Saint-Genis-Pouilly, Gex, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France

Saint-Genis-Pouilly is a French commune, located in the department of Ain and the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. Saint-Genis-Pouilly is a town of over 12,000 inhabitants which has all the advantages of a small town located in a privileged environment. It is located in the country of Gex. Bordering the Swiss border, it is part of the cross-border agglomeration of Geneva. The town is located at the limit between the plain of Lake Geneva and the first slopes of the Massif du Jura. The altitude of the town varies from 419 meters (at the southern end of the town, at the confluence between Allondon and Nant de l’Ecra) to 502 meters (at the northern end of the town, in the hamlet by Flies).

Exchange and cultural diversity have always been essential components of Saint-Genis-Pouilly. Inhabitants of more than 90 nationalities live side by side within the municipality which must be involved in the construction and dissemination of the European idea. The openness of Saint-Genis-Pouilly to foreign countries manifests itself in several ways. It is associated with and actively participates in various events initiated by cultural players in the municipalities of Greater Geneva such as the Filmar Festival, Antigel or the Film Festival and International Human Rights Forum.

Favorable to inter-municipal cooperation, Saint-Genis-Pouilly actively participated in the creation of the Technoparc in 1981 to promote the job offer in the private sector. To do this, the city made available a 40 hectare site which today accommodates around 70 companies including the international headquarters of ST Thomson Microelectronics. The city center of Saint-Genis-Pouilly has many local shops which are all services to the population. The Allondon commercial space, in the north-west of the town, hosts more than 90 companies. The municipality wants to encourage local economic development and allow the establishment of new activities.

Saint-Genis-Pouilly hosts on its territory a large part of the particle physics installations of CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, a major center for global fundamental research. It is to CERN that the municipality owes most of its development since the mid -1960s.

The roots of Saint-Genis-Pouilly go back to the 1st century BC. Discover its heritage: the Saint-Pierre church in Pouilly, oldest monument in the Pays de Gex, its chapel, the Jean Monnet Cultural Center, the Bordeau theater…

The origins of Saint-Genis-Pouilly go back to Gallo-Roman times. The Roman colony Colonia Iulia Equestris founded by Julius Caesar between 50 and 45 BC. AD extended to Thoiry and therefore included the territory that was to become Saint-Genis-Pouilly. The large villa of Pouilly, built in the I century situated around the present church of Pouilly, was inhabited by a wealthy family, as evidenced by the jewelry, rings and bracelets that were found there.

In the 1st century BC, the Pays de Gex was already a border area. Three Gallic peoples live side by side: the Allobroges, the Sequanes and the Helvetians. The latter were pushed back from the Pays de Gex in 58 BC by Julius Caesar who decided to set up a military colony not far (in Nyon) to protect himself from invasions. Saint-Genis is part of this colony, a rich family is settled in Pouilly, it is the owner of the famous treasure of Saint-Genis.

Tiled tombs (sandstone slabs) Discovered in Pouilly early XIX century (1821) Indicate the existence of a population on the territory of the municipality to VII Century. Several treasures were buried in Pouilly between 250 and 300 during the Allamands invasions and then, around 406, during the Burgundian invasions. Several graves VI century were discovered Pregnin. The priory was established by some monks in Pouilly at the end of X century. The place called the Châtelets, located north of Pregnin, probably owes its name to the presence III century small forts located on the Roman road along the Jura.

In the Middle Ages
In 534, the Pays de Gex was integrated into the Kingdom of the Franks of Clovis. A Frankish tomb was found in Saint-Genis, a testimony to this period. The 10th century marked the beginning of the development of religious communities which enriched themselves with donations from the Lords of the Kingdom and established numerous priories in the Region, as was the case in Pouilly. These priories allow the monks to administer their agricultural estates and produce their food. It is the monks who clean up many swamps (omnipresent in the Pays de Gex) to establish crops. It is also thanks to the presence of these communities that the current church of Pouilly, the oldest building in the Pays de Gex, was built in the 13th century.

Still very frontier, the Pays de Gex changed ownership several times: it was incorporated into the county of Geneva in 1032, then ceded to Savoy in 1355. It was then administered by the Barons of Gex who built a dozen castles in the territory. The châteaux are administered by vassals, such as the Rossillon family who are in charge of the Château de Pouilly. In Saint-Genis, a stronghold was established in 1270 by this family, which held judicial authority over the inhabitants of the village.

