Ferney was first noted in 14th-century Burgundian registers as "Fernex." Four centuries later, however, Voltaire changed the "x" to a "y" due to the excessive number of towns in the region with names ending in "x," such as Maconnex, Saconnex, Gex, Versonnex, Ornex.
During Voltaire's reign over Ferney in the second part of the 18th century, the town saw rapid expansion. Today Ferney is a peaceful town with a Saturday market and a large international community, due to the proximity of CERN and the United Nations Office at Geneva. Ferney is growing very quickly. It is also home to the Lycée International. Voltaire still presides over Ferney with his statue in the center of town.
From 1759 to 1778 Ferney was home to French writer and philosopher Voltaire, sometimes referred to as "the patriarch of Ferney." His influence on the town was profound. He built the local church and founded cottage industries that produced some of the finest potters and watchmakers of modern France. After the French Revolution, the town was renamed "Ferney-Voltaire" in his honor.
In 1759, after having lived in Geneva less than two years, Voltaire purchased the estate of Ferney in France, near the Swiss border. A prime reason for his leaving Geneva was that theatre was forbidden in that Calvinist city, so he had decided to become the enlightened "patriarch" of the little village of Ferney, setting up potteries, a watchmaking industry and, of course, theaters, attracting rich people from Geneva to watch his plays.
During Voltaire's residence, the population of Ferney increased to more than 1,000. Voltaire lived there for the last 20 years of his life before returning to Paris, where he died in 1778.
Around 1940 a primary school, the École de Ferney-Voltaire, was established. About 1970 it was renamed École Florian, after the French poet and fabulist Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian, whose uncle and guardian, the Marquis de Florian, had married a niece of Voltaire.
The school is notable for having had a large number of pupils who were children of physicists at CERN, which is located in the vicinity.
Ferney's main attraction is Voltaire's house (château), built 1758–66, now owned and administered by the Centre des monuments nationaux (an arm of the French Ministry of Culture). It is open to visitors between May and September.
The chateau includes the main building, with a reconstruction of Voltaire's room (moved from its original location by later private owners), a garden with a fine view of the Alps, and a church dedicated, contrary to custom, directly to God. In the church's inscription, "Deo erexit VOLTAIRE" ("Erected to God by VOLTAIRE"), Voltaire's name is written in the largest characters.
A few dozen meters from the chateau is another impressive house, built in 1900 by Monsieur Lambert (the sculptor of the statue of Voltaire; his family owned the chateau before it was purchased by the French government). The house, now privately owned, had been used to store provisions and wine for the chateau, and to accommodate the household staff.
The village features 18th-century houses and artisans' workshops; a life-size statue of Voltaire; a smaller bust of him, surmounting a fountain; many restaurants, French and foreign; and proximity to the nearby cosmopolitan city of Geneva, Switzerland.
Every Saturday, a market is held in the main street of Ferney.
The old road at the centre of the village is a remnant of the time when Voltaire resided at the chateau in Ferney-Voltaire.
The pedestal of the Voltaire statue, erected in 1890, dedicates that memorial to the town's "benefactor," noting that he built over a hundred houses for the inhabitants, as well as a school and church, gave the town interest-free loans, and fed its inhabitants in time of need.Georges Vianès, mayor of Ferney-Voltaire from 1995 to 2001
Nedd Willard, writer, artist and journalist
Nicolas Vittin, master of the Penguins