By Bill Harby
Muskets blasting, swords flashing, drum and fife corps parading through the medieval streets, plus hot spiced wine and little cauldrons made of chocolate – welcome to this year’s “Escalade”.
Geneva citizens know the story of how, on the night of Dec. 11th, 1602, a sharp-eyed cook now immortalised as Mère Royaume, spied an army of French Savoyards scaling the city walls to attack. Like any patriotic mother would, she dumped a cauldron of scalding soup on the soldiers and raised the alarm. The Republic of Geneva’s citizens and soldiers then finished the job.
This weaponised soup delivery and subsequent victory are still celebrated in Geneva during the Old Town festivities called L’Escalade (in French the verb “escalader” is “to scale or climb”).
Taking place each year on the weekend closest to Dec. 11th, (Yes, we wish the Savoyards would have attacked during warmer weather, but that’s the French for you.)
The centrepiece of L’Escalade is the dramatic evening parade of the citizenry in 17th-century costume, including armoured soldiers on horseback, fife and drum corps beating out martial tattoos, beautiful gentry women, hearty farmers and a horse-drawn wagon or two piled with the scarred shields of the vanquished Savoyards.
You walk the medieval streets and come upon the deafening boom of a platoon of musketeers; the clatter of hooves on cobblestones; steaming cups of wine and soup sold by teens for their school groups: squads of soldiers in breastplates drinking in a brasserie: wide-eyed tourists from around the world whose faces glow with the reflection of the grand bonfire in front of the Cathedrale St. Pierre.
To truly know Geneva, you’ll want to know L’Escalade. And this weekend of dramatic, torch-lit living history is all free except what you happily spend on good food and drink and miniature chocolate cauldrons in honour of Mère Royaume.
When: Friday 6 December to Sunday 8 December 2019.
From Friday 6 December until Sunday 8 December 2019 people dressed in traditional costumes will mingle with the public in the old town.
On Saturday 7 December 2019 at 19:45 the Lantern procession departs from the 1 rue de l’Évêché. Those wishing to join with a lantern can buy one at the departure point at 18:30.
The Escalade procession, the big event with around 800 costumed people, starts at 17:00 on Sunday 8 December 2019, departing from Parc des Bastions.