Recognisable from high above, this exceptional diamond-shaped open space measuring 640 metres long and 200 metres wide is one of the largest esplanades in Switzerland. This versatile site metamorphoses as the days and nights go by, changing colour, sound, smell and even topography with its designated purpose.
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The plain is bordered by apartment buildings and anyone making use of the esplanade must respect the peace and quiet of the inhabitants, especially at night.
History and development
The name Plainpalais is not in memory of a palace which occupied the site, but comes from the Latin plana palus, which means marshy plain in English. The flat expanse of land sitting on the delta between the Rhone and the Arve has been subject to regular flooding down throughout the centuries. The suburbs of Geneva which flourished here in the Middle Ages were razed to the ground in about 1530 to improve the defences of the fortified city. The plana palus had been a wasteland for about a hundred years when, in 1637, an inspired duke suggested creating a promenade planted with elms and lime trees and a pall mall ground. This forerunner of golf and cricket was hugely popular throughout Europe. The vast, open esplanade at the gates of the closed city became the preferred venue for a range of festivities and a succession of fairs, circuses and other military, sporting or cultural events have been held there ever since. Following the destruction of the neighbouring fortifications, construction began on the buildings around the plain in 1850.
In 1896, the site hosted the palace of Fine Arts of the Swiss National Exhibition for a period of 6 months. In the 20th century, the plain was grassed over and crossed by numerous paths. Far from the “botellóns” of the early 21st century, an anti-alcoholic crowd gathered on the esplanade in 1927 for the Jubilee of the Blue Cross. The fire station in rue des Bains was inaugurated in 1957 and the sirens of the brave firefighters’ trucks have been part of the soundscape ever since. Switzerland’s largest flea market was held on the plain for the first time in 1970 and an underground car park was opened 10 years later. Different markets, circuses and other happenings are held here, alternating with a wide range of major events.
The plain was gradually redeveloped at the beginning of the new millennium. Worn thin by the numerous and increasingly frequent events, the grass was replaced by a more versatile red mineral surface. A large play area was built along with a spectacular skate park. Several hundred trees were planted including hackberries, oaks, elms and lime trees. In particular, they complement the new, third row of trees around the plain, offering locals taking a stroll a cool, lush environment.
The northern tip of Plainpalais is home to an attractive triangle of greenery, the Parc Harry-Marc which was entirely renovated in 2014.
Dogs can be taken off the leash on the plain, on condition that they are accompanied. They must nevertheless be kept on the leash near the skate park and play area.
Article modifié le 20.01.2023 à 10:07