The Escalade is the most popular festival in Geneva taking place in the city center every December as a memory and celebration of proud defence of Genevans from the attack of Duke of Savoy's army.
History of l'Escalade
Escalade - The Meaning
L'escalade tradition began in the night of the December 11, 1602, when Duke of Savoy attempted to surprise-attack the state of Geneva in the darkness of the night at 2AM with his army. The Duke's idea was to let his best soldiers secretly climb ("scale") over the Geneva's fortification walls to get hold of the city gate from inside, open it and let the troops in. This is where the word escalade comes from - French “escalade” translates as English "scale", or "climb".
The Pot of Hot Soup
There is a legend which tells a story of a woman called Catherine Cheynel. It says that while cooking a soup, she was lucky enough to have noticed the attackers approaching from below and poured a large cauldron of hot soup on them while they were climbing on the walls. The noise awakened the entire city and its militia successfuly defended Geneva from the Duke of Savoy's army.
As a reminiscence of this moment, a special chocolate pot stuffed with marzipan candies is being ceremonially consumed every year as the hallmark of the Escalade celebrations.
The Date of l'Escalade
L'Escalade's activities are held annually on the weekend closest to the 11th of December. The 2016 Escalade Festival will be celebrated from December the 9th (Friday) to December the 11th (Sunday) of 2016. Very popular Escalade Run, Course de l'Escalade, is taking place one preceding weekend.
The Location of l'Escalade
Escalade festival is taking place in the Old Town, mainly on these sites where it is practically impossible to miss:
- Place du Bourg-de-Four (Saturday evening)
- Park des Bastions (whole weekend)
- square in front of the St. Peter's Cathedral (celebration fire on Sunday starting by 6pm)
On Friday evening members of each family join together, and the eldest and the youngest ones of the group mutually smash the chocolate pot, while saying "Ainsi périrent les ennemis de la République!" (Thus perish the enemies of the Republic) - the exclamation refers to the legend in which a woman poured hot soup over intruding soldiers climbing the city walls (see above).
Similar to the Halloween tradition, children wear costumes and walk from door to door asking for money or candy treats. Teenagers participate in high school parades imitatiting the historic events, while younger children in schools cook big pots of vegetable soup.
During Saturday & Sunday, in the Fête de l'Esclade, more than 800 persons of the old families wearing historical costumes march the streets, play drums, shoot from historical rifles, while thousands of spectators peer through the windows and gather around to watch the spectacle.
Escalade finishes by the huge ceremonial fire at the square in front of the St. Peter's Cathedral (Sunday, beginning by 6pm) for the final celebration. All 800 "soldiers" in historical costumes, some on horses, come after the full day of marching around the old town, meet with thousands of visitors, and finally group all together around the big fire. The General of the troops reads out loud a historic treaty in the recital of which he is joined by the crowds.
While walking back home after the long day, we would like to warn You to watch out for horse excrements - the horses have had a long day too.
Escalade run - Course de l'escalade
L'escalade tradition since recently includes also a running race. Besides the regular runs divided by ages and genders, there are three other categories: the Duke's race (adults only), the walking and nordic walking races of 8km (ages 10+), and the Marmite adults and youth races where the participants wear costumes. Last year (2016) all categories had a record numbers of women participating, and each year the number of runners increases.
The first run is made official by one of the city's american football team, about 14 players are lined up in front of the runners, and when the clock starts ticking they run first few meters to begin the celebration.
Across the rout, participants will find any kind of cheering groups, from families singing escalade songs to traditional music bands playing the trombone. At the end of the race, people of the staff receives you with water, hot soup, bread and a race's souvenir that will remind you the great experience.
Date: Saturday, December 3rd all day.
Price: CHF25 - CHF35.
As Switzerland, Geneva including, is all about chocolate, the vegetable soup pot was replaced by the chocolate pot and the shops gets filled with all sizes and kinds of them.
For the best Chocolate pots, visit Chocolaterie du Rhône, Chocolats Rohr or Auer Chocolatier. You'll find them in every size and price, that goes from 10CHF to more than 200CHF.
As expected, the event counts with the recognized Swiss perfection. Every detail is under control, sponsors divide the work so all participants have anything they need from medical attention to route guides.
Definitively an event you have to attend when in Geneva, as history is the best way to know a city through, and l'escalade is full of it