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|Fête de l'Escalade|
L'Escalade celebrating the defeat of the surprise attack by troops sent by Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy
|Observed by||Geneva, Switzerland|
L'Escalade, or Fête de l'Escalade (from escalade, the act of scaling defensive walls) is an annual festival held in December in Geneva, Switzerland, celebrating the defeat of the surprise attack by troops sent by Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy during the night of 11–12 December 1602. The celebrations and other commemorative activities are usually held on 12 December or the closest weekend.
For years, the duke coveted the wealth of the city-state, which was not a member of the Swiss Confederation. When Charles Emmanuel came to the throne of the House of Savoy in 1580, he longed to make Geneva his capital north of the Alps and crush Protestantism. Pope Clement VIII offered encouragement; in 1602 he appointed as Catholic bishop of Geneva Francis de Sales, an effective preacher who had recently been successful in re-Catholicizing the Chablais district of Savoy on the south side of Lake Geneva.
On December 11 and December 12 (Old Style) 1602 — the longest night of the year — the forces of the Duke of Savoy, under the command of the seigneur d'Albigny, and those of Charles Emmanuel's brother-in-law, Philip III of Spain, launched an attack on the city-state of Geneva. The troops marched along the Arve River at night and assembled at Plainpalais, just outside the walls of Geneva, at 2 o'clock in the morning. The original plan was to send in a group of commandos to open the gate door and let the other troops in. The Geneva citizens defeated the men by preventing them from scaling the wall (a climb in French is an escalade). The night guard Isaac Mercier raised the alarm, church bells were rung, and the Genevois were alerted. The populace fought alongside their town militia. The duke's 2000-plus mercenaries were beaten. The Genevois lost 18 men in the fighting; the Savoyards suffered 54 fatalities and the troops had to retreat. Thirteen invaders who had been taken prisoner, including several well-born gentlemen, were summarily hanged the following day as thieves, since they could not be treated as prisoners of war, peace having been repeatedly sworn on the part of Savoy.
According to Genevois legend, Catherine Cheynel, originally from Lyons and the wife of Pierre Royaume, ("Mère Royaume"), a mother of 14 children, seized a large cauldron of hot soup and poured it on the attackers. The Royaume family lived just above the La Monnaie town gate. The heavy cauldron of boiling soup landed on the head of a Savoyard attacker, killing him. The commotion that this caused also helped to rouse the townsfolk to defend the city.
After the defeat, the Duke of Savoy was obliged to accept a lasting peace, sealed by the Treaty of St. Julien of July 12, 1603.
The story of L'Escalade is told in a song called Cé qu'è l'ainô, written in a Franco-Provençal dialect around 1603 by an unknown author. The song has become the "national" anthem of Geneva; while the complete version comprises 68 stanzas, only four of them are usually sung.
It was also celebrated in verse by Samuel Chappuzeau in his "Genève Délivrée", the manuscript of which was presented to Geneva after his death in 1701.
Although the armed conflict actually took place after midnight, in the early morning on December 12, celebrations and other commemorative activities are usually held on December 11 or the closest weekend. Celebrations include a large marmite (cauldron) made of chocolate and filled with marzipan vegetables and candies wrapped in the Geneva colours of red and gold. It is customary for the eldest and youngest in the room to smash the marmite, while reciting, "Ainsi périssent les ennemis de la République! " (Thus perish the enemies of the Republic), referring to how fictional character Mère Royaume poured boiling hot vegetable soup on soldiers climbing up the walls of the city. Other traditions include mulled wine, a large serving of soup, and children in various types of costumes knocking on people's doors ans singing Escalade songs for money. It is also common for children in school to prepare vegetable soup, which is served to parents and families that night. Teenagers tend to throw eggs and flour at each other as part of the celebration. There is also a parade on Friday evening: the names of the eighteen who died—Jacques Billon finally died of his wounds a year later—are called out, one after another; and a historical procession on Sunday evening with more and less 800 people with historical costumes and horses. This parade - organised since 1926 by the Compagnie de 1602 - attracts every year generally tens of thousand spectators.
Alumni and friends of l’Ecole Internationale de Genève (Ecolint) around the world also mark the event in an evening gathering. Since 1978 there has been another element to the celebration of the Escalade, with a road running event being held the weekend preceding the night of the 11th. The run traditionally starts in the parc des Bastions and goes through the Old City of Geneva, before finishing near the start again. It is one of the most significant annual events in Geneva, and is one of the most prestigious sporting events in Switzerland.
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