The Geneva summit between the U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin took place in a plush 18th-Century lakeside villa steeped in the Swiss history.
The Villa La Grange, set in Geneva's biggest park, which slopes down to the shore, is well used to hosting showpiece events. The setting is spectacular. Views from the three-storey classical mansion sweep down over the Parc de La Grange, across Lake Geneva towards the United Nations and the Jura mountains beyond.
The summit was set in the showpiece library: two wooden armchairs clad in red leather were set on either side of a globe, against a backdrop of brown and gold tones. During the summer, the gardens would typically be filled by picnickers.
Back in time
The grand, classical villa was owned by Genevan patrician families and was bequeathed to the city. On rare occasions, the public can take guided tours that take in the library, reception rooms, and bedrooms.
The estate was created in the 1660s by the merchant Jacques Franconis. Marc Lullin, a banker, bought it in 1706 and three of his sons built the French-style mansion and its surrounding buildings between 1768 and 1773. Banker Jean Lullin, having been ruined by the French Revolution, sold it in 1800 to Francois Favre, a Geneva ship owner who made his fortune trading with the East from the French port of Marseille.
A bibliophile's dream
The Favre family transformed the house and park, adding the large library, which contains some 15,000 books belonging to Francois' son Guillaume. The oldest volumes date back to the 15th Century and the collection is especially strong in history, literature, and ancient languages.
The villa held a gala in 1864 for the diplomats who signed the first Geneva Convention governing the treatment of sick and wounded combatants.
Use for civic receptions
Guillaume's grandson William Favre bequeathed the villa and the estate to the city in 1917, with the house to be used for civic receptions. When he died the following year, he also left the library collection to Geneva in his will. The park opened to the public in 1918.
Another historic meeting at a heritage villa
Let's go back to the 1985 Geneva summit, when Cold War rivals Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met for the first time in Villa Fleur d'Eau, a late 19th-Century mansion in Geneva.
Things got off to a bad start. Just before the U.S. President Reagan arrived at one of the summit locations, a Swiss soldier waiting in the ceremonial honour guard fainted, overcome by the bitter cold. The historic handshake between the leaders lasted a good seven seconds, and took place in front of frozen photographers and reporters who had stood waiting in the bitter cold. The three-day summit was covered by 3,500 journalists.
Six years before the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union, the 1985 Geneva summit focussed on de escalating the nuclear arms race between the two superpowers, and came with hopes of fostering better East West relations.
Hosts Switzerland were also well aware of the gulf between the two superpowers - so much so that the Swiss - President Kurt Furgler's assistant Walter Fust had to prepare for his boss "two different welcoming speeches, taking into account the different cultures".
On the sidelines, Nancy Reagan wanted to replace the bottles of mineral water provided with U.S. ones, and also wanted an aide to try out her food before she did.
Picture Credit : Google