The Champions and the Jet d’Eau

I’ve had a 20 franc note left over ever since I came back from Geneva a few weeks ago. So today I decided to pop into the Post Office to get it changed back into Sterling. Beforehand, I was having my dinner (mid day meal in Wigan!) in “The Coven” on Hallgate and when I was paying accidentally pulled the note out of my wallet. This  got me talking with the proprietor who mentioned that she’d been to Geneva for a day visit a few years ago and mentioned that she had particularly wanted to see the massive fountain, the Jet d’Eau which had featured in the opening credits of the 1970’s TV series, “The Champions”. Well that was also true for me. I was really keen to see the fountain for the same reason as “The Champions” was one of my favourite programmes when it was first shown (in mitigation, I was quite young).

The programme featured a team of three agents who worked for a secretive organisation based in Geneva Following a plane crash in Tibet they had acquired special super powers from a colony of monks, and used them in their fight against criminals and foreign agents. All rather corny, but I enjoyed it at the time!

Here’s the opening credits from Youtube

According to  the  Wikipedia article on the Jet d’Eau

Five hundred litres (132 gallons) of water per second are jetted to an altitude of 140 metres (459 feet) by two 500 kW pumps, operating at 2,400 V, consuming over one megawatt of electricity.[3][4][5] The water leaves the nozzle at a speed of 200 km/h (124 mph). When it is in operation, at any given moment there are about 7,000 litres (1849 gallons) of water in the air.

The fountain is only operated during restricted hours, especially during the winter moths and not during  very icy or windy weather. Luckily I was able to see it during my visit so wasn’t disappointed.

There’s more information on the Jet d’Eau here.

Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Genève

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The Cathédrale Saint-Pierre stands at the highest point in Geneva in the Old Town. It’s been there for a long time, the present building dating from the 11th Century, although there has been a religious building on the site since the 4th Century. The Protestant theologian, John Calvin, who came from Geneva, used to preach in the Cathedral during the mid-16th century.

One of the books I’m reading at the moment (I always have several on the go) is The Secret Lives of Buildings: by Edward Hollis. In the book he describes how a number of well known buildings have evolved and changed over time. Living buildings have to adapt to new uses and even where their function largely remains unchanged, they are modified over time, extensions built, sections demolished, repairs undertaken. This can be clearly seen in the Cathedral. Different architectural styles have been used as the building was expanded, reflecting the change in fashion and technological developments.

Map from

The original building was Romanesque and from the outside, typical features of this architectural style can be seen – relatively small windows with rounded arches puncturing massive walls. But the chapel, which was added at a later date is classic Gothic with long tall lancet windows with more complex tracery, and buttresses supporting the walls.

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The Romanesque main structure with Gothic additions could also be seen when looking down over the nave from the top of one of the towers.2013-01-16 16.07.09

The West front of the Cathedral is built in yet another style – a large Neoclassical portico with six Corinthian columns supporting a triangular pediment. Built in the mid 18th Century this is completely different than the medieval styles that have been used to construct the rest of the building.

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This entrance replaced a plainer, more traditional Romanesque construction which can be seen in the following etching.


(Picture source: Cathedral website)

I’ve nothing against neo-Classical architecture – quite the contrary. But I didn’t really like the entrance. I think the neo-classical style jarred with the rest of the building – it was too different.

The eccentric design also includes two towers (which don’t match!) from the 13th Century and a spire added in 1895.

So the building is a really good illustration of how buildings grow and evolve. Although in this case no care has been taken to ensure the additions and alterations maintain a harmonious whole. It’s a real jumble of styles.

Inside, the Gothic style, with pointed arches and a high ribbed vault, dominated, as can be seen in this picture of the Nave. But the small Romanesque windows in the main walls, meant that the interior was quite gloomy and, consequently, my photographs, taken on my mobile phone, haven’t come out too well. The Gothic styling was, no doubt, the result of later modifications to the Romanesque structure.

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The cathedral was originally Catholic, but today it’s a Protestant church. Inside it;s relatively plain and austere reflecting the Calvinist ideology. The Calvinists stripped the cathedral of its altars, statues, paintings and furniture when they took it over in 1536. Only the stained glass windows and the Romanesque capitals on the stone columns remained.

The Cathedral is relatively small and unlike many of the large Gothic cathedrals I’ve visited in England, it doesn’t have a large fancy Quire separated from the Nave. So the clergy must be in much closer contact with the congregation. I guess that this again is a reflection of the Calvinist philosophy.

The small Quire is Gothic and is more ornate than the Nave, but still relatively plain.

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During the Reformation, the 14th-century Gothic Chapel of the Maccabees was used as a warehouse and then a lecture hall. It was reconsecrated in in 1878 and redecorated in a very lavish style and today provides a dramatic contrast to the austere main body of the Cathedral. It has ornate stained glass windows with some complex tracery

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The high ribbed ceiling is highly decorated with a colour scheme dominated by a bright blue.

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The door leading to the main body of the Cathedral is also highly decorated with patterns painted in bright colours

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There are some light hearted touches too, with small, carved gargoyles carved at the bottom of some of the wooden pillars.

