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History and development of the Grottes Saint-Gervais district

A former working-class district, Grottes Saint-Gervais owes its survival to the commitment of its inhabitants.


Development of the district: vines and workers’ houses

The village of Saint-Gervais has been part of the city since the Middle Ages. An engraving from 1548 refers to it as “Petite Genève” (little Geneva). Nevertheless, beyond the Cornavin gate, the current Grottes/Saint-Gervais district remained rural until the end of the 19th century. In the 18th century, the area was made up of fields, woods, vines and a scattering of bouregois houses.

At the beginning of the 19th century, these large estates gave way to hangars, small factories and workers’ houses. The nant de Pissevache, a watercourse which would often burst its banks, was channelled around 1837. Many more buildings sprung up after 1850. Varying considerably in style and almost overlapping one another, they were poor houses, some with small gardens where hens would peck at the ground. This period is rich in anecdotes.

A district condemned then renovated

Following the construction of the station in 1928, all construction or renovation projects were brought to a halt. The district was deemed dilapidated and unsanitary. The authorities planned to raze it then leave it to rot.

In 1971, a planning project intended to recreate les Grottes as a satellite city surrounded by major roads. The inhabitants opposed the project, creating the Action Populaire aux Grottes group (APAG). In light of this public pressure, the state abandoned its demolition project in favour of a renovation project. Saint-Gervais, on the other hand, was razed to the ground. In 1933, there was virtually nothing left and some claimed it look like “a peace-time bombing”.

History shows that the Grottes Saint-Gervais district owes its survival to its inhabitants. Today, it is still a pioneering area in terms of participatory urban projects and has given rise to several district contracts. Its inhabitants thus actively work with the city to improve their own living conditions.

What do “les Grottes” and “Saint-Gervais” mean?

The district of les Grottes has nothing to do with a cave. Its name comes from the little river the passes through it, the nant des Crottes. This stream turned a muddy colour during flooding. In the 19th century, its name was changed to nant des Grottes.

Saint-Gervais derives its name from a church built in the 5th century on the site of the current temple. The name “Saint-Gervais” appears in a text dating back to 926.

Article modifié le 27.07.2023 à 09:48