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Geneva's heroic ladies and hangman

Gun shots and boiling soup beat off the attackers during the Escalade

(Keystone)

This Sunday, the people of Geneva will be turning back the clock nearly 400 years to commemorate the "Escalade", the defeat of the Duke of Savoy's army at the city walls in 1602. It's a grand and colourful affair.

The highlight of the three-day event is the historical procession, which begins at dusk on Sunday when the lights of the old town are turned off. Hundreds of people in costumes, many bearing torches, march around the old city walls before ascending to the cathedral.

Spectators cheer the hangman and his helpers as they pass, remembering their role in doing away with soldiers of the defeated army, who were unfortunate enough to survive the battle.

But the most applause is saved for two women who came to the aid of the men defending the city, "Mère Royaume" and "Dame Piaget".

According to legend, Mère Royaume threw a pot of soup on the heads of some of the attackers. Her efforts are remembered to this day by the marzipan-filled chocolate pots that most confectioners sell to mark the occasion.

A blast of trumpets announces the finale. A herald addresses the crowd, which, caught up with patriotic emotion, joins in singing the hymn written about the events of 1602, "Cé qu'è lainô".

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