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Geneva Old Town

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During my recent trip to Geneva I managed to find a few hours to explore the old town – la Vieille Ville. It’s a relatively small area occupying a hill on the left bank of he Rhone at the end of Lac Leman. Due to it being the depths of Winter, it was relatively quiet. It was cold, but the sun was shining and it was quite pleasant strolling around the steep cobbled streets.

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Today Geneva is a modern metropolis that has spread out considerably from the fortified town of 1841 illustrated in this old map.

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Image source:Wikipedia

The streets were lines with well restored old buildings, the majority four or five storeys high.

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The ground floor of many of them were occupied by interesting shops; this one selling antiquarian scientific instruments – clocks, telescopes, globes, manometers

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There were a significant number of expensive boutiques, antique shops and art galleries, some of the latter selling pictures by some selling works by well known artists. There’s clearly a lot of money in Geneva.

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The Protestant Cathedral of St Pierre stands on the top of the hill in la Place St. Pierre. It’s the highest point in the city and a good panoramic view can be enjoyed on a clear day from the top of it’s two towers.

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This statue was in the street near the Cathedral. I thought it’s style was similar to the work of Rodin. I didn’t make a note of the name of the person it represented.

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This statue of a rather emaciated young woman, by the Swiss sculptor Heinz Schwartz is in la Place Bourg de Four. I rather like it.

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Clémentine (1974) by Heinz Schwartz.

She must have felt chilly on the day I was there!

Just across from the cathedral is the Town Hall. It was here that the Geneva Convention on the humanitarian rules of war was signed and also where the League of Nations assembled for the first time in 1920.


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Inside the courtyard you can see the unusual sloping ramp. It is said to have been built to allow cannons to pulled up to the ramparts and, allegedly, to enable councillors to arrive at meetings on horseback or in their sedan chair.

Near to the Town hall there are a number of cannons on display inside a former granary. The walls of the building are decorated with  mosaic frescoes by Alexandre Cingria depicting important periods in Geneva’s history.

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After walking around for a while I called in to a pleasant small café on la Rue Saint-Léger, just off la Place Bourg de Four for a coffee to warm me up.

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It was very characterful

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and the walls were decorated with pictures and caricatures

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I guess that the area can be explored in half a day or less, depending on how long you spend mooching around the shops, boutiques and galleries and what attractions you visit. Barbara of Mildaysboudoir visited during the summer last year and wrote about it on her blog here. It looks like there’s more to see during the warmer months with stalls and other things going on.

Impressions of Geneva

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I went over to Geneva for a few days last week on business. As I was there for work there wasn’t much time for sightseeing. But I did find a few hours to have a look around.

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When I arrived on the Easyjet from Liverpool at around 8 p.m. it was cold, but not freezing and there was no snow on the ground. When I got up the next morning it had started to snow and by the time I set out at 9 it was really coming down heavily. Just like in Britain when it snows, everything seemed to grind to a halt and there were reports in the papers the next day of traffic chaos. The difference, however, was that in Geneva they were much more geared up to dealing with the snow. The gritters came out and there seemed to be small tractors with bulldozer blades all over the place clearing roads, pavements, driveways and car parks.

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These are my impressions, albeit based on a relatively brief stay.

The city

  • A small, compact city centre. Very walkable and easy to explore on foot.
  • A very pleasant location at the west end of Lac LeMan (Lake Geneva) and the banks of the Rhone, surrounded on three sides by mountains

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  • Very cosmopolitan with lots of émigrés living there who work for the large International companies who have their headquarters there as well as the United Nations and other International organisations
  • The city was clean and seemed to be quite safe, although there were signs around the city centre warning of pickpockets
  • Lots of parks and green spaces.

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The people

  • I didn’t have much interaction with native Genevois other than in the hotel and when eating out, but they seemed reasonably polite and friendly
  • Although the native language in Geneva is French, English was very widely spoken

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Getting around

  • Very easy to get around on the superb public transport network – trams, buses and trolleybuses
  • Visitors are given a card on arrival at their hotel with permits free use of the transport system during their visit. You can also pick up a ticket in the baggage collection hall at the airport that allows 80 minutes free use of the transport system on arrival, which gives plenty of time to travel to your hotel.

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  • Tram and bus users weren’t required to stamp their tickets and I never saw anyone checking them. Does anyone actually pay or are Genevois incredibly honest?
  • Traffic very busy during rush hour and moved very slowly.
  • Car drivers were respectful of pedestrians, conscientiously stopping at pedestrian crossings.
  • I travelled by taxi a couple of times and found them very expensive. But there should be little need to use them.
  • Lots of scooters around.

Eating Out

  • I didn’t really get much chance to eat out and check out restaurants in the city centre. There didn’t seem to be many serving local dishes – the cuisine was mainly the usual mix of “International” styles.

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  • A relatively low rise city with buildings in the city centre a uniform height.
  • Most of the buildings were quite French in style.

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  • No particularly outstanding or interesting modern buildings in the city centre.
  • A compact Old Town built on a hill. Pleasant streets and old buildings

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  • Some very grand 19th Century buildings on the southern  shore of the Lake

Museums and Galleries

  • There were a number of museums and public art galleries scattered around the city but it seemed that most, if not all, of them, only opened at 11 a.m.

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