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History of l’Escalade

L’Escalade takes its name from the assault on the ramparts of the City of Geneva by the troops of the Duke of Savoy during the night of 11/12 December 1602. Every year in December, the Fête de l’Escalade commemorates the victory of Geneva with a blend of humour and tradition.

In 2020, due to the health situation linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, the school parades, the historic parade, the Course de l'Escalade and numerous events within the different districts have been cancelled.

One sure value can nevertheless be enjoyed: the chocolate cauldron! You can support Compagnie 1602 by purchasing a chocolate cauldron from the artisan confectioners of Geneva participating in the operation, with 50 centimes donated to this historic organisation per for each cauldron bought.

In 1602, Geneva – a rich and prosperous republic – was coveted by the Savoyards. Charles-Emmanuel I intended to make Geneva his capital north of the Alps and to fight Calvinism with the support of Pope Clement VIII, despite “a peace sworn and resworn”.

Thus, on the night of 11-12 December 1602, one of the darkest nights of the year, a troop of 2,000 soldiers launched a surprise attack. Arriving in Plainpalais, the mercenaries climbed the walls surrounding the city. That is why the commemoration is referred to as “l’Escalade” (which means “the climb” in French).

The people of Geneva summoned their courage and won the battle

The alarm was sounded at 4.30 a.m. by a watchman firing his harquebus. La Clémence, the bell of Saint Peter’s Cathedral, rang the alarm supported by all the bells in the monument.

Armed with nothing more than courage and halberds, the citizens of Geneva, men and women alike, ran out of their houses to defend the city alongside the bourgeois militia and the city’s soldiers. They fought off the enemy using any means to hand.

A number of stories recall the courage of la Mère Royaume, who scalded one Savoyard with her pot of soup. Since 1881, chocolate cauldrons decorated with the coat of arms of Geneva have been sold and eaten at this time every year in honour of her bravery.

The Savoyards might nonetheless have been victorious had they been able to break open the Porte Neuve (new gate) as planned. Isaac Mercier, however, prevented them from doing so by lowering the portcullis, thereby barring the way to the massed troops.

The enemies withdrew empty-handed, leaving 54 casualties behind. As the sun began to rise, the people of Geneva found 18 of their compatriots dead before gathering in the temples, led by Théodore de Bèze.

In 1603, the Treaty of Saint-Julien marked the end of the hostilities. The European sovereigns supported this peace process. Geneva received support from, among others, King Henri IV of France, who had just signed the Edict of Nantes, the English Court and the Duke of Württemberg.

L’Escalade today

Every December, Geneva organises a number of events to celebrate l’Escalade in a blend of tradition, humour and official celebrations. Another festive event, the famous course de l'Escalade in the old town, is held at the beginning of the December, bringing together numerous participants of every age.

Article modifié le 04.09.2023 à 11:43