Julie and I visited Lausanne last weekend. Lausanne is the 4th largest city in Switzerland, and is best known as the Headquarters of the International Olympic Committee. The city is on the banks of Lake Geneva or Lac Léman. This caused a bit of a headache for Julie and I. She kept insisting it was Lake Geneva. I kept insisting it was Lac Léman. It turns out we were both right, but Julie was more right than I was. She had never heard the French name, and I thought the two names designated different lakes! The lake is referred to by two names due to historical and linguistic reasons.
The name “Lake Geneva” is derived from the English language and is widely used in English-speaking countries. It stems from the city of Geneva, which is located on the western end of the lake. The English name helps to differentiate the lake from other lakes that might bear the name “Geneva.”
On the other hand, the name “Lac Léman” is the French designation for the lake. The word “Léman” originates from the Latin term “Lemancus,” which was the name used for the lake during the Roman era. Over time, the name evolved into “Lacus Lemanus” in Latin and later into “Lac Léman” in French.
As for why Geneva isn’t called “Léman,” it is because “Léman” specifically refers to the lake itself, not the city. The city of Geneva has its own historical significance and identity, and it has been known by the name “Geneva” for many centuries. While the French name for the lake is “Lac Léman,” the city continues to be called Geneva in both French and English.
Therefore, the two names, Lake Geneva and Lac Léman, are used interchangeably depending on the language and context, reflecting the cultural and linguistic diversity of the region.
Lausanne was a great place to spend a long weekend. We did some hiking around town but there are also some really good museums. We toured the Olympic Museum and we
also visited the Palais De Rumine. The second actually houses multiple museums, but we concentrated on the archaeology exhibits. We were fascinated to learn about the discoveries on Mormont Hill.
One of the most significant discoveries at Mormont Hill is the presence of a Gallo-Roman sanctuary, dating back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE. Excavations have uncovered numerous votive objects, including pottery fragments, bronze statuettes, and coins, suggesting that the site held religious and ceremonial importance for the local population. The highlight of this discovery is an exceptionally well-preserved stone altar, adorned with intricate carvings and inscriptions, offering a glimpse into the spiritual practices of the time.
Beyond the Gallo-Roman period, Mormont Hill bears evidence of earlier human occupation. Archaeologists have unearthed remnants of Iron Age settlements and fortifications, dating back to the 5th century BCE. These findings suggest that the hill served as a strategic stronghold, providing a vantage point for observing and defending the surrounding landscape. Excavations have revealed traces of dwelling structures, storage pits, and defensive earthworks, offering valuable insights into the daily lives and societal dynamics of ancient communities in the region.
The archaeological exploration of Mormont Hill has also shed light on the hill’s natural landscape and environmental changes over time. Sediment samples, pollen analysis, and geological surveys have provided valuable data on past vegetation, climate patterns, and land use practices. These interdisciplinary investigations contribute to our understanding of the relationship between human populations and their surrounding environment throughout history.
Mormont Hill’s archaeological significance extends beyond its immediate vicinity. The discoveries made at this site have implications for our understanding of broader regional interactions during antiquity. The artifacts unearthed provide valuable evidence of trade networks, cultural exchanges, and religious practices, offering glimpses into the social, economic, and religious fabric of ancient Switzerland.
One of the most fun things we did was visit the Cathedral for the 10 PM call of the Nightwatchman. The Nightwatchman has been calling out “ALL CLEAR” from the top of the cathedral for over 600 years.
Assuming the mantle of the nightwatchman involves a deep-seated respect for tradition, an intricate understanding of Lausanne’s rich history, and an unwavering dedication to the city and its people. Regardless of the season’s temperaments, be it the chill of winter or the warmth of summer, the nightwatchman dutifully fulfills his responsibilities, highlighting the resilience inherent to this age-old tradition. There is only ONE primary Watchman. However, there are seven apprentices. Julie and I both remembered reading how the “glass ceiling in Lausanne” was finally getting some cracks because they nominated a woman for the very first time about two years ago to be an apprentice.
The nightwatchman serves not just as the city’s guardian of time, but also as a physical connection to the city’s past, embodying its historical essence. In a world increasingly driven by technology and modernization, the watchman stands as a poignant symbol of Lausanne’s commitment to its heritage, a reminder that even in the face of progress, tradition holds a timeless value and an irreplaceable place in the collective identity of a community.
The video below has the recording of the nightwatchman if you are interested.
As we were heading back home we decided to make a detour to Montreux. We had visited Montreux for a day two years ago, but we learned there was a Freddie Mercury statue in town. This is kind of fitting since another musical icon that adopted Switzerland died this week.
The relationship between Queen, Mercury, and Montreux began in 1978 when the band bought Mountain Studios. The studio was already famous, having hosted artists like Led Zeppelin and David Bowie. For Queen, it was more than just a recording space; it was a creative sanctuary. Between 1978 and 1995, Queen recorded a significant portion of their music there, including parts of their iconic albums “Jazz,” “Hot Space,” and Mercury’s final vocal performances on “Made in Heaven.”
Mercury at first hated Montreux. The small quiet town was the exact opposite of what the flamboyant front man wanted. However, Mercury eventually fell in love with Montreux’s peaceful setting, eventually making it his home in 1987. Montreux gave Mercury the tranquility and privacy he craved, away from the intense media scrutiny that came with his fame. He often described Montreux as his “own little paradise,” where he could find solitude and engage in his passions, such as painting and collecting art.
Even as his health deteriorated due to AIDS, Mercury continued to record in Mountain Studios, showing his dedication and love for music. He was discreet about his illness, and the people of Montreux respected his privacy, further deepening his affection for the city.
Mercury’s death in 1991 left a profound impact on Montreux. In 1996, a larger-than-life statue of Mercury was unveiled on the city’s lakeside, serving as a constant reminder of his connection to Montreux. Each year, fans from around the world gather at the “Freddie Mercury Montreux Memorial Day” to celebrate his life and music. The city, much like Queen’s music, is forever intertwined with the legacy of Freddie Mercury, the extraordinary musician who found peace and inspiration in its idyllic surroundings.
As I am writing this, Julie is packing for the weekend. We are heading over to Luzern. We have already stayed in the hotel on the top. of Mt Pilatus, but we had such a magical time, we decided to go do it again. This time, though, Julie has said we can go down the mountain on Saturday so I can do a summer bobsled run! This has been one of the things on my Swiss bucket list the first time I saw someone going down a mountain.
Enjoy the pictures, I will have more to say next week!
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Looking forward to hearing about your bobsled run!