Clémentine

A little park at the Place du Bourg-de-four in Geneva is the site of a remarkable statue, not of Rousseau or Calvin or the founder of the Red Cross, but of a naked, emaciated, melancholy young woman named Clémentine.

The statue was created by the Swiss sculptor Heinz Schwarz (1922-1994), and was installed here by the Fund for Contemporary Art of the City of Geneva in 1974.

(Or the sculptor might have been born in 1920 and he might have created this statue in 1975. It depends on which website you believe.)

Clémentine with clippings and messages

On the trees and fences around the statue, there are nearly always clippings and messages protesting child abuse, mistreatment of prostitutes, female genital mutilation and domestic violence against women. Week after week, for the past thirty-some years, Clémentine has always been given a flower to hold in her hand.

Place du Bourg-de-Four

The historic Place du Bourg-de-four is a popular place to meet in the Old Town, with pleasant outdoor restaurants and picturesque buildings from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

Outdoor restaurants at the Place du Bourg-de-Four

In March 2013 there was a discussion in the Geneva Forum on the now-defunct website VirtualTourist about the origin of the name of this square, Place du Bourg-de-Four. Since four is an oven and bourg is a village, my guess was that this was a place where there used to be an oven for baking bread that was used by the entire neighborhood, as was the case in some villages in earlier times.

But later Lou Bessette, who knows Geneva a lot better than I do, traced the name back to ancient Roman times, when there was a bridge nearby that was destroyed by Julius Caesar.

Theoretically I must have read about this bridge in school, when we had to read Julius Caesar’s “De bello Gallico” in Latin. But I was so confused by the Latin text that I didn’t understand much.

Now I have just looked it up and found that Caesar mentioned this bridge right near the beginning of his book. He wrote: pontem, qui erat ad Genavam, iubet rescindi, which means that a bridge which was at or near Geneva was dismantled. (This happened in the year 58 B.C. to prevent the Helvetians from migrating through Roman territory.)

Lou wrote that the name Place du Bourg-de-Four “could have come from the fact that it was the forum (which the name ‘four’ could refer to.) Also, ‘foris’ could refer to ‘outside the ramparts’. I’m also thinking it could be ‘forus, fori’ for bridge, since a bridge was destroyed on that spot.”

GPS 46°12’0.24″ North;  6° 8’56.10″ East

My photos in this post are from 2008. I revised the text in 2019.

See more posts on Geneva, Switzerland.

3 thoughts on “Clémentine”

  1. Do you know if the statue of Clémentine was placed here as a memorial to women who had suffered abuse, or has it just been adopted by those who campaign against such abuse? Was Clémentine a real woman or is she representative?

    1. The real Clémentine was a prostitute (and drug addict) who lived and died in a tiny room on this square. I don’t know if she was otherwise abused.

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