Arcades des Arts
Pont de la Machine,
part of the history of Geneva

This vestige of the industrial era was one of the first iron bridges in a city renowned for its savoir-faire. As the point where the past and future of Geneva converge, it was surely destined to become the home of Arcades des Arts.

Its history is tied to that of the pumping station from which it takes its name.

In Geneva, in the early years of the eighteenth century, to have running water at home was a luxury made possible by Joseph Abeille, an engineer originally from Brittany, France, who in 1708 built a pumping station that became known as the Machine Abeille. It remained in service until 1843, when the State Council voted to replace it with a more powerful system.

A wooden bridge was built that same year, thanks to which pedestrians could cross between the two banks of the river. It was replaced in 1887 by an iron bridge, the present-day Pont de la Machine. The bridge was a natural choice for the Arcades des Arts, having been restored thanks to skills that only a handful of craftsmen continue to master. It stands at the centre of what was Geneva’s industrial heart, where the most precious artisan trades and traditions developed.

Geneva’s economy and craft skills

Geneva prospered during the Age of Enlightenment. Three activities underpinned its economy.

They were the Fabrique, textiles and banking. The city was famed for the quality of its Fabrique, the name given to the watchmaking, jewellery-making and goldsmithing workshops that were located, for the most part, on the Right Bank. This sector was closely followed by the textile industry, and in particular the production of calicoes – painted or printed cottons originally from India that appeared in Europe in the sixteenth century. The calico factories were located almost directly opposite Pont de la Machine, where the Four Seasons Hôtel des Bergues now stands. Production and trade in timepieces and calicoes generated considerable profit that was invested in banks, the third major pillar of Geneva’s economy.

In the eighteenth century, Geneva was one of Europe’s foremost financial centres. The Pont de la Machine has watched as skills old and new have developed in the city. It spans two sides of the river as well as two ages. Arcades des Arts is now part of its story.