Ferney-Voltaire is a French commune located in the department of Ain, in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. It is also located next to the Swiss border, near Geneva. The city is more precisely in the country of Gex, on the Swiss border, and incorporated in the agglomeration of Geneva, to the north-west of the international airport of Geneva (Cointrin). It is located on the D 1005 (former RN 5) connecting Geneva (8 km away) to Dijon via the Col de la Faucille.
Built along the old road leading from Geneva to the abbey of Saint-Claude, the village of Ferney was considerably modified by Voltaire. For the medieval village-street, the philosopher substituted a new town at the crossroads of the main roads. Following the principles that he himself had enacted in 1749 in his Embellissements de Paris, Voltaire outlawed corbels, ensured the strict alignment of buildings and imposed the model of continuous strip houses on the new village center.
From the 1770s, the philosopher, undoubtedly inspired by the town planning of the new London neighborhoods, especially favored the construction of wealthy and landscaped suburban areas intended for his relatives and new “colonists”, mainly watchmakers, coming from Geneva. Voltaire maintaining its appearance until 1950 (despite the additions and expansions made use of the XIX th century), the village of Ferney has been radically transformed from 1000 to 9900 inhabitants, part of its territory which even served to the construction of the Geneva international airport.
Voltaire chose Ferney in 1759 for its proximity to the border, useful in the event of a problem with the royal administration, and to Geneva, the city of his rival Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
When he arrived, the hamlet numbered barely 150 inhabitants. On the statue of Voltaire, installed in the city center, he is described as “Benefactor of Ferney”. Indeed, it allowed the demographic and economic growth of Ferney which, in a few years, went from a village structure to a real small town. Voltaire built more than a hundred houses, financed the construction of a church, a school, a hospital, a water tank and the fountain.
In addition, he drained the marshes and created fairs and markets, encouraged artisans – watchmakers, weavers – to settle there, and finally fed the inhabitants during the famine of 1771. Razing the old building, he there had a castle built (now listed as a historic monument). Finally, he lent free money to neighboring municipalities.
It is no exaggeration to write that Ferney would have remained a small village without the activity of the “Patriarch” which made it go down in history. When he died in 1778, Ferney had a population of nearly 1,200. But without its benefactor it lost its vitality and regained its agrarian form.
When, by virtue of the Treaty of Paris of 1815, almost all the neighboring communes came under Swiss sovereignty, Ferney remained French because of the strong imprint that Voltaire had left there. A bronze statue was unveiled in his honor on July 27, 1890, financed and sculpted by Emile Lambert (who then owned the castle).
In 1962, exchanges of territories between Ferney and the neighboring Swiss municipalities of Grand-Saconnex, Meyrin and Collex-Bossy allowed the expansion of Geneva Cointrin airport.
Established in Geneva since 1755, François-Marie Arouet dit Voltaire acquired the seigneury of Ferney in 1758 at the age of 64. It was there, in the Pays de Gex, a royal appanage ideally located on the borders of France, Switzerland, the Republic of Geneva and Savoy, that the philosopher undertook for twenty years to continue his battles in favor of tolerance, freedom and justice.
Tireless letter-writer, feared pamphleteer, admired storyteller, Voltaire never ceased to enrich his literary work – it was at Ferney that the Treaty on Tolerance (1763) and the Philosophical Dictionary (1764) were written – while highlighting practice the ideals of the Enlightenment. Defender of Calas, Sirven and the Chevalier de la Barre, Voltaire was also a defender of the local population, whose living conditions he significantly improved by draining the marshes, introducing new farming methods and promoting the installation of new industries (luxury watches and silks). The new town he built and which today bears his name constitutes an irreplaceable testimony to the Philosopher’s commitment to the City.
Ferney’s main attraction is Voltaire’s house (château), built 1758–66, now owned and administered by the Centre des monuments nationaux (an arm of the French Ministry of Culture). It is open to visitors between May and September. The Château Voltaire includes the main building, with a reconstruction of Voltaire’s room (moved from its original location by later private owners), a garden with a fine view of the Alps, and a church dedicated, contrary to custom, directly to God. In the church’s inscription, “Deo erexit VOLTAIRE” (“Erected to God by VOLTAIRE”), Voltaire’s name is written in the largest characters. A few dozen meters from the chateau is another impressive house, built in 1900 by Monsieur Lambert (the sculptor of the statue of Voltaire; his family owned the chateau before it was purchased by the French government). The house, now privately owned, had been used to store provisions and wine for the chateau, and to accommodate the household staff.
The village features 18th-century houses and artisans’ workshops; a life-size statue of Voltaire; a smaller bust of him, surmounting a fountain; many restaurants, French and foreign; and proximity to the nearby cosmopolitan city of Geneva, Switzerland. Every Saturday, a market is held in the main street of Ferney. The old road at the centre of the village is a remnant of the time when Voltaire resided at the chateau in Ferney-Voltaire.
The pedestal of the Voltaire statue, erected in 1890, dedicates that memorial to the town’s “benefactor,” noting that he built over a hundred houses for the inhabitants, as well as a school and church, gave the town interest-free loans, and fed its inhabitants in time of need. On the 31st of May 2018, Président Emmanuel Macron officially visited the Château for the re-opening after renovation.
