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.
L’Escalade, or Fête de l’Escalade, is an annual festival in Geneva, held each December in celebration of the defeat of an attempt to conquer the Protestant city by the Catholic Duchy of Savoy.
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The climax of L’Escalade is the grand parade (grand cortège de l’Escalade) on the Sunday evening arranged by the Compagnie de 1602. The parade of around 800 participants in period dress and 60 horses follows a set route with special stopping points in the old town. Public transportation in Geneva is severely disrupted from late afternoon on this Sunday
According to legend, this was possible thanks to many individual acts of bravery by citizens, notably by a cook (la Mère Royaume) who dumped boiling vegetable soup on the invaders before raising an alarm. The celebrations and other commemorative activities are usually held on 12 December or the closest weekend.
Celebrations include a large marmite (cauldron) made of chocolate and filled with marzipan vegetables and candies wrapped in the Geneva colours of red and gold.
It is customary for the eldest and youngest in the room to smash the marmite, while reciting, “Ainsi périrent les ennemis de la République! ” (Thus perished the enemies of the Republic), referring to how Catherine Cheynel, better known as Mère Royaume, poured boiling hot vegetable soup on soldiers climbing up the walls of the city.
Escalade festival is taking place in the Old Town, mainly on these sites where it is practically impossible to miss:
- Place du Bourg-de-Four (Saturday evening, map)
- Park des Bastions (whole weekend, map)
- square in front of the St. Peter’s Cathedral (celebration fire on Sunday starting by 6pm, map)