Your (more or less) complete guide to Geneva: l’Escalade

Runners taking part in the Course de l'Escalade. Photo: Keystone

L’Escalade is a huge event held every year in Geneva to mark the defeat of a surprise attack on Geneva during the night of 11-12 December 1602.  This article will attempt to give you a brief history of the event as well as explain how you can be part of the celebrations.

Photo: ge.ch
An illustration of the attack. Photo: ge.ch

On the night of the 11-12 December 1602 the city was attacked overnight by Savoyard troops, ordered by the Duke of Savoy who wanted to claim back possession of the city which he used to rule over. The plan was for a small group commandos to climb over the wall (hence escalade) and then let in the rest of the army who were massed at Plainpalais which at that time was just outside the city walls. However the commandos were defeated before they could scale the wall and the alarm was raised. The city’s people fought alongside the milita and the Savoyard troops had to retreat.

According to legend, Catherine Cheynel, a mother of 14, who lived above the city gates took a large cauldron of boiling soup and dropped it on the head of a Savoyard soldier, killing him and rousing the city to defend themselves.

Each year there are various celebrations in Geneva to celebrate this victory.

Photo: Ecolint
Photo: Ecolint

The largest part of the celebration is the Course de l’Escalade which is the largest annual sporting event in Geneva. Last year around 30,000 people took part, 730 of them from the Ecolint community. This year it will occur on the 4-5 December (2015). It is a great family event with various age categories so that everyone runs with people of the same age as them. The race winds its way through the old town before ending in Bastion Park with the distance varying from 2km-8km depending on your age. More information on taking part can be found here. You must sign up before 28th of October!

As well as the Course de l’Escalade there are also historical reenactments of the night which often attracts tens of thousands of spectators.  The torchlit precession features around 800 people wearing historical costumes with some on horses and finishes at St Pierre Cathedral where there is a bonfire. During the precession there are also gun and canon salutes. More information can be found here

As a celebration of the soup dropping, ‘marmite de l’Escalade’ are sold in many shops across Geneva. These are made of chocolate and filled with marzipan vegetables and sweets wrapped in the Geneva colours of red and gold. Smashing the marmite is a large tradition and alumni of Ecolint take part in it all over the world. There were 11 alumni dinners in 2014 in cities across the world from Washington to Sydney to celebrate l’Escalade.

L’Escalade is a great Geneva tradition and hopefully you will enjoy taking part in one of the celebrations.

Sources: Wikipedia, mySwitzerland, ecolint.ch, alumni.ecolint.ch, 1602.ch, live.escalade.ch