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GENEVA, Switzerland: Ville de Genève. Projet Général de Ports.



Rare – one of the officially-sponsored proposed plans for redeveloping the harbour front of Geneva, submitted in 1855 by the municipal engineer Alexandre Rochat-Maury.

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This intriguing plan is one of the officially sponsored proposed plans for creating a modern port and harbour front for Geneva during the 1850s.  Up to this point, Geneva did not possess a proper harbour, but merely Medieval era quay fronts, which had long proved adequate to dock small lake boasts.  However, the arrival of steam power changed everything.  The new, large steamboats that were appearing on Lake Geneva required sizable, modern quays and docks, protected by large breakwaters from the lake’s occasionally severe Alpine winds.  Moreover, by the late 1840s, it was clear that the envisaged Geneva-Lyon Railway would be built in the near future (construction would commence in 1852, with the line completed in 1858), thus the proposed rail terminus had to have a good interface with both the city and the port, without aesthetically marring Geneva’s relationship to the lake.

From 1850, the city council of Geneva commissioned several expensive proposals from leading engineers.  The council’s baselines were the creation of two roughly symmetrical and autonomous port areas, on each side of the harbour (which was bisected by the egress of the Rhône), extending along the shores of the new neighborhoods of ‘Les Paquis’ (on the left side) and ‘Les Eaux-Vives’ (on the right side).  The harbour was to be outwardly protected on from each side by large breakwaters.  The proposed railways station was to occupy a site just inland of where the old town meets Les Paquis (roughly where today’s Cornavin Station stands today).  Yet, the question remained, how could the railway have a connection to the port without turning the harbour front into an unsightly industrial zone.

The city council’s disposition proved to be extremely difficult, bordering on argumentative, with the engineers it employed, causing much money and goodwill to be expended unnecessarily.  The council rejected two well-designed proposals in 1853, and was determined to keep trying until it arrived upon ‘the perfect plan’.

In the summer of 1854, the council engaged Alexandre Rochat-Maury, the new municipal engineer, to try his hand at the endeavor.  In the autumn of that year, he submitted a proposal, illustrated with a map, but this was summarily rejected.  Rochat-Maury was openly frustrated by the council’s exasperating ‘perfectionism’.  Yet, he went back to the drawing board and devised another plan.

The present map illustrates Rochat-Maury’s second proposal.  As shown, he envisaged creating two relatively small, but fully protected harbours, one at Les Paquis and the other at Les Eaux-Vives, while leaving the centre of the harbour open to the lake.  He proposed that the railway could have direct interface with the lake by running a spur around the top top of Les Paquis.  The plan would leave the treasured older part of the town (distinguished by bold black blocks), abutting the Rhône, in tact, and with a good vista of the lake.

Rochat-Maury submitted this proposal, of which the present map was the centerpiece, to the city council on January 15, 1855.  However, the council summarily rejected the plan on February 7, 1855.

The following year, the council charged Léopold Blotnitzki, the new Cantonal engineer, a recent Polish immigrant, who was a specialist in railway design, to submit a proposal.  In December 1856, he tendered a redevelopment plan to the council, which was accepted.  It subsequently became the master plan for the harbour front, which was promptly constructed, and which largely remains to this day.

The present map is very rare.  It was originally bound within a pamphlet that comprised Rochat-Maury’s official second proposal, Alexandre Rochat-Maury, Projet général de ports: Mémoire Présenté au Conseil Administratif ([de la] Ville de Genève), le 10 Janvier 1855 (Geneva, 1855).  We have been able to trace only a few copies of the pamphlet in Swiss institutions.

References: Bénédict Frommel,‘La formation de la rade de Genève’, Tracés: Bulletin Technique de la Suisse romande, vol. 136 (2010), pp. 7-10, map cited and illustrated on p. 9; Cf. (Re: the pamphlet with map): OCLC: 80524289; Bibliothèque nationale suisse: 1900639945.

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