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Occupied by the Romans and later a 5th-century bishopric, rich old Geneva has long been the envy of all. Its medieval fairs drew interest far and wide, and in the 16th century John Calvin and his zealous Reformation efforts turned the city into 'Protestant Rome'. Savoy duke Charles Emmanuel took a swipe at it in 1602 but was repulsed by the Genevans, who still celebrate their victory.

French troops made Geneva capital of the French LĂ©man department in 1798, but in June 1814 they were chucked out and Geneva joined the Swiss Confederation. Watch-making, banking and commerce prospered. A local businessman founded the Red Cross in 1864 and as other international organisations adopted the strategically located city and birthplace of humanitarian law as their HQ, Geneva's future as an international melting pot was secured. After WWI the League of Nations strived for world peace from Geneva and after WWII the UN arrived. By the end of the 20th century, Geneva ranked among the world's 10 most-expensive cities, relying heavily on international workers and world markets (world demand generates 50% of cantonal GDP) for its wealth.