The town of Ferney-Voltaire has several remarkable buildings which are for the most part registered or classified in the inventory of historical monuments.
House of the Pays de Voltaire
Donated to the population by Voltaire in 1770, this public fountain served as the main decoration for the commemorations of the centenary of the philosopher’s death in 1878. Claude-Marie David, owner of the castle at that time, then donated a replica of the bust of Voltaire by Houdon; he was imitated eleven years later by his son-in-law, the sculptor Émile-Placide Lambert.
Statue of Voltaire, avenue Voltaire
The statue of Voltaire is the work of the sculptor Émile-Placide Lambert. It is located on avenue Voltaire, at the junction of the old and new Ferney.
Notre-Dame-et-Saint-André church, rue de Gex
The parish church of Our Lady and Saint-Andre is an exceptional testimony of neoclassical religious architecture in France in the early XIX th century. Built in reaction to the construction of the Protestant temple completed in 1824, the building desired by Monsignor Devie and designed by architect Jean-Marie Pollet on a basilica plan was inaugurated in 1826.
Now municipal property, it was fitted out in a warehouse by Léonard Racle and inaugurated in 1776 in the presence of the actor Le Kain. Having become famous at the age of 24 with his first play, Oedipus, under the pseudonym of Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet owed most of his fame to tragedies, comedies, opera libretto, salon plays, to which he had a real passion.
At the same time author, actor, and director, Voltaire often alone provided the spectacle of his own plays during memorable evenings. Entrusted to the impresario Saint Geran, Comedy dwindled quickly to the death of its founder, a prelude to a deep disaffection with a singular drama which was only rediscovered at the end of the XX th century.
It now houses the cultural and events center of the town. This municipal service manages the cultural season, the organization of events and the management of municipal halls. He is also the main interlocutor of the Ferneys associations. The Maison du Pays de Voltaire also houses an open exhibition room: Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Finally, you will find the book shop, museum dedicated to the history of letterpress printing: presentation of a press of the XVIII th restored century old presses and the XIX th and XX th centuries, as well as sector typographic with block letters.
The Château de Voltaire has been owned by the State since 1999 and administered by the Center des monuments nationaux. Listed as a historical monument, it received the “Maison des illustres” label on 22 June 2012 from the Ministry of Culture and Communication.
Rebuilt by Voltaire between 1758 and 1766 on the site of a stronghold and a manor house, the Château de Ferney presents the main characteristics of the aristocratic country residences of the Lake Geneva basin: modest dimensions, displayed austerity of the exterior decorations made for the ‘essential by corner works, pilasters and windows in molassic sandstone, central avant-corps surmounted by a pediment bearing the arms of the lord.
The building, which has everything of a bourgeois residence, nevertheless presents certain peculiarities foreign to the regional architecture: mansard roof probably inspired by the Hôtel d’Évreux (current Palais de l’Elysée), owned by the Marquise de Pompadour and protector of the philosopher, rounded central rear – now destroyed – of Anglo-Saxon inspiration, wings added to the central body by the architect and earthenware maker Léonard Racle in 1765 and 1766. Inhabited year-round, the house benefited from at the origin of a refined decor and modern comfort (stove, bathroom, etc.).
The Château de Voltaire, classified as a historical monument since 1958, was acquired by the State in 1999 and is administered by the Center des monuments nationaux.
When Voltaire bought the Ferney estate, he rebuilt it entirely by directing the work himself from 1758. The castle was completed in 1762 and has, on the courtyard side, a neoclassical facade organized symmetrically around an entrance framed by Doric columns, surmounted by double pilasters upstairs, and a pediment bearing the arms of the lord. The facade, on the garden side, was enlivened by a rounded avant-corps, embedded with Ionic pilasters and crowned with a curvilinear pediment. He was replaced in the XIX century by a front flat triangular pediment.
The park is simultaneously landscaped and participates in the staging of the castle which dominates the site, in particular by the establishment, to the south, of arbours and to the west of a French garden, a pond. and a large terrace.
Voltaire has openings in the foliage of the trees below the terrace to open up the view towards the Alps. The neighboring barn was converted into a performance hall. Very quickly, Voltaire realizes that his castle is too small to accommodate its many visitors. In 1765, he called on the architect and potter Léonard Racle to add two wings which gave the building its final appearance.
On the death of Voltaire, Catherine II Empress of Russia plans to build the castle of Voltaire identically in the park of Tsarskoye Selo, near her summer palace. To this end, she had a model built and asked Léonard Racle to draw up plans for the castle and the entire estate, and bought the philosopher’s library. These documents are kept at the Russian National Library.
The fountain, located rue de Meyrin and dated 1628, has been listed as a historical monument since 1988.
The Racle house, built by Léonard Racle and located at 33 rue de Genève, is listed as a historical monument.
The house of Loes, at 7 rue Meyrin, is listed as a historical monument.
