Walking in the footsteps of the Reformation

Walk back in time across the historic city of Geneva and marvel as the story of the Reformation unfolds in front of you.
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Highlighted as one of the crucial locations in the 16th-century Reformation within Christianity and under the guidance of John Calvin, Geneva opened the gateway to the modern movement and a life free of constraints that allowed individuals to express their individuality.

Although having been introduced in 1517 by Martin Luther in Germany, by 1536 the fresh ideas the Reformation introduced really started to take off in Geneva. As such, the city is home to many significant locations that map the development of the movement and show how the city laid the footfalls for the progression into the modern era.

To bring the movement to life, Geneva Tourism has created and walking tour guide that highlights each site that should not be missed upon a visit to the city. Geneva – described as a ‘big, little city’ – has a lot to show but is very easy to walk and navigate around with and, with a free public transport pass provided by every hotel for the duration of your stay, it’s near impossible to miss the best bits.

With so much to see, I highly recommend using a tour guide, Gaëtane Chacon from the tourist board has an in-depth knowledge and a passion for the cities’ history and painted a superb picture of the unfolding story.

Museum of the Reformation

Saint-Pierre Cathedral

The tour begins at the International Museum of the Reformation, founded in 2005 the museum is packed with artefacts that highlight what life was like for those living through the reformation and offers insightful snippets of history such as miniature Bibles hidden in the hair of women preventing Protestants from being discovered and punished. In celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the museum is currently hosting a Print exhibition. It has been said that the development of the printed word played a huge part in the Reformation and to commemorate this, the museum is hand printing every page of the Bible until October 31 and visitors are invited to get involved.

Opposite to the Museum is one of Geneva most spectacular landmarks – Saint-Pierre Cathedral – having been restored many times the Cathedral stands proud and it was here that John Calvin carried out his preaching’s. In vast contrast to the minimal Cathedral, next door, is the bright and vibrant Auditoire Calvin where you can marvel at the beautiful artwork that is very unusual for a Protestant place of worship. Underneath Saint-Pierre is a true historical gem, a restored archaeological site that paints a true picture of the Cathedral’s past uncovering layer after layer of its formal use. With a Geneva Pass that can be purchased for either 24, 48 or 72 hours, the archaeological site and 30 other main attractions are free and makes walking the footsteps of the Reformation straight forward.

New form of church

City Hall

Moving away from the square, the division amongst religions continues with the Lutheran Church, the Lutherans were given permission to build a church but with strict instruction that it must not look like one – the result – a three story family style dwelling. Education was also a clear division between religions and the Collége Calvin was built to reflect the Protestant belief that education was important in forming religious opinions. The Collége is an architectural marvel!

Heading through the Place du Bourg-de-Four – the central point in the Old Town Square – The Hôtel-de-Ville or the City Hall is a must see destination on the tour. The building itself is beautiful with a stone ramp leading to the top – thought to be made so those travelling by horse or donkey could reach the top – and the hall is still used today, often as a venue for exhibitions and concerts.

Reformation Wall

Reformation Wall

Behind The Hôtel-de-Ville is the reformation wall. Built by Paul Landowski at the foot of what was once Geneva’s high stone enclosing wall. The ten figures symbolised all played a significant part in the Reformation with the centre focus on Guillaume Farel, John Calvin, Théodore de Bèze and John Kno. The memorial is magnificent with steps leading down towards the figures and the bordering stream. It’s a lovely spot to sit on the steps and take a moment to visualise what it would have been like to live inside the walls.

Having attracted many Protestant refugees, the city did all it could to provide for them. Many buildings overlooking the old town square were raised by a storey to accommodate the influx in residents and the Temple de la Fusterie was built – the first new place of worship after the reformation.

Continuing back down again in the direction of the port is the Rues Basses and Place du Molard and it is here that Antoine Froment in 1533 first spoke about of the Reformation ideas that have since gone on to form the creative and spiritual status Geneva is known for today.

Meandering through the cobbled streets of the Old Town, you can’t help but marvel at the City. Switzerland may be famous for its craftsmanship but tracing the Reformation back to the very beginning, uncovers an inspiring story of determination and pride.

More Information

Geneva Tourism
Tel: +41 (0) 22 909 70 00
Geneva Pass
Museum of Reformation

Last modified: June 10, 2021

Written by 11:13 am Europe