If Paris, Lille and Rotterdam made a love child, Lyon would be the resulting baby. With its three distinct neighborhoods–City Center, Old Lyon and Confluence–there is plenty to explore!
Also, if you happen to have money to blow, Lyon is said to be the city with the highest number of Michelin stared restaurants per capita. Considered the “Pope of French Cuisine”, Paul Bocuse founded his restaurant at 40 Quai de la Plage. If you have 300 Euros to spend per person on a meal, I hear that this is the place to be! Opened and awarded three Michelin stars in 1965, Paul Bocuse’s restaurant is the longest restaurant to have maintained that prestigious standing.
A special thanks to Paul from
for all of his tips and information. Free Tour Lyon
Fourvière Hill Old Lyon City Center Croix-Rousse Confluence
comes from “Forum Vieux”. Lyon was initially founded by the Roman General under Caesar in 43 BC on the hill above what is today Lyon. The reason for setting the city up on a hill was for protect against enemy invasion and against river floods. During Roman time, Lyon was the second largest city of the Roman Empire with fifty thousand residents, after Rome with one million residents. (For reference, Paris had six thousand residents at the time.) Lyon was then the capital of the Gaul region.
When the Roman Empire fell apart, the Romans took their knowledge of aqueduct building with them. This forced the Lyonnais to go down to the valley in order to have access to water. Today, the greater city area has two million residents.
Many of the Roman city's public buildings were located here. Only traces of the public baths (in front) and the theater (on the right) have remained.
Named the "Small theater", this space could accommodate up to 3000 people. It had a wall behind the stage and it likely had a wood roof to improve the acoustics of the stage. Finally, one of the most impressive aspects of the theater is the marble slabs that form the stage; those marble slabs come from various countries from around the Mediterranean.
The large Roman theater has remained largely intact and is still being used as a concert hall to this day.
Not far from the remains of the ancient Roman forum is the Notre Dame Basilica of Fourvière. The Basilica was built in the late 19th century to thank Virgin Mary for her protection against the Prussians. A statue in gold of Mary was placed on top of the chapel tower facing the modern city, as a sign that Mary is still looking over the city.
Very different from France's typical Gothic churches, the Notre Dame Basilica of Fourvière is built in a mix of Romanesque and Byzantine styles.
Close up of the high relief sculptures and the Corinthian columns on the facade of the church
The inside of the church is clearly inspired by the Byzantine style given the emphasis on the golden mosaic and the darker paint colors.
Close up of the intense detail in the mosaic portraying the Virgin
In the crypt, there is a gifted golden mosaic depicting St. James' life.
Architectural detail on the side of the church at crypt level
View of Vieux Lyon from the top of the Fourvière Hill
Panorama view of the main square in the Old Lyon, with the Basilica on the hill
The Basilica can be viewed from almost any point in the city.
The Saint-Jean-Baptiste Cathedral was built in the 11th century in the Gothic style. Cathedral comes from the Latin word
cathedra meaning "seat", as a cathedral is the religious seat (or HQ) of the city.
As a sign of protest, Calvinists have destroyed many of the heads of the statues on the Cathedral.
Due to the World Wars, some of the Cathedral's stained-glass windows were blown out. As a result, the Cathedral had new ones put in, in a more modern design (see bottom).
The astrological clock in the Cathedral dates from the 14th century. While a surprisingly accurate clock, it does get unsynched every 60 or 70 years.
Currently, the clock is not working at all as a mad man escaped the hospital and tried to break the clock. While he did not do much damage, the restoration specialists are worried that dust from the current restoration might enter the clock and break it for good. Nonetheless, the clock is planned to be fixed soon and is expected to cost about ten thousand Euros.
One thing that is blatantly wrong is the depiction of the Sun revolving around the Earth. While Copernicus had already determined that the Earth revolves around the Sun instead of the other way around, this is a place where religion is king. Thus, because the Bible says that the Sun revolves around the Earth, that is how it is depicted.
During the most recent Cathedral restoration, a Muslim man was the project lead. To thank him for his impeccable work, a new gargoyle with the man's face was added to the church as well as the slogan "Allah Akbar" (or God is great).
A renown bakery named
A La Marquise is located not far from the Cathedral.
The pink praline brioche is typical for the Lyon region.
With its plan facades, bright colors and large galleries, these buildings are a perfect example of the Lyonais Renaissance (inspired by Tuscany). Once almost abandoned and almost destroyed to build a beltway, Vieux Lyon is today the second largest Renaissance area that was left intact (after Florence). These buildings today are host to the Miniature Museum.
