Geneva (in French Genève; in German Genf), lies in the extreme western tip of Switzerland at the southwest end of Lake Geneva (in French Lac Léman). The town is built on moraine hills of varying height on either side of the swiftly flowing Rhône, which here flows out of the lake and is joined on the southwest side of the town by its tributary the Arve, coming down from the Savoy Alps. Lying between the Jura to the northwest and the limestone ridges of Mont Salève and the Voirons to the southeast, Geneva enjoys a magnificent situation on the largest of the Alpine lakes, within sight of the majestic peak of Mont-Blanc. As a hub of European cultural life in which French savoir-vivre and Swiss solidity are happily combined, the venue of international meetings on the highest level, as well as conventions and exhibitions of all kinds, and not least as a major financial, commercial and industrial city, Geneva has a lively and cosmopolitan atmosphere which makes it perhaps the most attractive town in Switzerland and the one that attracts the greatest number of visitors. Evidence of its dynamic growth during the last few decades is provided by the large amount of new building in the city itself and in the surrounding area, where a number of residential suburbs and satellite towns of considerable importance have grown up.
The first human settlements in the area of present-day Geneva were established at the foot of Mont Salève at the end of the Ice Age: then about 2500 B.C. a large village of pile-dwellings grew up in the area of the modern port. The first fortified settlement on the hill now occupied by the old town is believed to have been an oppidum (town) belonging to a Celtic tribe, the Allobroges, who were first conquered by the Romans in 120 B.C. The first known reference to the town under the name of Geneva occurs in the "Commentaries" (I, 7) of Julius Caesar, who in 58 B.C. caused the strategically important bridge over the Rhine to be destroyed in order to hinder the advance of the Helveti into Gaul. In A.D. 443 the town became the Burgundian capital: in 534 it fell into the hands of the Franks. At the end of the ninth century it passed to the second Burgundian kingdom, and together with Burgundy became part of the Holy Roman Empire in 1033.
The long continued conflicts between the Bishops (later Prince-Bishops) of Geneva, the Counts of Geneva and the Counts (later Dukes) of Savoy for control of the town were ended by the Reformation, to which Geneva firmly adhered. In 1536 Jean Calvin (1509-64) fled from Paris to Geneva and joined forces with the Reformer Guillaume Farel (1489-1565), who had been preaching the new faith in the town since 1532. Calvin acquired great influence in both ecclesiastical and state affairs, particularly after his return in 1541, when he established a theocratic regime based on strict and often intolerant church discipline. Through his foundation in 1559 of an Academy mainly designed to train Reformed theologians he turned the commercially minded town towards an interest in intellectual matters. In 1602 Geneva beat off an attempt by the Duke of Savoy to capture the town (the "Escalade", 11-12 December). The town was occupied by the French in 1798, and until 1813 was the administrative capital of the French department of Léman. In 1814 Geneva became the 22nd canton to join the Confederation. The International Committee of the Red Cross was established in Geneva in 1865, and from 1920 to 1946 it was the headquarters of the United Nations.
Geneva was the birthplace of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78), the writer and philosopher whose ideas had so much influence on the French Revolution.