In the Renaissance
In 1536, the Bernese, allied with Geneva against the Duke of Savoy, invaded the Pays de Gex which they occupied until 1564 before returning it to Savoy. They then try to impose the Protestant reform on the inhabitants and convert the church of Pouilly into a temple. It will be returned to Catholic worship in 1612. It was during these interminable wars between Genevois and Savoy that the castles of the Pays de Gex, including that of Pouilly, were destroyed. It was Henri IV who settled the conflict in 1602 by recovering the Pays de Gex to annex it to France.

The Revolution and the Empire in the Pays de Gex
In the 18th century, the Pays de Gex was larger than it is today, and in addition to the municipalities that we know today are those of Meyrin, Vernier and Grand Saconnex in particular.

The proximity of towns like Ferney to Geneva make it a boon for smugglers, runaways but also political opponents like Voltaire who settled there in 1754. Following the Revolution, the Pays de Gex was attached to the department of Ain then to that of Lake Geneva, when Geneva became French.

The fall of the Napoleonic Empire leads to the independence of Geneva which takes with it six communes of the Pays de Gex, following the Treaty of Paris of 1815. The Saint-Genésiens, very rural, are only very little interested in these historical episodes.

19th century
At the beginning of the 19th century, Saint-Genis experienced some development, a fruit farm was built in 1810. In 1817, the marshes from Pouilly to Pregnin were completely drained. This is a great relief for many locals who suffered from frequent fevers and moisture related illnesses. This period also saw the installation of public fountains in Saint-Genis, including that of the famous square, built in 1823.

In 1858, the mayor of the time, François Michaud, ordered the construction of a town hall-school, rue de Genève. When it opened in 1865, the town hall of Saint-Genis included two classrooms (one for girls and one for boys), a fire engine, a town hall and even a small prison! Upstairs are the teachers’ official apartments. 1874 marks Saint-Genis’s entry into the industrial era with the installation of a diamond factory on the banks of the Lion.

The Donnet diamond works experienced a certain boom for more than 50 years, it is by far the first industry in the village. But it was swept away by the crisis of 1929, like many factories.

Saint-Genis in modern times
Liberated in August 1944, Saint-Genis is still only a small village in the Pays de Gex which is struggling to reach 600 inhabitants. It is precisely the end of the Second World War that will allow the development of the town. The desire for peace which gave rise to the creation of CERN brought in more and more scientists and workers. The first buildings were built in the 1950s to accommodate these newcomers.

Quickly, the village becomes a city and the population is multiplied by 10 in fifty years. Population growth is also accentuated by Switzerland’s economic appeal.

It is the extension of France’s CERN, the mid- 1960s, that made Saint-Genis-Pouilly the tidy little town it is today. It is also thanks to the presence of CERN that the local economic fabric has become considerably denser and more diversified. The tunnel housing the 27-kilometer loop of the Large Hadron Collider, the CERN particle accelerator passes around 100 meters below commune.

Saint-Genis-Pouilly is, since the establishment of Technoparc, the privileged seat of the economic activity of the country of Gex. To help the economic development of the local basin, the Agence de Développement du Pays Bellegardien has also established its premises in Saint-Genis-Pouilly. The historic center, the city center, has an offer of more than 80 businesses, shops and local services.

Free Zone
Saint-Genis-Pouilly benefits, like the other communes of the country of Gex, from the very special status of free zone established by the Congress of Vienna in the second Treaty of Paris of November 20, 1815. As a result, goods imported or exported outside the European Union are not subject to customs duties.

If this status has undergone significant changes in the past, it now seems stabilized. The absence of customs duties is particularly interesting for individuals living in the free zone when they buy vehicles manufactured outside the European Union because these are normally subject to significant specific customs duties (around 10%). These vehicles are easily identifiable on the roads since they are registered in red plates with the new registration. In the second half of the xx th century the sugar and butter outside the EU were also very popular in the free zone.

Saint genis pouilly town center
The Allondon business area or “Espace de l’Allondon”, located in the North West, is home to more than 90 commercial and craft businesses – including a few large brands – offering a wide range of products and services to residents.

Allondon space
The Technoparc du Pays de Gex in Saint-Genis-Pouilly, created in 1981 in particular at the initiative of the municipality to promote job opportunities in the private sector, is today managed by the Community of Municipalities of the Pays de Gex. The Technoparc hosts around 70 companies over 40 hectares. Equipped with new technologies, it is close to major communication routes and CERN.

The City “Simone Veil”.
This administrative city is home to the Maison de la Solidarité Pays de Gex (the social services of the General Council), the European Transfrontier Group (GTE), the Interinstitutional Center for Skills Assessment (CIBC), the notarial office, and the Departmental Association Assistance to People of Ain (ADAPA), a dental office and soon a law firm.

