At the top of Geneva

one hundred and forty metres

Daniel Bauchervez
Genève Tourisme
Summer 2023

As Geneva’s visual signature, the Jet d’Eau reigns over the bay, rising to 140 m and capturing the eyes of all visitors. Originally built in 1886, today this liquid monument has come to symbolize some of the city’s greatest ambitions.

Approach at your own risk (pro tip: an umbrella won’t save you). When sprayed at high force into billions of particles, the water of the Jet d’Eau becomes an all-encompassing cloud, as if you were standing in the middle of an urban Niagara Falls. If you want to experience the monstrous force of this water column up close, simply follow the boardwalk… and run the risk of getting wet. All it takes is a change of wind direction and you’re guaranteed a good soaking!

At the end of the 19th century, Geneva experienced an industrial boom. The population soared rapidly, as did their needs, so a hydro power plant was built along the Rhône, at La Coulouvreniere, to provide water for the city’s inhabitants. Demand fluctuated from day to day, and when the plant closed its doors at night the water supply lines were subject to pressure build up. So, an innovative safety valve was built that released the pressure in a powerful stream of water, and the Jet d’Eau was born.

The fountain’s 30-metre-high spray quickly became an attraction. When it was no longer necessary as a safety valve a few years later, the city chose to preserve it and moved it to a new location at the end of the Eaux-Vives pier, in the heart of the bay. It could shoot up to 90 m high, with four lateral branches resembling a tree, and was illuminated for the first time on August 1st, 1891, to mark the 600th anniversary of the Swiss Confederation.

In 1951, the present Jet d’Eau was installed and designed to pump lake water instead of city drinking water, and the fountain since sprays at its current maximum hight of… 140 m! A record 7 tons of water and microscopic air bubbles are suspended within the plume at any given moment: A beautiful but technically complicated achievement. To reach such a height, 500 litres of water is shot every second out of a 16 cm-wide tube at almost 200 km/h, creating a plume that lasts for 16 seconds.

Dramatically dotting the Geneva skyline both day and night, the white halo of the Jet d’Eau only pauses its stream in cases of violent winds or freezing temperatures, when it might otherwise become a snow gun. Before 2003, the fountain was shut off for four months every year. Today, only five guardians — all volunteer retirees from the Services Industriels de Genève (Geneva industrial services) — watch over the fountain, ensuring its proper working order and operating hours.