The Villa La Paisible 26 rue de Gex was the residence of Gustave Moynier, co-founder of the Red Cross. 46 ° 15 ′ 40 ″ N, 6 ° 06 ′ 19 ″ E
The statue of Voltaire was erected in 1890.
The Notre-Dame-Saint-André church, rue de l’Eglise, has been listed as a historic monument since 1988.
The temple of the Reformed Church, rue de Gex, was built from 1824 to 1825 in a neoclassical style with a slate bell tower. In 2010, nine stained glass windows designed and produced by Monique Copel, a stained glass artist, were donated by a patron of Ferney-Voltaire.
The Evangelical Church, rue de Meyrin.
Crossroads Evangelical Church, Chemin de la Brunette.
Le Châtelard theater is housed in a typical Gessian barn, a former farm in the Voltaire estate. It offers a gauge of 80 places. La Compagnie For, hosted in residence, has been programming it since 2012.
Micromégas is a theater for young audiences dedicated to puppetry that can accommodate 80 people. It was officially inaugurated in September 2012. The company Once upon a time a puppet offers a program around puppets, storytelling, music as well as workshops for making and handling puppets.
The Comédie de Ferney has hosted the Compagnie Thalie in residence since 1994. Plays and concerts are offered as well as theater workshops for adolescents and adults.
The Voltaire cinema has three rooms (435 seats). It is a partner of several cross-border film festivals: the Festival of the Five Continents, Filmar en America Latina, the Green Film Festival.
Events and festivities
Guided tours of the historic city center, in particular its development by Voltaire in the 18th century, and of the Notre-Dame et Saint-André church are offered by the town hall of Ferney-Voltaire.
Two exhibitions are open to the public all year round, freely or on guided tours by the town hall guide. The book and bookshop workshop traces the history of books, from the first writing media to typographic printing in Voltaire’s time. Pottery in Ferney presents a set of rare pieces from the workshops of the potters Eugène Hécler, René Nicole, Lifas and Paul Bonifas, whose fame was exported to Europe and across the Atlantic.
The Voltaire season is the annual municipal cultural program which offers some twenty events, concerts, theater, conferences, dedicated to the heritage and current events of the battles of the Age of Enlightenment.
The Fête à Voltaire is the cultural and popular meeting place of the city. Each year, it attracts several thousand spectators from all over the Pays de Gex, Geneva and the Lake Geneva region. Created in 2002, this outdoor event, with a festive and cultural vocation, is dedicated to the work of the philosopher, in connection with the contemporary world. About thirty multicultural associations provide catering and refreshments. After 10 editions having been held in the city center, the 2012 and 2013 editions took place exclusively at the Château de Voltaire
The potters’ market perpetuates the centuries-old tradition of master potters who developed their activity in Ferney-Voltaire. Since 2001, it brings together every year in mid-September between 30 and 40 potters from all over France and welcomes several thousand visitors.
The Château de Voltaire offers events for the general public throughout the year, a variation of national cultural events such as Rendez-vous in the gardens, Child’s play monuments or European Heritage Days.
International Women’s Day: For International Women’s Rights Day, March 8, the City of Ferney-Voltaire is offering an evening show at the Théâtre du Châtelard, exceptionally for 2020. Other events within the framework of the “Equality of rights between women and men, where we are ? Can also be organized for this occasion.
Guinguette: The town’s traditional open-air café takes place in the spring on the boules ground, avenue Voltaire. Musette, disco, retro Latin music, rock’n’roll and variety are on the program for this festive and friendly evening. A refreshment bar and snacks are available.
Sports festival: This family event allows everyone to try out different sports and attend demonstrations. Activities and demonstrations are offered at the Henriette-d’Angeville sports center by numerous Ferneys and Gessian associations. About thirty sports – ball, combat, aquatic, outdoor or indoor, collective or not, martial arts… are represented.
Party in Voltaire: The Fête à Voltaire is a street event with a festive and cultural vocation dedicated to the work of Voltaire. It attracts several thousand spectators every year from all over the Pays de Gex, Geneva and the Lake Geneva region. An appointment, at the end of June, not to be missed!
Parks, woods, ponds, urban vegetable gardens… Find here ideas for walks and activities in Ferney-Voltaire. In 2014, the town obtained the “three flowers” level in the competition for towns and villages in bloom.
Abbot Boisson Park
Abbé Boisson’s park is located between rue de l’Église and avenue Voltaire. It is accessible by rue de l’Église, by Place de la Comédie, by the parking lot of the Jean-Calas school or by the pétanque and pétanque grounds (1 avenue Voltaire). Around a large grassy plain are picnic tables and benches, a fountain with drinking water, as well as two play areas, for toddlers and adults.
Parc de la Tire is the largest urban park in the Pays de Gex, located between Route de Prévessin and Rue de Meyrin. The Allée de la Tire – central alley of the park – is the natural link and the historical axis between the castle of Voltaire and the woods of Bagasse. It is laid out on a gentle slope over the entire length of the park and is accessible to all. On both sides of the park, the north-south aisles host a fitness trail punctuated with modules for performing sports exercises. The park also has a city-stadium, a children’s play area and picnic tables. A dog park is located in the lower part of the park.