I come from a US state where the oldest historical landmark is a 170 year-old Russian Orthodox church and our most famous world figure is Sarah Palin. So imagine my delight when I discovered my daughter would be attending Collège Calvin during her high school years.

She doesn’t understand my excitement when I tell her it is the oldest school in Geneva established by the man himself in 1559.

XIX Engraving of Collège Calvin (Wikipedia)

Imagine. The population of Geneva at the time was 13,000 people. The Protestant Reformation had led to the decision that education in Geneva should be obligatory and free. So John Calvin and the city elders selected this location on top of the hill near the St. Pierre Cathedral. Building began on the west wing and within 9 months (unheard of these days) the doors opened for 1200 men to attend secondary and university classes.

The school was such a success that the south wing was built the following year in order to provide extra classrooms and housing for the professors.

College Calvin roofs

Roof tops of the South and West Wings in the background.

Over the centuries boys of prominent families such as the grandsons of Benjamin Franklin and John Adams were sent to Calvin’s school. But the most famous student is Nobel Peace Prize winner Henri Dunant, the founder of the International Red Cross. Today 800 teenage girls and boys attend Collège Calvin.

In 2008, renovations began on the two buildings. Ironically each wing was built in less than a year but the renovations took a bit over 5 years.


Before renovations on the South Wing.

The results are stunning. According to my daughter’s history teacher, the original windows, marble façade, wooden floors, mosaic entrance and fleur de lys have been preserved. However, the tile mosaic floor in the main entrance was removed. All-in-all the building is simple but beautiful.


The west wing was under construction when I wrote this blog. The building was hidden under scaffolding and the square full of with building materials. I could not see those original arches under the porch carved with French, German, Hebrew and Greek inscriptions. However, I look forward to Dec. 2014 when I can update these pictures with uninhibited views of a beautiful garden and golden buildings originally built by Geneva’s most famous historical figure- John Calvin.

Collège Calvin in 2012 (from the school’s homepage)

Related links:

Collège Calvin Homepage (in French)

Wikipedia Information (in French)

Wikipedia Information (in English)

We are a group of international women living in Geneva, Switzerland.  If you would like to join the AIWC, please visit our website at http://www.aiwcgeneva.org/.