• LOCATION 27 | A Stroll Through Carouge: Geneva's Little Italy

    The Protestant church and theatre

    The Protestant church and theatre on Geneva audio tour A Stroll Through Carouge: Geneva's Little Italy

    Stop here in the middle of this side of the place.

    See this temple to your right. What is this doing in a Catholic city!?

    Well, to fill all these houses built so quickly, they needed inhabitants and craftsmen. So, honest people from everywhere were accepted. Some Protestants from Geneva moved here and Protestants from France and Italy settled down. They depended on the parish of Lancy, a little city near Carouge. But after Napoleon, when Carouge was integrated into the canton of Geneva, the Protestants obtained the authorization to have their own parish and build a church. If you've taken my tour of the old town of Geneva, you know already that the French and Italian speaking Protestants call their churches “temple”. So, this is the Protestant temple of Carouge. The peristyle with the heavy pillars is a little over-dimensioned, but the Protestants wanted to show a strong presence.

    Normally, Protestant temples have a very sober decoration inside. But this one is very special. A hundred years after its construction, the reverend made a great number of wooden carvings; beautiful Belle époque paintings of angels adorn the ceiling, and colorful stained-glass windows bringing vibrant light into the temple. But on top of all, above the pulpit is a giant fresco of a nativity with baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the magus kings, the shepherds, and all. In a Protestant temple! It is probably the only Protestant worshiping place in the world with a nativity painted above the pulpit. Even the famed performer Charlie Chaplin, who lived the last part of his life on the other side of Lake of Geneva, came to admire it and said: “…I was deeply moved by the visit to your church and the immensity of your beautiful work. It is an epic poem of love and devotion … for generations to come, it will be venerated.”

    Protestant temples are always closed except for ceremonies. So, you cannot go to see it unless you ask the parish beforehand or you rent an official guide. But you can see a picture of it now on your screen.

    In 1787, the king of Sardinia also authorized Jews to settle down here. But, whereas in the capital Torino they were locked up at night in a ghetto, here, they were considered as normal citizens, had the same rights and duties as everybody. The king specified: “under the condition that they create no fuss in public”. They were also allowed to have a Synagogue in a part of a house near the marketplace. This was the first Synagogue of the whole region, but it doesn’t exist anymore, the Synagogues are now in Geneva. A Jewish cemetery was also allowed, and it’s still there. The main promoter of the region, count Fléchère of Veyrier, even wrote to the king that if Muslims would want to come, they would be welcome just as much. You see: Carouge was a very open-minded city from the beginning and still is as up to the day.

    Turn now with your back to the temple and look to your left.

    There is a little garage entrance into a pocket theatre. Carouge has always liked to have theatre, even at the times when it was prohibited in Geneva. Today, besides two small theatres like this one, we have a freshly built big theatre which has the largest public in the whole region. If you like to see it, take the tramway to the stop “Ancienne” which is one stop after the marketplace. You cannot miss it.

    The famous philosopher of the enlightenment Voltaire came to Geneva at the end of 1754. Being one of the wealthiest men of France, he then considered himself a playwright. His most famous play “Candide” was written in Geneva. But the Genevan authorities told Voltaire: “in Geneva, we don’t play theatre.” So, what did he do? He asked the king of Sardinia to authorize him to play in Carouge. His first play was presented to the public here in a wooden shed in 1758. And the ladies will love the title of the play: “The woman who was right”. And we men can be comforted by the fact that he spoke in the singular tense. A little later, the shed collapsed, killing its unfortunate director. A funny and sad history at the same time. And Voltaire moved from Geneva to a nearby village which is now the city of Ferney-Voltaire.

    So, we have come to the end of this tour. There is so much more to be heard and seen. If you would like to know and discover more about Carouge and Geneva, you might follow some of my other tours or rent a guide at the Carouge agency Illico-Travel or on www.visitgeneva.ch

    I would greatly appreciate it if you took a moment to rate the tour and leave a comment… and I wish you a very nice stay in our city.

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A Stroll Through Carouge: Geneva's Little Italy