This plaque in Geneva’s Old Town reads: “Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born in this house on June 28, 1712.” And then at the bottom in smaller print: “Refurbished façade.”
I remember as a student sometimes feeling intimidated by Rousseau, because his influence seemed to be everywhere. No matter what other authors I was reading, they all seemed to have been shaped by Rousseau in one way or another, and that was what examiners at the university were particularly interested in. Sometimes I thought I should just drop everything else and read all of Rousseau’s books, which I never did, but in Geneva half a century later I did the next best thing by checking out the audio guide at the Espace Rousseau (the ‘Rousseau Space’ in the house where he was born) and getting a lucid 25-minute introduction to Rousseau’s life and work.
The audio guides are available in seven languages, French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese. I took the French one, since I hadn’t come all the way to Geneva just to be yapped at in English or German.
The Espace is open every day except Mondays, from 11 am to 5:30 pm (last visit at 5 pm). The entrance fee as of 2017 is five Swiss Francs for adults, but only three for children, students, pensioners and groups of four or more people.
Madame de Warens was Rousseau’s benefactor when he was in his teens, and his mistress and educator when he was in his twenties.
Rousseau’s book on the education of children, Émile, ou De l’éducation, was first published in 1762. This was a popular and influential book in its day, even after Voltaire revealed that Rousseau had abandoned his own five children by having them delivered anonymously to an orphanage shortly after birth.
The Espace Rousseau includes a compendium of what other famous authors (Goethe, Byron, Tolstoy, …) had to say about Rousseau, in their original languages.
The Old Town, where Rousseau was born, is Geneva’s historic district on the left bank of the Rhône River, with narrow streets and picturesque stone buildings from various centuries.
Theoretically the Old Town is a pedestrian zone, but as an exception residents are allowed to drive and park here. They make ample use of this privilege, so that parts of the Old Town have degenerated into a parking lot for residents’ cars.
My photos in this post are from 2008. I revised the text in 2017.
The Espace Rousseau is at 440 Grand’Rue, 1211 Geneva, Switzerland.
GPS 46°12’4.93″ North; 6° 8’47.58″ East
See also: Rousseau in Montmorency, France