One of the things that makes Geneva uniquely Geneva is that the city hosts the greatest number of international associations in the world. These include the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization, the European Organizatin for Nuclear Research, the International Federation of the Red Cross, and many many others. Due to the historical significance of these organizations, many of these facilities include their own museum and/or guided tours. For my money — and it’s 12 Swiss Francs for an adult — the best of these tours is the hour long tour of the Palace of Nations, the European headquarters of the United Nations. Here is a picture we took of Chris in front of the “Alley of Nations” containing the flag of all 193 member nations.
A quick history of the building: The Palace of Nations was constructed in 1929 to house the League of Nations, which had been temporarily housed since 1919 at the Wilson Palace — not far from the present Palace of Nations — named for U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, the man behind the idea of establishing an international body to fundamentally improve methods of international relations, focusing on peaceful conflict resolution and institutionalized collaboration.
Sadly, the efforts of the League of Nations did not succeed in removing the major obstacles to peace leading up to the Second World War. It wasn’t until 1942 that President Franklin Roosevelt first announced the term “United Nations” and the international organization was founded three years later in 1945. The League of Nations was dissolved at a final Assembly held in Geneva in 1946, and the League of Nations handed over its properties to the United Nations Organization, including the Palace of Nations. Today, it constitutes a world center for hundreds of diplomatic conferences and meetings every year and an operational base for many ongoing activities involving international relations.
I’ve taken the tour twice, once just Chris and me, and then a second time with a larger group. At one of the first stops along the tour each time, our tour guide asked each tourist to state his or her nationality, and in both cases our group of around 40 people was represented by over 20 different nationalities. Yes, we were a group of tourists visiting the European headquarters of the United Nations, but my thought was that the diversity we experienced in this tour group is present throughout much of Geneva, which is one of the things I love most about the city.
Now, for some highlights of the tour in the form of photos I took along the way. The first image that I’ve included is one I have included in previous posts, but one which I think warrants inclusion of any post on the Geneva headquarters of the U.N. This sculpture is called “The Broken Chair” and is located just outside the entrance gates of the U.N. The Broken Chair is a sculpture in wood by the Swiss artist Daniel Berset, constructed by the carpenter Louis Genève. It symbolises opposition to land mines and cluster bombs, and acts as a reminder to politicians and others visiting Geneva. It was erected in 1997 and was initially intended only to be in place temporarily, but was maintained as a permanent structure when a number of countries failed to ratify the “Ottawa Treaty”, established to eliminate anti-personnel land mines around the world.
Once inside, one of the first rooms one visits is the lengthily named “Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room”. This is the room in which the U.N. Human Rights Council meets, which has recently taken up issues such as human rights abuses abuses committed by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq; the terrorist attacks and human rights abuses and violations committed by the terrorist group Boko Haram; and the impact of the world drug problem on the enjoyment of human rights.
The ceiling sculpture was created by Spanish artist Miquel Barceló. The sculpture consists of layers of colored paints sprayed across the ceiling to create stalactites. It is intended to symbolize multiculturalism, mutual tolerance and understanding between cultures, but it mostly looks like a beautiful colorful sea floor.
Next we proceeded to the gallery of the the Council Chamber. This meeting room initially hosted the Conference on Disarmament, established in 1979 to negotiate multilateral arms control and disarmament agreements including Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention. It is currently the site of deliberations involving a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty and a pact to prevent an arms race in outer space.
The first item that grabs one attention is the gigantic mural, painted by Spanish muralist José Maria Sert, that wraps around three walls of the room.
At the end of the tour, we assembled in Assembly Hall, the largest room in the Palace of Nations. Chris had a specific connection to this room, because in a few weeks time, he would find himself sitting in this very room for three days representing the Republic of Tanzania as a delegate to the “Model United Nations”.
Geneva is as “international” a town as you will find anywhere in the world. Nothing drives that point home better than taking a tour of the Palace of Nations.