History of Geneva

The most ancient finds evidencing human occupancy of the Geneva area date back to about 3000 BC : they were unearthed on the shores of Lake Geneva, where there had been huddles of pile dwellings. The hill on which the later centre, now the Old Town, would be built was uninhabited probably for another two thousand years, then in about 500 BC members of the Celtic Allobroges clan stockaded themselves there. The conquest of the Allobroges homelands by Rome from 122 to 120 BC turned Geneva into a Romain stronghold, and in 58 BC Julius Caesar had to defend against a foray by the Helvetii. His account of this incident in Comments on the Gallic Wars, written in 52 BC, is the first known reference to Geneva in a text. The township spread space when the Roman Empire was at its zenith, and shortly before 400 AD it was awarded the status of a bishopric at the centre of a wast diocese. 

Julius Caesar against the Helvetians
Germanic tribe, the Burgundians

The Germanic Burgundian tribe moved into the area in 443 AD, and Geneva became the seat of their kingdom for thirty years. The Franks occupied their territory in 534, and the town later became part of the Merovingian Kingdom and subsequently the Carolingian Empire. The Second Burgundian Kingdom rose out of the remains of the Empire in the IX century, including Geneva within its pale. only to fall under dominion of the German Empire by 1032. However, while Geneva was legally a dependency, it was in point of fact governed by its bishops as their own seigneury from XI century high through to the Reformation. 

The town never acquired more than secondary importance until the XV century, when its great trade fairs placed it on the world map. Its independence was however threatened by the House of Savoy, whose princes did their utmost to wrest it away from the XII to the XVII century. The first three decades of the XVI century were the time of greatest peril, until the cantons of Fribourg ans Berne sent in reinforcements to secure the town’s autonomy. 

Geneva in XVe - XVIIe
Return of Calvin to Geneva

1535 heralded the triumph of the Reformation, and Geneva assumed the political status of a republic. Calvin settled here in 1536; and under his guiding spirit the Republic was elevated to the rank of Mother of the Protestant Church. From 1550 onwards a host of Protestants, mainly French an Italian people fleeing persecution in their countries of birth, poured in to establish Geneva as a beacon of faith and learning under the auspices of Calvin ans Théodore de Bèze; the Academy, forerunner of the present University, was founded in 1559. The refugees also helped restore the economy, which had been in recession ever since the decline of the trade fairs at the end of the previous century. 

On the night of 11 December 1602 Charles-Emmanuel, Duke of Savoy, tried to storm the town. His « Escalade » was repulsed, to be commemorated thereafter by the Genevese in their main patriotic event of the year. A second wave of XVII century. The XVIII century was a period of great prosperity, when Geneva’s industries – the best-known of which was watchmaking – commerce and banking all flourished. Rousseau was born here in 1712 and Voltaire lived nearby from 1755 to 1778. It also bred famous scientists such as the biologist Charles Bonnet and he natural philosopher and geologist Horace-Bénédicte de Saussure, although being torn by strife between the classes and parties. 

Night attack, "Escalade
Revolution led by James Fazy

The Geneva Revolution of 1792 ousted the aristocratic Ancien Régime ans political equality for all was proclaimed. The Republic was however annexed by France in 1798 and appointed the chief town of the « Département du Léman ». The defeat of the Napoleonic armies gave it back its freedom on 31 December 1813, but the aldermen of the restored Republic were aware that it could not continue in isolation: they accordingly applied to join the Swiss Confederation and the state became a Canton in 1815. In 1846 another revolution, led by James Fazy, overturned the government of the Restoration and drew up the constitution that survives to this day. In the course of the XIX century and the early part of the present one, Geneva harboured a number of political refugees, the most famous being Lenin, who stayed here from 1903 to 1905 and in 1908.

Urged by the ideas of the Genevese Henri Dunant, a group of citizens founded the international Committee of the Red Cross in 1864, to be the first of the international institutions that were to burgeon in Geneva. The town’s international calling was asserted after the first World War, when it was chosen in 1919 as the seat of the League of Nations, the predecessor of the United Nations Organization. The headquarters of UNO were transferred to New York in 1945, but Geneva has retained its European Office. Scores of international organizations are now based here, examples of which are the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) and the World Council of Churches.

Conference of the ICRC in 1864