The Escalade Festival is Geneva’s Independence Day

Geneva - l'Escalade Parade - Copyright Luc Buscarlet(Copyright by Luc Buscarlet)

Each December, Geneva's residents celebrate the traditional Fête de l'Escalade. But what is this historic festival all about?

The citywide holiday is dedicated to an event that occurred in the night of December 11 to 12, 1602. At the time, the wealthy city state of Geneva was not a member of the Swiss Confederation yet. Rather, it was ruled by the Duke of Savoy who hoped to profit from the city's riches.

That historic night, the duke and his 2000 mercenaries launched a surprise attack on Geneva in an attempt to make it their capital. Today, the Plainpalais is an open space park. But back then, it was located outside the city walls. The duke's soldiers tried to scale it with long ladders ("escalader" is a French verb for "climb", giving the festival its name).

The residents of Geneva were alerted by the night guard just in time. The duke's plan was to send some scouts across the city walls for them to open the gate from the inside. But thanks to the heroic residents who fought back, the plan failed and the duke's army lost the battle.

Geneva - l'Escalade Parade - Fernando Estorach(Copyright by Fernando Estorach)

Geneva - l'Escalade Parade - Copyright Luc Buscarlet(Copyright by Luc Buscarlet)

Geneva - l'Escalade Parade - Copyright Luc Buscarlet(Copyright by Luc Buscarlet)

Geneva - l'Escalade Parade - Copyright Luc Buscarlet(Copyright by Luc Buscarlet)
 

The legend of a pot of soup

I came across an interesting legend about that night in 1602. Catherine Cheynel lived just above the city gate with her 14 children, and she naturally felt a sense of urgency when she spotted the intruders. Lacking any weapons to protect her family, Mrs. Cheynel reached for a pot of boiling soup which she proceeded to pour onto the enemies below!

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Geneva - l'Escalade Parade - Fernando Estorach(Copyright by Fernando Estorach)

One of the ways this legend is being told and re-told every year is quite unique: The youngest and eldest person in a room are supposed to smash a chocolate replica of a soup pot. It is decorated in Geneva colors and available at local grocery stores. Migros even sells them in different chocolate varieties: Dark, milk or white.

While smashing the pot, they would recite a sentence in French ("Ainsi périrent les ennemis de la République!"), which essentially means "Thus perished the enemies of the Republic!"

Geneva Escalade - Marmite Contenu
 

The Escalade Festival features Europe's largest historical parade

The best place to embrace the Fête de l'Escalade is in Geneva's old town. This is also where the grand parade takes place, with up to 800 people from the Compagnie de 1602 dressed up in medieval costumes.

Geneva - l'Escalade Parade - Fernando Estorach(Photograph copyright by Fernando Estorach)

The three day festivities include lots of reenactments from daily life in the 16th century. And if you are interested in historical battle reenactments, head to the St. Pierre Cathedral.

Geneva - l'Escalade Parade - Copyright Luc Buscarlet(Copyright by Luc Buscarlet)

Geneva - l'Escalade Parade - Copyright Luc Buscarlet(Copyright by Luc Buscarlet)
 

By the way: The festival's anthem consists of 68 verses, but many residents can sing just the first four...

Not surprisingly, you will find (often free) vegetable soup and mulled wine offered throughout the festival. So what's holding you up? Mark your calendar for December 9 - 11, 2016, for a trip to Geneva's Fête de l'Escalade...

(Feature photograph copyright by Luc Buscarlet)

Geneva - l'Escalade Parade - Copyright Luc Buscarlet

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Dimitri Burkhard

Founder, Editor-in-Chief at Newly Swissed GmbH
As the founder, editor and community manager of Newly Swissed, Dimitri owns the strategic vision. He is passionate about storytelling and is a member of the Swiss Travelwriters Club.

Dimitri loves discovering new trends and covers architecture, design, start-ups and tourism.
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