Every year, on 12 December, Geneva hosts the Escalade festival to commemorate the attack on the city by Savoyard troops in 1602. This festival brings Geneva’s inhabitants together around a celebration, a meal and a chocolate cauldron.
At dawn on 12 December 1602, Duke Charles Emmanuel I and his troops attacked the prosperous city of Geneva, long coveted by the Savoyards. Although taken by surprise, Geneva’s soldiers counterattacked and managed to push back the enemy attempting to climb the city walls. This battle is now commemorated annually around the same date with what is known as the Escalade festival, named after the French word for ‘climbing’.
According to legend, in the middle of the battle, Mère Royaume, an inhabitant of the city, poured a cauldron of soup made from local seasonal vegetables (cabbages, onions, turnips, celery, leeks, etc.) over the enemy troops. The cauldron became the symbol of the Escalade and has been associated with the commemoration of the event since the 17th century.
The Escalade festival is celebrated annually around the 12th December, solely in the city of Geneva. Today, the festivities commemorating the defeat of the Savoyards include a running race, a night-time parade and bonfires. As for the festival meal, in the 19th century, it was traditional for the city’s families to enjoy stuffed turkey, Geneva cardoons and, sometimes, rice soup. Today, the meal is rounded off by breaking apart a chocolate cauldron full of marzipan vegetables, sweets and fire crackers. Nowadays, fewer and fewer families celebrate with a meal, but schools have taken up the baton, serving children soup and giving them chocolate cauldrons to honour the legend of Mère Royaume.
A cauldron filled with confectionery
The sweet-filled cauldron only appeared after 1870 and gradually became the festival’s emblem. As chocolate was an expensive foodstuff in the 19th century, the pot was initially made from nougat. Decorated with the eagle and key of Geneva’s coat of arms, the cauldron is now made from chocolate. It is broken apart at the end of the meal to reveal the marzipan vegetables, sweets and fire crackers hidden inside.
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