Muskets and canons firing, soldiers on horseback, boar roasting on an open spit, touring through passages hidden between Geneva’s city walls … No, you haven’t been transported back to 1602, but in and around Geneva’s Old Town during l’Escalade, you may feel like it!
Taking place over three days, l’Escalade showcases what life was like at the end of the 17th century and commemorates the events of December 11/12, 1602. At midnight that night, the Duke of Savoy and 2,000 of his men launched a surprise attack on Geneva. A group of soldiers set up ladders to scale the city walls, but their efforts were thwarted when a patrol happened upon the invaders and sounded the alarm. In the ensuing battle, the entire population of Geneva took up arms to defend their city. After fierce fighting, the Savoyard army suffered defeat and retreated.
The Compagnie de 1602, a historical society, debuted the first Escalade celebration in 1926. Every year thereafter, the Compagnie has organized the multi-day festival on or near December 11/12.
This year’s Escalade is scheduled for December 7-9. Over the course of the weekend, you can see parades, muskets firing, demonstrations of pike handling, and public speeches about Geneva’s independence. At various times, you can purchase roasted boar, ham off the bone, vegetable soup, mulled wine, and confectionery. There are also public events and exhibitions at area museums, guided tours of City Hall, and intermittent parades through the streets.
One not-to-be-missed part of Escalade is the Passage de Monetier, a path through the Old Town’s walls that is only open during the Escalade. Find the entrance to the passage at rue du Perron 19, and you’ll see a unique side of Geneva – plus, you’ll receive a glass of hot mulled wine (vin chaud) waiting for you at the passage’s end.
Another must-see is the Sunday evening promenade, where more than 800 people in costume circle on foot and on horseback through Old Town in Europe’s largest historical parade.
I attended l’Escalade last year with my husband, and we had a lot of fun throughout the weekend wandering the cobblestone streets, watching the parades and demonstrations, and climbing to the top of St. Peter’s Cathedral to get a birds-eye view of the events below. Plus, our lunch of boar, stewed vegetables, and bread was delicious!
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