La Maison de santé,
A consensual response to medical deserts, will open its doors in January 2017 and will integrate the services of around thirty professionals. This project saw the light of day as part of the town’s regional planning and innovation support mission. It is therefore a question of initiating a dynamic of development contributing to a better organization of the local health system.

Historical heritage

Pouilly Church
The church of Saint-Pierre de Pouilly is the oldest building in the town and one of the oldest in the Pays de Gex. It was erected in the 12th century on the ruins of a Roman villa. Its choir is still original despite the many modifications made to the rest of the building. The bell tower and the front of the nave date from the 15th century. The central part of the nave was rebuilt in the middle of the 19th century. In 1809, the bell tower was restored and in 1860 it was raised by one floor which gave it its current form. Two side chapels were established in 1847. The church has two valuable old paintings, including one donated by the Emperor in 1861.

The Pouilly church, used for religious services, has one drawback for parishioners: it is quite far from the city center. Thus, its access is difficult in winter with snow. At the end of the 18th century, the inhabitants therefore called for the construction of a chapel in the village of Saint-Genis. However, they had to wait until 1884 to see the chapel of Saint-Genis inaugurated, rue du Bordeau, in place of a former coach house. Still existing and open to the public, there is a magnificent painted wooden ceiling inside.

Treasure of Saint-Genis-Pouilly
A treasure of silverware, coins, old burials and many shards of sigillated pottery and tiles were found around the church, in the cemetery and also in the foundations of the many villas built recently. It comes, in all likelihood, from an important Roman villa installed in Saint-Genis during antiquity. These pieces are now exhibited at the Museum of Art and History (MAH) in Geneva.

Old town hall
This building was built between 1864 and 1865. In 1879, a small bell tower was added to the roof. At the time of its construction, this building was intended to house all municipal services, town hall and schools (girls and boys). The building having become too small, the municipality takes place in 1994 at the Town Hall that we know today. The public clock placed on the entrance pediment is the work of a watchmaker from Morez (Jura). This building now houses the childhood sector of the municipality.

Jean Monnet Cultural Center
This is one of the oldest buildings in the town, dating from 1445. Originally, it was a large farmhouse adjoining the center of Saint-Genis. The Gessian farms have common characteristics: they are block houses with a rectangular base and an open courtyard partially paved. They have a large gable roof overhanging only the main facade where the doors of the house, the barn and the stable follow one another. Unused for many years, the building fell into disrepair. It was completely rehabilitated by the municipality in the 1980s, and became a cultural center with a large performance hall, an exhibition hall and small meeting rooms for associations.

George Sand Space
Built in 1999, it is a cultural space that replaces the old company house, which has become dilapidated. It hosts the George Sand media library, the music school and the house of associations.

City Hall
The more the municipality grows, the more the needs of the citizens increase. When Saint-Genis-Pouilly inaugurated the old town hall in 1865, the town had only 700 souls. 130 years later, the city exceeds 6,000 inhabitants and the premises of the town hall are no longer sufficient to accommodate all municipal officials. This is why a new building was built in the early 1990s and inaugurated in 1994. Bold for its time, the Town Hall still appears today as a modern construction and in tune with its environment.

Théâtre du Bordeau
Saint-Genis-Pouilly has always been a town animated by music, theater or any other communal celebration. For lack of a dedicated place, it was in private barns, on planks and trestles as a stage, that the performances were mounted. Faced with this state of affairs, some decided to build a village hall on their own. Thus, on January 26, 1936, work began. Christmas 1937 saw the first performance of school children. And the official inauguration of the village hall of Saint-Genis-Pouilly took place in the spring of 1938. In September 2007, 70 years after the end of the work of the village hall of Saint-Genis-Pouilly, the municipality inaugurated the new Bordeau theater, built on the same site as the old Bordeau theater. This fully glazed building is the work of architect Jean-Vincent Berlottier. The modern architecture of the theater has been designed and built with respect for the history of the town and the prospect of enriching the future. The new Bordeau theater thus affirms the desire to place culture at the center of social and urban development.

Religious monuments
The church of Saint-Pierre de Pouilly, Church Street (porch and choir XIII century) is probably the element of communal most famous architectural heritage. The church is Romanesque, except for its choir which is Gothic.

The Reformed Temple and Mennonite Evangelical Church, 13 rue de Lyon.

Created in 1954 by 12 European governments, CERN is directly involved in the history of Saint-Genis. He is at the origin of several discoveries which have upset humanity. CERN is world famous, but few people know that it is largely located in the territory of Saint-Genis-Pouilly.

