200m from the cathedral I ended up at another square, Place du Bourg-de-four is actually the oldest square in Old Town! It used to be a Roman Forum (probably that explains the weird name of the square) and a typical market square in medieval times. It is still a commercial center but also a popular meeting spot not only for tourists that start/end their tour through Old Town here or just enjoying an ice cream but I saw many locals too. The square was also a shelter for exiled protestants back in 16th century.
The square is full of café and restaurants with outdoor seating (pic 1) that get packed with people when weather is good. There are also many stores, unique art galleries but also tourist shops. Apart from the numerous tables and chairs there is a 18th century fountain (pic 2) but what impressed me most was a simple statue (created by Heinz Schwarz the previous century) that shows Clementine, a naked sad girl. According to VTer Nemorino people put a flower to hold in her hand and the trees around are full of notes/messages protesting child abuse, violence against women etc but I didn’t see anything when I was there, the statue was impressive anyway.
There many interesting buildings around, many of them date from 16th to 19th century, among them also the Palais de Justice (pic 4) that was built in 1707, that became a convent of the Order of St.Clare and then turned into a hospital until 1857 before starting serve the law.
A little park at the Place du Bourg-de-Four is the site of a remarkable statue, not of Rousseau or Calvin or the founder of the Red Cross, but of a naked, emaciated, melancholy young woman named Clémentine.
The statue was created by a little-known Swiss sculptor named Heinz Schwarz (1922-1994), and was installed here by the Fund for Contemporary Art of the City of Geneva in 1974.
(Or the sculptor might have been born in 1920, and he might have created this statue in 1975. It depends on which website you read.)
On the trees and fences around the statue, as in these photos, there are nearly always clippings and messages protesting child abuse, mistreatment of prostitutes, female genital mutilation and domestic violence against women. Week after week, for the past thirty years, Clémentine has always been given a flower to hold in her hand.
1. Clémentine with her flower, and with clippings, messages and parked bicycles on the trees and fences around her.
2. Clémentine with the Café du Bourg-de-Four in the background.
The historic Place du Bourg-de-Four is a popular place to meet in the Old Town, with pleasant outdoor restaurants and picturesque buildings from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
Adjoining this square is a small park with an unusual statue called Clémentine.
In March 2013 there was a discussion in the Geneva Forum here on VirtualTourist about the origin of the name of this square, Place du Bourg-de-Four. Since four is an oven and bourg is a village, my guess was that this was a place where there used to be an oven for baking bread that was used by the entire neighborhood, as was the case in some villages in earlier times.
But later alza (Lou), who knows Geneva a lot better than I do, traced the name back to ancient Roman times, when there was a bridge nearby that was destroyed by Julius Caesar.
Theoretically I must have read about this bridge in school, when we had to read Julius Caesar’s De bello Gallico in Latin. But I was so confused by the Latin text that I didn’t understand much.
Now I have just looked it up and found that Caesar mentioned this bridge right near the beginning of his book. He wrote: pontem, qui erat ad Genavam, iubet rescindi, which means that a bridge which was at or near Geneva was dismantled. (This happened in the year 58 B.C. to prevent the Helvetians from migrating through Roman territory.)
Lou wrote that the name Place du Bourg-de-Four “could have come from the fact that it was the forum (which the name ‘four’ could refer to.) Also, ‘foris’ could refer to ‘outside the ramparts’. I'm also thinking it could be ‘forus, fori’ for bridge, since a bridge was destroyed on that spot.”
1. Outdoor restaurants at the Place du Bourg-de-Four
2. The historic clock at the Place du Bourg-de-Four
3. Place du Bourg-de-Four with bicycle markings, showing that cyclists are allowed to ride in both directions on an otherwise one-way street.
Place du Bourg-de-Four is a good starting point to explore Geneva's Old Town. This centrally located square has always been a meeting point for Genevans.
The square is lined with nice houses, some of which were built in mid 16th century to house exiled Protestants. Some other houses date from the 17th and 18th centuries as is the case of Palais de Justice (courthouse).
The square, however, existed since Roman times when it was used for commerce. In the centre of the square there is a pictoresque 18th century fountain that is usually decorated with flowers.