For a little change from what I have shared with you so far about my recent UPR-related trips to Geneva, the following write-up recommends some of Geneva’s must-sees if you have plans to visit this city someday. I must admit though that I have not really explored Geneva. I have been to this so-called “capital of peace” four times including the last one in March this year, but that does not make my recommendations the best and the most complete. Anyways, the city never fails to amaze me and I feel I must share it with you readers the interesting places you should visit if you ever plan to travel to the city.
Even until the most recent visit, I was still more of a wanderer, preferring to enjoy strolling in the streets and along the boardwalk, in the quiet and cold afternoon which so characterizes Geneva. But during my first ever visit back in 2005, I remember going a little deeper and making that extra effort to discover the history behind the many heritage buildings, asking fellow course mates and local people questions like “when the old town was built”, “why a landmark is so popular” and etc to satisfy my curiosity.
So by the time I was here for the second time, I already knew a handful of things about the beautiful city: I knew it was an important financial centre, the home of the International Red Cross (founded there in 1863), and a city very much affiliated to the United Nations with several of its major agencies occupying the headquarters, including the Human Rights Council where we had our UPR sessions. But questions kept popping in my mind – what else had shaped its history?
Then I remember I had actually made it a point in 2005 to explore all five museums (although museums weren’t always on my priority list but they were in the itinerary of my study tour so I had no choice). We also had sessions in the WTO building, and had the opportunity to attend a special procedure session related to the Child Rights Convention. But then again the visits and sessions then did not tell me much of the city.
Anyways, I believe the following places are a must for everyone wanting to learn more about this beautiful city:
First and foremost, please make it a point to visit and pray at the Geneva Mosque – also known as the Petit-Saconnex Mosque (In French: Mosquée de Genève, Mosquée de Petit-Sacconex). The mosque was constructed in 1978 around Le Petit-Saconnex and located close to the UN’s headquarters. So it is quite central in the city and from what I learnt the premises can accommodate not less than 1, 000 people at one time. I feel proud to have been to the mosque and performed the Friday and some other prayers there – it is a place where you will find people from different walks of life converging in worship of Almighty Allah – the One God. And trust me; a visit to this mosque will be a fitting prelude to your whole Geneva tour.
If you are first time visitors, then you must not miss the cutting edge of creativity at the Contemporary Art Building (shared by the Centre d’Art Contemporain and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art), where creative art projects, photo exhibits, and futuristic video showcases challenge all five senses. I am not passionate about arts or inventions but I think it is worth visiting to discover how they have come up with such high level of creativity.
Cathedrals form a certain identity of most European cities just as mosques do in many Middle East cities. The most dominant in Geneva I think is the Saint-Pierre Cathedral, where next to it we can find two museums connected by a passageway. You may want to visit the archaeological site of Saint-Pierre Cathedral, one of the largest of its kind in Europe, where you can see the results of years of excavations — from pre-Christian remains to churches layered one on top of the other (the oldest is from the 4th century).
You can then walk across to the Musée International de la Réforme (the International Museum of the Reformation). It was built on the site where the people of Geneva voted to adopt the Reformation in 1536, and there you can learn the story of one of the most influential movements to sweep across Europe and the often surprising personalities behind it. Go visit this place and you will discover the the history and implications of the Reformation that changed the history of Europe.
Next, I’m sure it’s hard to not think about Switzerland’s watches. Fittingly, on Rue des Vieux-Grenadiers you’ll find the one-of-its-kind Patek Philippe Museum, which covers not less than 500 years of watch-making in Geneva, Switzerland, and Europe. Lose track of time browsing the extraordinary collection of Swiss watches. There are on display one of the oldest known watches with a minute indication, pendulum time-pieces, and a watch in the shape of a human skull. And the Swiss knives – yes, Swiss knives are must-buys and they make memorable souvenirs; I would certainly recommend a small shop just before you reach the Geneva Lake – an old man by the name of Michael – so gentlemanly and ever ready to entertain you with his vast knowledge and recommendations of kinds of original Swiss knives that will satisfy your search for mementos to bring home.
When you are there, you must also see some of Europe’s finest masterpieces — including works by artists from the Genevan and Swiss Schools – at the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, the largest art museum in the city. And they have also, quite surprisingly, impressive antiquities collection from Pharaonic Egypt (including a mummy from the 9th century B.C.), the Roman Empire, and Ancient Greece. It is amazing to note that the Regional Archaeology collection stretches from 13,000 B.C. until the 11th century. You may need to pre-read some history books to really catch-up with the background timeline of those collections.
You may wonder what daily life like in Geneva was many years ago. This you may find out at the city’s oldest private residence, the Maison Tavel (which means Tavel House). It was originally built in the late 13th century, but destroyed by fire soon afterwards, and only the cellar remains are fully intact along with some medieval graffiti. Still I think it is worth your time to visit the site.
It is obvious that the rest of the 12-room house has been painstakingly rebuilt, but what’s inside — appliances, wallpaper, furniture, dishes, toys, and more from the 16th-19th centuries – will instantly transport you through time. Again, it would be a good idea to read up some historical books before you actually visit places such as this (you will find my reading recommendations too boring by now).
Finally, make sure to immerse the feeling of everyday life in contemporary Geneva. There are many cafés and shops around the beautiful old town, but be careful when you order the famous Swiss Cheese or Chocolate Fondues because they use wine in most of the servings. But do not miss walking along the boardwalk; you must take pictures with the spray of the Jet d’Eau on Lake Geneva and Mont Blanc as a backdrop (the views are simply amazing mashaAllah). Trust me, it’s a beautiful experience — and you will appreciate more after a long and hectic day of work or attending any of the side events at the UN building.
Azril Mohd Amin
(At Genève Aéroport, while waiting to board flight to Heathrow, 21st March 2014)