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Curiosities in the Grottes Saint-Gervais district

The Grottes Saint-Gervais district is simply seething with curiosities. From the imaginary worlds of comic strips to historical references, here is just a glimpse.


The world of the Smurfs in the form of housing

The sector of les Grottes is home to a strange housing complex with curved walls and surprising colours. Built between 1982 and 1984 by the architects Frei, Hunziker and Berthoud, these buildings recall the work of Spanish artist, Gaudi, or the Viennese artist, Hundertwasser: asymmetric volumes, curved walls, balconies in relief, spiral halls and façades in unexpected colours.

The resemblance between these homes and the mushrooms inhabited by Peyo’s little blue characters means that they are often referred to as “Schtroumpfs” (or smurfs).

Professor Calculus’ room

“Tintinophiles” can admire room 122 of the Hotel Cornavin, where Professor Calculus stayed in the “The Calculus Affair” by Hergé. While the author had spent several nights in the hotel when the album was published in 1956, the room did not originally exist. It was only added in 1998 during the renovation of the hotel at the insistence of guests who were fans of the comic book.

Rousseau’s wrong birthplace

In 1793, a grand ceremony was held to fix a commemorative plaque to the house located where the current 27 rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau stands today. At the time, it was believed that the famous philosopher and leading figure of the Enlightenment was born here, in the Saint-Gervais district.

We now know that the writer was actually born on 28 June 1712 in Vieille Ville, at Grand-Rue 40, subsequently working as an apprentice watchmaker in the district of Saint-Gervais. It was only in 1904 that the error was official acknowledged. The plaque was replaced with the following inscription: “In 1793, the authorities of Geneva game Rue Chevelu the name of Jean-Jacques Rousseau”.

The secret passageways of Saint-Gervais

A network of secret passageways connects the courtyards and buildings of Saint-Gervais, formerly home to the workshops of master watchmakers.

  • Between Rue de Coutance 18 and Place De-Grenus 9: there is an interior courtyard and a 15th-century tower;
  • Between Place De-Grenus 6 and Rue Rousseau 9;
  • Between Rue Rousseau 14 and Rue Lissignol:  the passageway includes an interior courtyard dating back to the 19th century;
  • Between Rue Lissignol 10, a quiet location with humble dwellings, and number 9 on the shopping street, Chantepoulet.

While these passageways are now closed to the public, we can always hope that one day it will be possible to visit them, for example during the Heritage Days.

Some works, monuments and tourist sites in Grottes Saint-Gervais


Christian Vellas, Genève insolite et secrète, Tours: Jonglez, 2010

Article modifié le 16.02.2021 à 14:37