Geneva: after Rome

Ann Hills on digging up in Switzerland

'We knew little about Geneva after the Romans, until the German migration around AD1000. A period of 600 years was missing. Now we've found that, contrary to former ideas, Geneva was a secondary town after Nyon during the Roman era. Nyon, 20 kilometres along Lake Leman, was on the road to the Rhine frontiers. When it declined Geneva became capital of the region. In the late Roman Empire and early Middle Ages, the city experienced a period of unsuspected urban growth'.

This comes from the renowned archaeologist, Charles Bonnet. Geneva born and bred, he is professor of archaeology at Geneva University and, in addition, a long time expert on Sudanese archaeology. It might seem obvious that Geneva, sited where the River Rhone leaves the Lake below the heights of the Alps, should have been an important crossing point, but the evidence was lacking.

Following fifteen years of rebuilding and investment in archaeology – thanks to sufficient funds from city, Swiss government and the community of the Protestant church – some of the most exciting subterranean sights to be found in Europe have been unearthed. Under the cathedral of Saint-Pierre, which was begun in the 1160s, centuries of building and rebuilding between the fourth and eleventh centuries are displayed and explained for visitors.

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