Everything you need to know about the Palais des Nations in Geneva

It’s no accident that the Palais des Nations is one of Geneva’s most visited sites.

On the one hand, it’s a daily gathering place for diplomats, politicians and business executives from all over the world. On the other, its rich history and symbolism have also made it a key tourist attraction. 

The UN’s headquarters in Europe

Since 1966, the headquarters of the United Nations has been here at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. The United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG) is the UN’s second biggest complex after its New York premises, and is the scene of around 8,000 meetings and 600 major conferences every year.

The multi-building complex houses the offices of several UN organisations, including the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Liaison Office and UNESCO.

A symbol of Geneva’s diplomatic power

Geneva’s Palais des Nations was not selected to be the European seat of the UN by chance. The complex, built between 1929 and 1937, was home to the League of Nations until its dissolution in 1946. First created in 1920, the League of Nations had initially started life in another Geneva building, the Palais Wilson.

Geneva owes this status to its rich diplomatic history, which began back in 1864 with the signature of the first Geneva Convention. Having confirmed its status over the years, Geneva is now considered to be one of the world’s two greatest centres of international cooperation, along with New York. The city is now home to over 250 NGOs and 22 international organisations.

The most astonishing ceiling in Europe

Because diplomacy and art often go hand in hand, the Palais des Nations is also home to an astonishing work of art: the ceiling of the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilisations Chamber. In 2008, Spain renovated the chamber – formerly known as ‘Conference Room XX’ – as a gift to the United Nations. Spanish artist Miquel Barceló was commissioned to work on the cupola and adorned the ceiling with a series of sculpted stalactites. He then pulverised them with several coats of differently coloured paint using pigments sourced from all over the globe.

Today, this 754-seat chamber is the Head Office of the UN’s Human Rights Council, and the artwork can be viewed on guided tours.

Set in one of Geneva’s finest parks

Originally a gift from the city of Geneva to the League of Nations, the Palais des Nations enjoys an extraordinary location in the middle of Ariana park. Considered as one of the most beautiful parks in the city, its public area is also home to several peacocks, donated to the UNOG by India and Japan.

Beyond its diplomatic role, the Palais des Nations organises guided tours for the public. It is also home to the League of Nations museum, which charts the history both of the League and the UN. A true highlight of any trip to Geneva!

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