The historic site of Lyon
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The banks of the Rhône
The Pont Wilson crosses the Rhône, flanked by the Hôtel-Dieu. © Hemis.fr
Notre-Dame de Fourvière and the Palais Saint-Jean
During the Festival of Light, young artists light up the town. © Only France
The Saône running through the Croix-Rousse district. © Only France
The basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière overlooks Lyon from the top of the hill. The church of Saint Georges and its footbridge crossing the Saône. © Hemis.fr
The Fourvière hill
The basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière overlooking Lyon and the Cathedral of Saint-Jean. © Hemis.fr
The "traboules" of Lyon
Lyon has around 500 "traboules", which are found in the Vieux-Lyon, Presqu'île and Croix-Rousse districts. These passageways, across the courtyards of buildings, are used to go from one street to another. © Hemis.fr
The Célestins theatre
The Célestins theatre illuminated during the Festival of Light. © Hemis.fr
The place des Jacobins
The place des Jacobins and its fountain in the Bellecour district. © Hemis.fr
Lyon, the ancient town at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône, capital of the Rhône-Alpes region and popular centre, has played a major role in Europe's political, cultural and economic development since Roman times. The city's extremely rich heart contains many historic buildings from all ages and has been listed as a Unesco world heritage since 1998.
According to the Unesco site "Lyon bears exceptional testimony to the continuity of urban settlement over more than two millennia on a site of great commercial and strategic significance, where cultural traditions from many parts of Europe have come together to create a coherent and vigorous continuing community."
Unlike most European cities, the Lyon's different districts did not develop by rebuilding on the same places but spread to the east over the centuries, thus creating "a remarkable physical continuity of the centres from each period".
Lyon in Roman times
In Roman times, the capital of the three Gauls spread over the Fourvière and Croix- Rousse hills.
Today, the Roman town is represented by the building that have been excavated: the large theatre, that could hold 10,000 spectators, the smaller odeon alongside it and the amphitheatre, with an altar dedicated to Rome and Augustus on the Croix-Rousse hill.
The medieval district
Lyon was annexed to the kingdom of France in 1312. It continued to be an important centre for trade in spices, silk and books. Merchants from all over Europe were attracted to its many fairs, especially the Florentines who developed their banking activities in the city. In the middle of the 15th century, it had 36 districts, each with its own special trade.
Around the middle of the 16th century, the city's territorial expansion was regulated, on the initiative of the religious orders, which were concerned about overpopulation and the risks of epidemics.
Lyon in the classical period
In the 17th century, new districts were created in the new classical style, particularly around the place Royale (place de Bellecour). Drainage work and the joining of the peninsula with the neighbouring island in the 18th century provided the space for a new urban expansion to the east. Brilliant town planners and architects, such as Robert de Cotte (1656-1735), Jacques-Germain Soufflot (1713-1780), Jean-Antoine Morand (1727-1794) and Antoine-Michel Perrache (1726-1779), worked on planning the city.
… and at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution
During the Revolution, the land and properties belonging to the religious orders were nationalised and broken up. New housing with workshops was built for craftspeople (les canuts), a proof of the unprecedented growth of the silk industry in the 19th century, which made Lyon the "capital of silk".
- The Fourvière hill: its Roman ruins (the large theatre, the odeon, the amphitheatre…). The view over Lyon from the esplanade is magnificent.
- One of Europe's most extensive Renaissance complexes of buildings: the Saint-Jean, Saint-Paul and Saint-Georges districts and their many public and private buildings worthy of interest, including the Saint Jean-Baptiste cathedral, the Maison du Chamarier, the loge du Change, the hôtel de Gadagne…
- The "traboules" (passageways between the courtyards) of the Croix-Rousse and the Maison des canuts where you will discover five centuries of the Lyon silk industry.
- La Fête des lumières : give in to charm of nocturnal strolls and discover Lyon's avant-garde urban light shows, with this internationally famous annual event.
To find out more