it to 36 bells, making it the second biggest in Switzerland. Every Saturday morning from 11 to 12, a carillon player gives a concert to animate the market.
If you have time on your visit, I recommend going inside for a tour. Catholic churches are normally open all the time and close at 8 PM. But inside, you will be surprised how simple the decoration is when you think that it was thought to dazzle protestant Geneva. You will however see beautiful stucco works and in the transept two magnificent rosettes.
There is also a marvelous organ. You can see a photo of it now on your screen.
The first one was inaugurated in 1839 and the last dates from hundred years later. It was restored for the last time in 2010 and is a symphonic instrument with a wonderful baroque buffet. It is under national monument protection and sounds just fabulously.
Before we move on, let me briefly explain how VoiceMap works.
It uses your location to play audio automatically, at the right time and place. This means that you can put your phone away now. Don't worry if I'm silent for a while, when I'm not giving directions or telling stories. There's a map on your screen if you ever feel lost, and if you do get way off track without noticing, VoiceMap will let you know.
So, let's get going.
Facing the church, turn to your right.
Across the street is a row of buildings side by side. The second from the right, with the flags on the façade, is the Town Hall, we call it Mairie. It also has a flower covered balcony where the mayor – sometimes a man, sometimes a woman – stands to salute the population.
Make your way over to it now. I'll meet you there.