Sunday, December 11, 2011

L'Escalade: The Patriotic Festival of Geneva

On December 12, 1602, Charles-Emmanuel, a Frenchman, le Duc de Savoie, attacked Geneva with 2000 men.  He wanted to make Geneva his capitol north of the alps.  He had chosen the longest night of the year, and attacked in the dead of night.  The attackers placed huge ladders against the great walls surrounding the town.  ("Escalade" means "the scaling" of the walls.)

The townsfolk were awakened by the shot of a musket.  Soon the bells of St. Pierre tolled the alarm.  The town was under attack.  Soldiers and townspeople rushed to defend their town.  People tossed furniture out the windows onto the attackers below.

According to legend, Mère Royaume, who lived near the Porte de Monnaie, grabbed a "marmite," (a three-legged cauldron) of vegetable soup and threw it out the window, killing one of the Savoyard soldiers. 

 The Genèvois killed 54 enemies and captured 30.  The rest of the attackers fled.  Many of the prisoners were of high rank, and all were hung the next day as "brigands and thieves" by the town executioner.  Eighteen Genèvois were killed.

"To Our Valiant Ancestors. Here during the night of the Escalade the 12th of December of the year 1602 the people of Geneva repulsed the enemy and saved Independence and the Republic.  May their memory dwell imperishable in our hearts."

Every year since 1902, the patriotic and proud Genèvois have celebrated their victory with a festival of re-enactions and parades.

Throughout the city, in pastry and candy shops, chocolate "marmites," red and gold wrapped candies, and marzipan vegetables appear in the windows.  On the day of the celebration people of the town put a chocolate marmite in the center of the table at dessert time, stack their hands above it and declare,

"Et c'est ainsi que périrent les ennemis de la République!"  (And thus perish the enemies of the Republic!)  Hourah!


Bonnie said...

Oh my gosh...I love this story! Very interesting holiday to celebrate..especially with the chocolate marmites in the center of the dinner table. I love learning about different celebrations for other countries. I had to google Geneva..I'm sorry, I am so not good with geography!! I was a little confused since you are in Switzerland but you mentioned a now I see it is in a French speaking part of Switzerland. Am I right???

Beth said...

Yes, Bonnie. Geneva is in the French speaking part of Switzerland, but the Frenchman came from France, which touches Geneva. I love this story, too! I think it is funny. Beth