Bequeathed by Gustave Revilliod (1817-1890) to the City of Geneva, the huge estate of Varembé, which originally stretched right down to the lake, has seen many changes. The ornamental pond was added in around 1850: three bronze herons “quench their thirst” there in fine weather. In 1893, the grounds were temporarily home to the 18th century Montbovon chalet – previously displayed at the National Exhibition – and even a deer park! A landing stage was built in 1894 so that boats could moor at the Ariana. A year later, a floating restaurant graced the lakeside, but was demolished in 1911.
Division of the estate began in the early 20th century. The Geneva Botanical Gardens (formerly in the Parc des Bastions) were transferred there between 1902 and 1904, and the building known as the “Console” was erected. But it was the construction of the Palace of Nations from 1929 to 1937 that brought about the most dramatic transformation, blocking out the magnificent view over the lake and the Alps. The servants’ entrance to the museum then became its main entrance and this reversal of the facades profoundly altered how the building was perceived. Gustave Revilliod’s mausoleum, which he had requested should be at the foot of a group of oak trees, is now next to the grounds of the UN.
Michelangelo, though the most famous is definitely that of Mahatma Gandhi. Given by the Republic of India to the City of Geneva, this statue was unveiled in 2007. Sitting cross-legged, this advocate of peace holds an open book. The inscription makes us stop and think: “My life is my message”.
A Japanese flavour is given to the Ariana park by the Shinagawa bell. The original bell, cast in 1657, hung at the Shingon Honsen-ji temple in Shinagawa (Tokyo), but was actually purchased by Gustave Revilliod in 1873 in the Canton of Aargau! The original was returned to Japan by the City of Geneva, which in turn received this replica by way of thanks. The area where it stands is now edged by the twenty cherry blossom trees of the Allée des Sakura, inaugurated on 31 March 2014 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Switzerland and Japan. There’s also a monument in the grounds in memory of the victims of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and of Marcel Junod (1904-1961), an ICRC delegate and the first foreign doctor to assist Hiroshima survivors.