Anecdotes about the Plainpalais Jonction district

Did you know? Mail is a game, les Minoteries are home to mills, people used to bathe at la Coulouvrenière, Lenin stayed in la Jonction…


Baths like les Pâquis

From 1870 to 1886, people would bathe in the district of la Jonction: public baths were developed on the little island of les Volontaires, downstream from la Coulouvrenière.

In those days, Geneva was a spa town. Of the numerous public baths along the Rhône, the Arve and on the lake, only the Bains des Pâquis remain today. The bains de la Coulouvrenière, or de la Colle, were demolished in 1886 to make way for a damn which would supply the turbines of the Forces Motrices (currently BFM).

A playful start for the Avenue du Mail

The Avenue du Mail inherited its name from a game that was very popular in the 17th century and was played on the Plainpalais plain. This game, that includes elements of golf, pétanque and croquet, was played using a mallet with a flexible handle. The aim was to touch goals secured to the ground with a ball pushed by the mallet.

Rural and military coats of arms

The Plainpalais district was an independent municipality between 1800 and 1930. Its first coat of arms was created in 1892. It consisted of 2 rivers: one silver, the Rhône, and one gold, the Arve, in which flakes of gold could sometimes be found. A rake, a spade and a “roue de puiserande” (used to draw water from a river) recall the rural nature of the suburb. A harquebus illustrated the military history of the district: Geneva’s soldiers would train at la Coulouvrenière. The motto clearly expresses this combined rural and military past: “nous cultivons les champs que nous saurons défendre” (we farm the fields that we will always defend).

The Jet d'eau born at the Bâtiment des Forces Motrices 

Built between 1883 and 1892 by Gustave Naville and Georges Habicht, this water pumping station was initially used to supply pressurised water to the factories. It was also quickly adapted to the production of electricity. During the work, the 30-metre-high column of water gushing from the building’s discharge valve proved so popular that is was moved to the bay in 1891 where it became the emblematic show-piece of Geneva: the Jet d'eau, which now reaches a height of almost 140 metres. Abandoned in 1986, the building was transformed in 1994-1995 to house a concert hall, an annex of the Grand-Théâtre.

Mills in Plainpalais

As it name suggests, the quarter of les Minoteries was once home to a number of mills. Initially, only a single, modest mill operated the grindstones using the power of the River Arve. In 1879, it was replaced by a factory, which is no longer there.

From pestilence to celebrities

If the cimetière des Rois is now considered something of a local pantheon, this was not always the case. Established in 1482 around the Hôpital des Pestiférés, it was destined to be the final resting place of the numerous plague victims who were treated at the hospital. Its role has changed considerably since then, as it is now home to the tombs of celebrities, and as such is one of the district's curiosities.

These tombs include the “false” tomb of Jean Calvin, the famous reformer. On his death, he was buried – in accordance with his wishes and to avoid any cult of personality – anonymously, without indicating where his tomb lay. It was only in 1999 that, despite numerous protests, a councillor decided to surround the reformer’s supposed final resting place with a low hedge and to add a commemorative plaque.

Lénine à la Jonction

Vladimir Ilitch Oulianov, better known as Lenin, the famous Russian revolutionary and founding father of the USSR, paid many visits to Switzerland during his exile, sometimes to Geneva. Between 1895 and 1908, he spent a total of 4 years in Geneva, most notably at rue des Plantaporrêts 5, in the district of la Jonction. A plaque on wall at no. 5 recalls his stay.

The Plainpalais cardoon: a speciality with its own label

Having been granted an “Appellation d’origine contrôlée” (AOC, or protected designation of origin) in 2003, the Plainpalais silver spiny cardoon was introduced to Geneva in the 16th century by Huguenot farmers who fled to Geneva to avoid persecution after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. It owes its name to the district of Plainpalais, predominantly a market gardening area, where it was first farmed after being planted in la Jonction. Today, the market gardeners of Geneva continue to select, grow and blanch this speciality, traditionally served as a gratin at Christmas.


  • Pierre Bertrand, Plainpalais, son passé, son avenir, Geneva, 1943
  • Christian Vellas, Genève insolite et secrète, Versailles: Ed. Jonglez, 2010
  • City of Geneva, under the direction of Rafael Matos-Wasem, Genève à pied. 10 parcours à thèmes, Geneva: Slatkine, 2008

Article modifié le 11.01.2024 à 16:17