Maison Tavel is a historic house located a few steps away from St. Pierre Cathedral in Geneva, Switzerland. Originally built in the 12th century, it is the city’s oldest private residence.1 Currently, it houses engravings, paintings, maps, models, furniture, and other items from Geneva’s public collections. Maison Tavel is free to visit.
Overview: Maison Tavel
Maison Tavel, situated in the heart of Geneva’s Old Town, is a captivating historical residence that holds a significant place in the city’s heritage. Its prime location in the city center makes it easily accessible on foot, especially for those exploring Geneva as part of their city tour. This well-preserved architectural gem offers visitors a remarkable journey back in time to Geneva’s past.
This museum provides a unique opportunity to explore Geneva’s rich history during the medieval and early modern periods.
One of the main highlights of Maison Tavel, in my opinion, is the relief model of Geneva showcased on its topmost floor. This intricately crafted model provides a fascinating and detailed depiction of the city, allowing visitors to gain a deeper understanding of Geneva’s past urban landscape.
In Maison Tavel, visitors can see curated examples of significant objects that depict life in Geneva from the medieval ages until the late 18th century. And even though the exhibits are not as interactive as other modern museums, you will still gain a deeper understanding of Geneva’s social, cultural, and architectural history.
History of Maison Tavel
Maison Tavel, a historical house in Geneva, was originally constructed in the 12th century. It was owned by the Tavel family, one of Geneva’s most prominent families during the Middle Ages, in the 13th century.1
The Maison Tavel house was rebuilt in 1334 following a fire. In the past few centuries, this historical house has undergone several renovations. Significant renovations and restorations have been undertaken, particularly under the Calandrini family’s control in the 17th and early 18th centuries and after the city of Geneva acquired it in 1963.2
Today, Maison Tavel is a popular tourist attraction and a significant cultural landmark in Geneva. It offers a unique opportunity to learn about the city’s rich history and cultural heritage. It is home to Musée d’histoire urbaine et de la vie quotidienne (Museum of Urban History and Daily Life).
If you are interested in architecture, history, or art, Maison Tavel will take you back to the medieval era and beyond. Among the items that you can see here are engravings, paintings, maps, models, and antique furniture that provide a glimpse into the daily life of Geneva’s inhabitants.
Maison Tavel: What to Expect
Maison Tavel offers visitors a glimpse into the lives of those who lived in Geneva, especially between the Middle Ages and early modern times. Visiting the permanent exhibits of the museum is free, but visiting the temporary exhibitions in the basement requires a fee.
Here are some of the highlights that I remember from our visit to Maison Tavel:
The Magnin Relief Model
On the third floor of the attic, you can see a large relief model of Geneva in 1850. There is no doubt that the Magnin Relief Model of Geneva is one of the highlights of Maison Tavel.
Architect Auguste Magnin (1842-1903) created the relief model showing Geneva at a reduced scale when the city was still fortified. In the mid-19th century, Liberal Swiss politician James Fazy removed the fortifications so that the expanding population and economic development could be accommodated.3
Maison Tavel contains exceptional objects like paintings, items from the family, or items from the city of Geneva. However, I found the Geneva Guillotine to be the most fascinating.
In Switzerland, beheadings were a form of capital punishment. Before Geneva abolished capital punishment in 1871, the Geneva Guillotine was used in Place de Neuve. Thirty-six prisoners were executed during the French annexation of Geneva.3
Early Modern Apartments
Early Modern Apartments are also shown in the impressive interiors of Maison Tavel. You can find the apartments on the second floor inside the building. The rooms are decorated with antique furniture, paintings, and other decorative items that you can view in twelve different rooms.
Among the objects that you can see are antique furniture, wallpapers, printed fabrics, dishes, kitchen utensils, and more. Among the rooms that you can expect to see are a salon, dining room, study, bedroom, and kitchen. If you head outside, you will also see a central courtyard.
Geneva’s rich history and culture are reflected in Maison Tavel. Any art, architecture, or history enthusiast should visit the building.
How to Get to Maison Tavel
Maison Tavel is a historical museum located in the heart of Geneva’s Old Town. It is one of the oldest private residences in the city, dating back to the 12th century. You can find it near St. Pierre Cathedral.
Rue du Puits-Saint-Pierre 6
|Bus||Genève, Hôtel-de-Ville (1-minute walk)|
Genève, Cathédrale (1-minute walk)
|Tram||Genève, Molard (4-minute walk)|
|Train||Genève (13-minute walk)|
|Car||Parking Saint-Antoine (6-minute walk)|
Bd Emile-Jaques-Dalcroze 10
Practical Information: Maison Tavel
Visitors can explore Maison Tavel from 11:00 AM to 6:00 AM from Tuesdays to Sundays. Visitors should be aware that the museum is also closed on certain public holidays. Visits to the permanent exhibits are free; those to the temporary ones are not.
Visitors with disabilities have access to the ground-level entrance and floors with stroller access via the elevator. They can also contact the museum staff. They are happy to provide assistance and alternative access where possible.
There is a free audio guide available that you can download to use within the museum.
You can download the free audio guide from Maison Tavel on the following site: https://izi.travel/en/a8ba-the-maison-tavel/en.
Final Thoughts: Maison Tavel
Maison Tavel, Geneva’s oldest residence, is a must-visit destination that offers a captivating experience for history enthusiasts and map lovers alike. Located in the city center, this museum is easily accessible and free of charge, making it a convenient and worthwhile stop during your visit to Geneva.
For lovers of maps and history, Maison Tavel is a treasure trove of knowledge. The museum provides an interesting glimpse into the history of Geneva and showcases a fascinating relief model of the city on its top floor.
However, it’s worth noting that Maison Tavel may not be as child-friendly as some other museums in Geneva. Unlike places like the Ariana Museum, which provides activities for children, Maison Tavel may not have as many interactive elements tailored specifically for young visitors. Nevertheless, it can still be an intriguing destination for older children and adults alike.
Exploring Maison Tavel shouldn’t take up too much of your time, allowing you to fully enjoy its exhibits without feeling rushed. Moreover, Maison Tavel presents an excellent option for a rainy day activity in Geneva. If the weather is inclement, you can escape into the fascinating world of medieval Geneva and immerse yourself in the rich history and cultural heritage that the museum has to offer.
- 1 Maison Tavel. Wikipedia. Accessed on 11 June 2023. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maison_Tavel
- 2 Maison Tavel Visitor Guide, Musée d’Art d’Histoire.
- 3 Ten Exceptional Objects. Maison Tavel Visitor Guide, Musée d’Art d’Histoire.
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Darla Uhl is the owner of TouringSwitzerland.com. Her home is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Having lived almost 20 years in Switzerland, she's traveled extensively all over the country.
Darla's favorite regions to visit in Switzerland include Engadin, Lake Geneva, Bernese Oberland, Ticino, and Valais. She loves spending time with her family, hiking, visiting museums, and reading books.