100,000 annual visitors … 1,600 employees representing 115 nationalities … 8,000 meetings each year. By the numbers, the United Nations occupies a prominent role in the city of Geneva. And earlier this month, members of the American International Women’s Club took a guided English-language tour of these historic premises for a look at what goes on behind the UN’s imposing gates.

Beginning from the visitor’s center, our group toured one of the larger conference rooms, the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room, and the Assembly Hall at the Palais des Nations (Palace of Nations), all the while learning about the organization of the United Nations, the Palais des Nations building, and the artwork on display throughout its halls.

One of the showpieces of the tour was the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room. Its ornate ceiling was a gift to the UN from King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia of Spain in 2008. Spanish artist Miquel Barceló’s multi-colored installation of paint-flecked stalactites covering 1500 square meters of the room’s ceiling looks different from each part of the room and represents how the delegates of the UN can often see the same things in very different ways.

Here are a few more facts we learned on the tour:

  • The charter of the United Nations was ratified on October 24, 1945, making this year the 70th anniversary of the UN’s founding. Ratification was confirmed by the original 51 member states, including the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (France, the UK, the US, the Soviet Union, and the Republic of China).
  • Today, the UN’s member states number 193 in total. The most recent member state to join was South Sudan, in 2011.
  • There are several organizations and specialized agencies of the UN, five of which are based in Geneva: the World Meteorological Organization, the World Health Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the International Telecommunications Union, and the International Labor Organization.
  • The UN is funded by compulsory and voluntary contributions from its member states. The amount of each states’ contribution is determined by several factors, including the GDP of the country and the average income per person. The United States contributes the most of any country (approximately 22% of the general budget); the least amount, from Palau, comprises 0.001% of the budget.
  • The original Palais de Nations was erected in the 1930s as the new home of the League of Nations, and traces of the since-dissolved League of Nations remain. For example, doors in the original building bear the insignia for both the English name (LN, League of Nations) and the French (Société des Nations). See photo, above.
  • A somber permanent memorial honors the victims of two terrorist attacks on the UN. Plaques for the victims of the 2003 Canal Hotel attack on UN headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq and the December 11, 2007 Algiers bombings on UN offices and UNHCR offices are centered by remnants of the UN flag from the Algiers. (Remnants of the Baghdad UN flag are displayed at the UN offices in New York City.) See photo, above.
  • The Assembly Hall is the largest room at the Palais des Nations. Its main floor seats 1300, with galleries seating an additional 700 people above.
  • Many works of art on display are permanent gifts to the UN from member countries. In addition to the permament works, a temporary photo exhibition in honor of the 70th anniversary of the UN’s founding presently occupies one of the grand halls in the main building.

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For more information: To learn more about the United Nations in Geneva, including how to take a similar English-language tour, visit the Palais des Nations website. Opening hours, rooms available on the tour, and ticket prices vary. The visitors entry point is located at the Pregny Gate, 14 avenue de la Paix. A valid government-issued ID (e.g., passport) is required. For groups of 14 or fewer, advance reservation is not necessary; groups of 15 or more must schedule in advance.

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/

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