Geneva – a modern Swiss city:
some historical & philological remarks


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The Genevan porcupine or hedghog

Le porc-épic ou hérisson genevois

Das Genfer Stachelschwein

sketch: author, 7-2018


Map of Geneva from the late 18th century, with its hypertrophic Vauban-style fortifications.

Note the disproportion between city and walls: This defense system occupies almost three times as much space as the “medieval” inhabited city on both sides of the river Rhone.

Such a fortified city had no room for expansion and future development.


Plan de Genève vers la fin du 18ème siècle. On remarque l’ampleur démesurée des fortifications de style Vauban : elles occupaient plus que le double de place que la ville «médiévale » des deux côtés du Rhône.


Genf im späten 18. Jahrhundert. Man beachte das vollkommene Mißverhältnis zwischen Stadtgröße und Befestigungswerken: Das ausgeklügelte Vauban-Schanzen-System zu beiden Seiten der Rhone beanspruchte drei Mal so viel Platz wie die eigentliche, die bewohnte Stadt.


The city of GENEVA

Geneva, in French Genève, in German Genf, is an important city at the outflow of Lake Leman into the Rhone river.

Geneva is almost entirely surrounded by France and has only a small corridor which connects the city and canton with Switzerland.

Today Geneva is an important banking and commercial center as well as the seat of many international organizations, especially the United Nations.

Note that Geneva has officially belonged to the Swiss Confederation only for two centuries (since 1814). But even before, the city had strong relations with Berne and Zurich.

Geneva is historically well known for the dour person of Jean Calvin, one of the great reformers of Christian faith. But this story is a complete invention: Calvin has never existed, neither Luther (Germany), Zwingli (Zurich), or Haller (Berne). – The city was always open to the world; it has never been a center of intolerance and dogmatism.

  Today, Geneva has very few historical buildings: some towers and the gothic St. Peter Cathedral. But even this church has a façade from Classicism.

After 1770 Geneva was well fortified by a huge system of fortifications in the Vauban style, with redoubts and moats (see the maps above and below). They were demolished around 1850. - Almost nothing is left today.

These highly exaggerated Vauban fortifications also existed for example in Zurich and in Freiburg im Breisgau (see maps).

What was the reason to build such hypertrophic and principally useless walls around prosperous cities?


The Vauban fortifications of Zurich (left)
and Freiburg im Breisgau (right)

We note the same exaggerated fortification systems like in Geneva.

Source: Burgenkarte der Schweiz


The ancient fortifications of Berne

Berne, unlike Zurich and Geneva, and Solothurn had constructed a much smaller fortification system. In fact, it had only redoubts and moats in the west. - But there were plans to build a Vauban-style system around the whole city.


Old map of Geneva with its fortifications

Note that the map is not north-south oriented


Etymological remarks

The name GENF (Genève, Geneva) (GNP > S.NP(L)) means “Holy Naples”, like the mountain ridge of the Salève behind the city in France: SALEVE = S.LP(N)) > S.NPL = SANCTA NEAPOLIS = holy Naples.

See: Vesuvius is everywhere

A philological curiosity: the German word SENF = mustard has the same origin as GENF.

In Ancient times the mythical person of Julius Caesar is supposed to have prevented the Helvetians from crossing the river Rhone. – This is another fairy tale from invented history (see: A new Manifesto of Historical Criticism). The Helvetians play in Caesar's textbook the role of the Jews crossing the Red Sea in the Old Testament. And Julius Caesar is the pharao, the supreme chief of church.

Note that RHONE, in German Rot(en) means RED. So the Rhone is the Red River.

See: The matrix of ancient history


Philibert Berthelier

In front of the château de l’Île in Geneva a statue was erected in 1909 in commemoration of a certain Philibert Berthelier, beheaded in “1519”, for his opposition to the Bishop and the Duke of Savoy. – This is a rather weird story. - And BERTHELIER (BRTL > LBRT) means LIBERTATEM, libertas, liberty.

This invented hero stands for the liberty of the city as well as the alliance of Geneva to the Swiss Confederation against foreign powers.

Geneva - Genève - Genf:
The monument of Philibert Berthelier,
erected in 1909

photo: author, 21.3.2016


Geneva - Genève - Genf:
The legend of the ESCALADE

In December "1602" the Duke of Savoy attempted to capture the city of Geneva by a surprise coup. The enemy troops began to scale the city walls under the cover of  night and with the aid of ladders. But the Duke's plans were thwarted: A brave town crier alerted the citizens. The mercenaries who had already entered the city to open the main gate were killed, and the rest of the enemies chased off the walls.

The legendary Escalade event stands for the stability of the historical Geneva. It had become after the reformation the so called "Protestant Rome", surrounded, however, by the Roman Catholic Duchy of Savoy.

The Escalade of Geneva is commemorated each year by a festival.

But even historians have to admit:

L’Escalade commemorates the only memorable date in Geneva’s history. Forget about John Calvin, the foundation of the Red Cross, the ill-fated League of Nations, and the countless international organizations and diplomatic events hosted by Geneva during the past century or so. All fine institutions and often important events in their own right but the only date that counts in Genevan history is December 12, 1602.

The Escalade of Geneva

from: Hie Eidgenossenschaft; Bern 1941, p, 39


The front of St. Peter Cathedral in Geneva

The church is built in Gothic style. The front, however, is pure Classicism from around 1800.

Photo: author, 22.12.2015



The German-Nazi propaganda around 1941 - 1945 called Switzerland THE SMALL PORCUPINE.

"We'll take Switzerland, the small porcupine, on our way back home."

In fact Switzerland from 1940 on was transformed by the army to a National Redoubt. The whole country was fortified with shelters, bunkers and anti-tank obstacles.

Anti-tank obstacles in Loewenberg
near Murten FR, built during WW II

Photo: author, 22.8.2013