Rolle, l'île de la Harpe. Foto/Photo: TES

Rolle, De la Harpe and the Tsar

The town of Rolle (canton of Vaud) decided to give the name De la Harpe to the newest island in Lake Geneva after the death of Fréderic-César de la Harpe (1754-1838). Rolle is a port town on Lake Geneva. A dyke was built in 1835 to protect the boats in the harbour from the wind.

For centuries, most transports in this region took place across the lake. The boats carried stones from the Meillerie quarry (Haute-Savoie) on the French side of the lake and wine, cattle, cheese and wood from the Swiss part.

An island was constructed before the dyke in 1837 to give even more coverage to the ships. Large boulders from Meillerie and tonnes of rubble covered the piles and other remains of pile dwellings of the Celtic inhabitants from centuries before Christ.

Vaud was still under the rule of Bern in 1754, a so-called Untertanengebiet (occupied territory/territoire sujet). Fréderic-César de la Harpe left for St Petersburg in 1782 to the court of Empress Catherine II (1729-1796). The empress entrusted him with the education of her grandsons, the future Tsar Alexander I (1777-1825) and Constantine (1779-1831). In 1795, he returned to Switzerland.

Jacques-Augustin-Catherine Pajou (1766-1828), Portrait of Fréderic-César de la Harpe, 1803. Musée historique Lausanne. 

1798 he pleaded with the French Directory for Vaud’s independent status. In 1798, Napoleon appointed him the chief administrator of the short-lived Helvetic Republic (1798-1803). Napoleon founded this republic after occupying the Confederation of thirteen cantons in 1798.

However, the thirteen cantons resisted the new centralised republic, a French model. Napoleon replaced this republic with a new Confederation of nineteen cantons in 1803, including the new canton of Vaud.

In 1815, after Napoleon’s defeat, Vaud remained a sovereign canton in the new Confederation, partly due to the intervention of Tsar Alexander I and La Harpe, as did the new cantons of Aargau, Thurgau and Ticino, former Untertanengebiete as well.

De la Harpe enjoyed great prestige and respect in Europe. In 1844 several monarchs visited the island to see the obelisk in memory of this statesman.

Geneva has Pictet de Rochemont (1755-1824), Vaud has Fréderic-César de la Harpe.

(Source and further information:

Geneva, Pictet de Rochemont