History and development of the Champel district

Ill-famed until the 18th century, the Champel district became a more affluent area which has retained a bourgeois reputation to this very day.


The development of the district: from gallows to villas

From the Middle Ages to the start of the 18th century, the region remained wild. Only a few farms formed the hamlet of le Bout-du-Monde. The land was used to grow vines and graze livestock.

Above all, the district had a somewhat sinister reputation. It was here that convicts were executed. A number of anecdotes and a commemorative stele bear witness to this cursed past.

From the end of the 18th century, rich families set up home in Champel in attractive villas surrounded by greenery. Champel became a chic district. The current district of Champel is still considered bourgeois, even if the rent-controlled housing and the straight avenues replaced certain villas from the 1960s onwards.

What does “Champel” mean?

The origin of the name “Champel” dates back to the 15th century. It doubtless comes from the Late Latin “campellum”, meaning small field. Its origin is nevertheless uncertain and other hypotheses exist. Champel could come from:

  • “Champey", meaning feudal grazing rights;
  • “Champeau”, an abbreviation for high meadow;
  • “Champer”, which means to throw wood on the bonfire.

Some even think that it could be a deformation of Saint-Paul. In the 14th century, the hill was called “Tattes de Saint-Paul” because it was home to a chapel bearing his name.

A few key events

In 1553, the Spanish doctor and philosopher Michel Servet was burned in Champel. He was accused of heresy, which meant supporting a doctrine different from the official religion. In 1903, a monument was raised in rue Beau-Séjour both in his honour and to condemn what was considered to be an error on Calvin’s part. This stele of repentance is one of the curiosities of the district.

Alfred Bertrand, a famous traveller, decided to bequeath his family estate to the city to be turned into a public park. In 1933, his wife opened part of the estate to the people of Geneva. The remainder was handed over on her death in 1941. The Parc Bertrand then became an island of greenery open to all.


  • Laurent Mutti, Champel, vous connaissez? Geneva, 2000. Brochure published by the Association des intérêts de Champel for the 60th general assembly. This can be consulted in the Musée du Vieux Plainpalais or Geneva Library.
  • Christian Vellas, Genève insolite et secrète, Tours: Jonglez, 2010.

Article modifié le 25.09.2020 à 17:05