Travel: 5 things you didn’t know about Geneva’s Water Jet

It is one of Switzerland’s most famous symbols. Geneva’s Water Jet is 125 years old, and continues to spurt 140 m into the sky above Lake Geneva. In addition to its rich history, the attraction also has a few surprising secrets to tell... Here are five things worth knowing before you visit the famous landmark…

The Water Jet began as a practical solution

While the Water Jet is now a tourist attraction in its own right, it wasn’t originally designed to be a decorative feature of the city. In 1886, a period of unprecedented growth for Geneva’s population, the city built a waterworks on the Rhône at Coulouvrenière to distribute water throughout Geneva, particularly to the city’s artisans. But because of the irregular activity of the machines, the pipelines suffered unexpected pressure overloads. As a solution, the engineers came up with the idea of letting the pressurised water escape into the sky!

The very first Water Jet shot 30 m into the sky and enthralled passers-by, turning it into something of a tourist attraction by 1891. Later, a new jet was built, this time for purely aesthetic purposes, on the banks of the Lake. Connected to the drinking water system, it reached 90 metres. It wasn’t until 1951 that the jet began to draw water from the Lake itself, reaching its present height of 140 metres.

Changing colours

Geneva’s Water Jet owes its constant white colour to a nozzle that injects millions of air bubbles into the water forced into the bay. But in recent years, a special lighting system has meant that a range of colours can be used to celebrate major events or pay tributes. After the 2016 terrorist attacks in Paris, for example, the Jet sported the blue, white and red shades of the French flag.

The amount of water propelled is huge

This would make a great maths question at school: given that the average height of the Geneva Water Jet is 140 m, and that the water surges upwards at a speed of 200 km per hour flowing at 500 litres per second, how much water is there at any one time in the air above the Lake? Answer: no fewer than 7 tonnes! And between gushing out of the pipes and returning to the Lake, each droplet of water spends 16 seconds in the sky.

The Geneva Water Jet is supervised by five pensioners

Because the Water Jet can’t operate in all weathers, five people take it in turns to keep an eye on the forecasts. These volunteers – all retired workers from SIG (the company that operates the jet) – can decide to turn off the valves when they see fit. Whenever the wind gets a bit too strong or temperatures risk falling below freezing point, the Water Jet takes a short rest.

It’s not the world’s highest water jet

It may be the oldest and the most famous, but Geneva’s Water Jet is not the only one of its kind in the world. Nor is it the highest – that honour goes to the Jeddah Water Jet in Saudi Arabia, which towers to 312 metres!

In 2016, the Geneva Water Jet was turned off for just one month, for maintenance. The rest of the year, it was busy from morning till nightfall, complete with a light show in the summer. And now, with all those facts under your belt, it’s time to go and discover the landmark for yourself!

Plan your trip