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Defence of Geneva L’Escalade: a souped-up celebration

The most popular festival in Geneva is l'Escalade, a French word for climbing. It commemorates the city repelling the Duke of Savoy's surprise attack with his army in the early hours of December 11-12, 1602.

Some of the soldiers were sent on a secret mission to climb over the fortified walls of the old city and open the gates for the rest of the troops.

But they didn't reckon on a woman named Catherine Cheynel – or her hot soup! – so the legend goes. It’s not clear why she may have been cooking in the middle of the night, but it was a stroke of luck for Geneva.

She is credited with observing the secret climbers and repelling their attack with – you guessed it – a large boiling-hot cauldron of vegetable soup. Their pained cries awoke the city and its defending militia, which finished off the job Cheynel began.

And so it is that each year the celebration hinges on the massive consumption of specially designed chocolate “marmites”, or cooking pots, that are stuffed with sweets and vegetables made of marzipan.

Children get to wear costumes and go door-to-door asking for more treats. There are parades, celebrations and a big ceremonial fire. Separately, an Escalade running race with different categories has become a modern popular tradition.

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