The story begins at the end of the Second World War when a group of visionary scientists decides to restart European innovation. The old continent is then destroyed and is struggling to recover from years of conflict. These scientists manage to convince several governments including France and Germany, which testifies to a real desire to make peace.

CERN quickly acquired international notoriety with the establishment of the proton synchrotron and later the discovery of neutral currents which made it one of the strongholds of international nuclear research. CERN scientists come from all over the world and exchange their discoveries and studies all over the world.

In 1989, CERN researcher Tim Berners-Lee presented an innovative communication project to facilitate data exchange. Soberly titled “Proposal for Information”, this project was launched the following year under the name “World Wide Web”. This is how the internet was born, just a few hundred meters from the center of Saint-Genis!

In 2013, CERN was once again crowned with success when two of its researchers discovered a new, infinitely small particle: the Higgs boson. This discovery, which made headlines around the world, rewards its authors with the Nobel Prize in physics. CERN is located straddling Swiss and French territories. Its head office is located in Meyrin, although the majority of the installations and the control center are located on the French side.

Cultural heritage
The Théâtre du Bordeau, inaugurated in 2006, offers 250 seats for lovers of theater, dance, music and other performing arts. Since January 2020, films have also been screened there, [ archive ]

Pregn’Art, the annual weekend during which local artists exhibit in the gardens of the hamlet of Pregnin is one of the events dedicated to plastic art.

Cultural facilities

George Sand Media Library
The George Sand media library is a modern and welcoming public place that offers free culture for all. It provides residents with a wide choice of documents. No less than 23,000 titles (books, magazines, audio CDs, DVDs, etc.) make up the media library’s own fund, which also hosts the Lake Geneva fund, born from a collaboration between the Departmental Council of Ain and the Council of Lake Geneva. The action of the media library touches different audiences. Thus, surrounded by many partners, it hosts the leisure center, the Relais des Assistantes Maternelles et Parents, nurseries, city schools and associations.

Jean Monnet Cultural Center
The original building, partially destroyed in 1589 or 1590, was rebuilt in the 17th century and then renovated in the 18th century. The development of the farm building was part of a heritage conservation policy between 1977 and 1989. During the rehabilitation, the exterior envelope was kept, but the interior space of the farm was completely redesigned to leave the place to a modern and utilitarian space.

Cultural and leisure associations
The City of Saint-Genis-Pouilly supports community life by providing financial assistance to associations through the payment of grants. By offering a new form of partnership to cultural associations, the City is equipping itself with new tools which allow, on the one hand, to consolidate the already existing commitment to structures, but also to new project leaders to emerge and to new proposals to see the light of day.

Municipal Office of Culture
Saint-Genis-Pouilly has a Municipal Office of Culture (OMC). This office is a structure for consultation and coordination of the activities of the municipality’s cultural associations. It also aims to support and encourage the cultural life of the city.

Events and festivities
The Fête de l’Oiseau is the main municipal festival. It takes place at the end of May or the beginning of June over a weekend and is organized by the association law 1901 of the Knights of the Bird. Throughout the weekend the funfair is in full swing. A parade with flowery floats and music takes place on Sunday afternoon with the king, the wren, the queen and her bridesmaids leading the procession. The bird shooting, part of the Papegai tradition, which takes place on Mondays, determines who will be the new king and wren. The Queen and her bridesmaids are elected at a dance party that takes place in February.

Natural heritage
In 2014, the municipality of Saint-Genis-Pouilly benefited from the “flower town” label with “2 flowers” awarded by the National Council of towns and villages in bloom of France to the competition of towns and villages in bloom.

Serves Wood
The Bois de Serves (from the Latin silva: forest), straddling Saint-Genis-Pouilly and Prévessin-Moëns, is one of the most important oak groves of the Gessian plain. Coupled with the Tollot wood, it becomes a magnificent cross-border natural space, suitable for mushroom picking.

The Arboretum of the Saint-Genis-Pouilly forest
Located in the town of Crozet, the arboretum of Saint-Genis-Pouilly allows you to acquire knowledge about the different species that inhabit the forest. Take your bikes, and from the Jean Monnet Cultural Center head towards Sergy, which you will cross. In the village, take the street to the right towards Sergy-Dessus, then at the roundabout, head towards Villeneuve / Crozet. The small road that goes up to the arboretum is on your left as you enter Crozet.

The pedestrian paths of the city center
Favorable to soft movements, the municipality ensures the maintenance of the footpaths of the municipality so that they are accessible to all and retain all their charm. They thus represent more than 7 km of walk in the heart of the city. Saint-Genis-Pouilly is the town in the Pays de Gex which has the greatest number of pedestrian and cycle paths.