Over a decade ago, I was told not to bother taking the United Nations tour. I must have the brain of an elephant because instinctually I never did. That is until a few weeks ago when I joined a tour arranged by the AIWC.
I had expected an educational tour of how the organization works but ended up enjoying the architecture and art of this historical location instead.
First A Quick History
The League of Nations (see my blog President Wilson and Geneva) was viewed as a failure with the onset of WWII. In April 1946, the final assembly was held. The League of Nations was dissolved and all its properties and assets were handed over to the United Nations Organization. However, this new organization would be headquartered in New York City.
Fifty-eight years later, the New York City headquarters debate all issues regarding world security while the Geneva headquarters focus on all topics relating to international peace, human rights, disaster response and disarmament. In fact days after our visit, Ban Ki-moon was in Geneva to make the opening statements for the Conference of Disarmament and to speak at the Geneva Conference on Syria.
Property, Art and Architecture
Bettina, our guide, gave us many facts around the original property purchases and donations to the League of Nations. As you can imagine with today’s property prices, these are important details but a one-hour tour is too quick to understand the families involved and the implications.
The tour began in the “new” building where we visited the most spectacular conference room: the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations room. Recently remodeled, I don’t know how any work is concluded here. I found it impossible to tear my eyes away from the ceiling. The country of Spain donated this masterpiece after commissioning Miquel Barcelo in 2007. The details of its construction and the artist’s vision are worth reading at this link.
Keeping to the theme of art, the hall outside showcases paintings, sculptures and antiquities donated or loaned to the United Nations by its various member states. On a serious note here also hangs the memorials for those who died in attacks on the UN offices in Baghdad and Algiers.
Then we moved back in time to the great Palais des Nations. In 1926 The League of Nations issued the following statement : “The Palais, whose construction is the object of the competition, is intended to house all the organs of the League of Nations in Geneva. It should be designed in such a way as to allow these organs to work, to preside and to hold discussions, independently and easily in the calm atmosphere which should prevail when dealing with problems of an international dimension. “
Construction began in 1929. The Palais is famous for its Art deco style. We were able to quickly peek into one small meeting room to appreciate all its original woodwork and design.
We also visited La Galerie des Pas-Perdues. This enormous hall is constructed of marble and granite with a magnificent view of the lake. Two iron doors on either side are inscribed with the monograms of the first inhabitants, LON (League of Nations) and SDN (Société des Nations).
When the properties were donated to Geneva, families stipulated that they must be open to the public. Sadly, security has become an issue resulting in fences, gates and metal detectors.
However, Bettina explained that due to this stipulation, we are able to come back in the spring to tour the gardens with her where we will discover more history in the trees and outdoor sculptures.
In my enthusiasm, perhaps I have given too much away but I highly recommend the tour which costs CHF 12. More information can be found on the UNOG website.
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/.