This is the fourth in a new series of posts covering the rich history of Carouge, one of Geneva’s most fascinating neighborhoods. This series is authored by B, an AIWC member and resident of Carouge who is obsessed with history, languages, and winter sports.
IV. Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité
Already in 1789, political unrest was sweeping Europe. The wheat crop had once again been destroyed by weather, and the winter of 88-89 was brutally cold. Geneva was desperate for bread and was buying up all of the wheat in Carouge and Chablais, causing prices to soar. The royal governor who had been such a forceful advocate of Carouge resigned in fear. In France, the wheat shortage compounded by the unpopularity of the monarchy would turn violent by autumn. With a population that was 50% French and largely bourgeois, sympathies in Carouge were initially with the Revolution. Despite the political and economic unrest, construction of the Hotel de Ville commenced as planned, and requests for building permits continued to be filed, but the owners were asked to complete construction within 3 years. The new governor seemed to sense that Carouge needed to establish legitimacy fast.
In 1792 the revolutionary Republic of France was at war with Austria and Savoy and Switzerland were caught in the middle. Not a fan of the new French regime, Victor-Amédée III allied the kingdom with the Austrians in June, placing Savoy in the crosshairs of the Republican army. They attacked the completely unprepared royal troops in September. By December, Savoy was annexed to France, by January it had become the département of Mont Blanc. Carouge remained the capital of its province. The church, the squares, and the streets received new names, such as Temple de la Raison, Place de la Concorde, Place de la Liberté; rue Saint-Joseph became rue Joséphine. During the subsequent Terror, the population of Carouge was reduced by 25%, although no one was actually executed.
In 1796, the rest of the Piedmont fell to Napoléon. Victor-Amédée III died shortly afterwards, succeeded by his son Charles-Emmanuel IV, who left Turin and lived in exile in Sardinia.
Fortunately, a new administration hired local architect Joseph Mazzone (18 rue St Victor) to revive the development of Carouge. His first project was to propose the transformation of the rondeau Saint-Victor into a square Place d’Armes. When General Bonaparte passed through town in 1797, the commune petitioned him for a new permanent bridge at the point where the canal joined the Arve, and this request was obviously granted. The plan for Giardino’s Arcades was scrapped, and Mazzone was charged with finishing construction on both sides of the Place du Marché, in a manner which would “compliment the beauty, the grandure, and the position of the Place”. To help pay for this and the modified Hotel de Ville, the Presbytere was sold. It is now the Mairie.
In 1798, Napoléon “liberates” the cantons of Switzerland from feudal and religious oppression, establishing the Helvetic Republic and stripping the individual cantons of their power. Three days later, the Republic of Geneva would fall, and become the capital of a new French département of Léman. The status of Carouge was instantly undermined, now just a pretty town outside Geneva. The lovely but incomplete Hotel de Ville no longer served any purpose, nor the various markets and exchanges, and the economy suffered. In December, the Piedmont also was formally ceded to France.
Napoléon becomes emperor in 1799. In 1803 he grants the cantons of Switzerland their wish to return to oppressive sovereignty and neutrality and form the Confederation of Helvetia. Carouge is broke, and is forced to sell the shell of the Hotel de Ville at auction in 1808. On a positive note, the Place du Marché is graded and planted with trees and the long awaited Pont-Neuf is completed.
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