On the other side is the entrance to the Miniature Museum, with a mini replica of the Jacquard machine, invented in 1905, that revolutionized the silk industry.
The Jacquard machine with its system of punch cards is viewed by some as the precursor to the computer.
A couple meters north on rue de Saint-Jean, there is an entrance that leads to the longest traboule in Lyon. These infamous little corridors were built perpendicular to the river and gave the densely populated city access to the larger roads.
If you take the longest traboule all the way to the end, you will end up on the street with the Pink Tower traboule at 22 rue du Boeuf. Heading into that traboule, we end up in a pink courtyard with a tower. Towers in an inner courtyard were the perfect way for wealthy citizens to display their wealth without making it too obvious for robbers on the outside. Usually, these towers consisted simply of a staircase that had a view over the city.
In this courtyard, there is also a silk tree with a silkworm. The harvesting of silk from silkworms began in the 1500s. The worms would be allowed to feed for 28 days, at which point they would form their cocoon. Then, these cocoons are dropped in hot water where the worm unravels from its cocoon and the silk is extracted. This process would only take place from May until November. Now, there are synthetic methods for making silk, which have displaced the production to Asia.
Next to the Pink Tower traboule, there is one of the last surviving silk stores in Lyon.
In front of it, we had the opportunity of seeing the silkworms at work.
Further up the rue du Boeuf, there is the Hôtel Bullioud at 8 rue Juiverie. The Hôtel Bullioud is famous for its interior courtyard designed by Philibert de l'Orme in 1536. (Philibert de l'Orme is one of the city's most respected individuals. He is even featured in a fountain in Lyon. Head over to the "City Center" tab for more information.)
When Antoine Bullioud bought two neighboring buildings, he wanted to build a gallery to connect them. As a result, he hired Philibert de l'Orme, then 26 years old, to design the gallery. There were several constraints; the two most important ones being that it could not take up too much space from the already small courtyard and that it could not obstruct the well that was there. Through impressive architectural design, Philibert de l'Orme was able to in a sense glue the gallery to the walls without having to put in supports below. Another aspect of this gallery that was very innovative for its time was mixing styles, with the Doric style on the bottom and the Ionic style on top. This gallery was considered to be Philibert de l'Orme's life masterpiece.
I also found the other side of the courtyard quite quaint, with its little interior terrace.
This statue not far from the Passerelle Saint-Vincent reminded me of the Medici Offices in Florence. This highlights the impact that the Renaissance and Italy has had on Lyon.
Coming down the rue Saint-Jean towards the Palace of Justice, the ice cream store Terre Adelice, said to have the best ice cream in Lyon, is on the way 😉
During the German Occupation of the 1940s, Lyon suffered great losses. As of 1942, the Lyon Gestapo was headed by Klaus Barbie. He was a ruthless man who employed abhorrent torture methods to get his victims to give information about the French Resistance. In 1943, the leader of the French Resistance was captured, tortured and killed by Klaus Barbie. Despite all the horrors committed to him (which I will not mention but which you can discover at
Centre D'histoire De La Resistance Et De La Deportation
), Jean Moulin did not give away any information. Klaus Barbie remained relentless, sending entire schools of children to concentration camps where they died in the gas chambers. Due to his barbaric nature, Klaus Barbie was named the "Butcher of Lyon".
When the Germans lost the war, Klaus Barbie was able to hide as a homeless person until the Cold War began. At that point, he was approached by the CIA to become a spy in Bolivia and to prevent the spread of communism. So, he lived and became profitable in the Bolivian guns and drug trade. It wasn't until 1983, when the Bolivian dictatorship was replaced with a democracy, that France was finally able to extradite Klaus Barbie and hold him accountable for his crimes against humanity. The trial at this Palace of Justice lasted for days as the citizens of Lyon wanted to look their tormentor in the eyes and to share their stories. Klaus Barbie was inhuman though, seeming to take pleasure in the stories. He died in prison in 1991 from cancer.
In front of the Palace of Justice is a rather recent statue by Elmgreen and Dragset entitled
The Weight of Oneself. Instead of portraying a glorified story of some mythical hero, the statue advocates for everyone to be their own hero. When looked at more closely, you will see that the man is actually holding another man who is identical to him. It represents each person saving themselves from drowning.
View of the Saône with the city center on the other side
Lyon’s modern city center is located in the district Presqu’île, meaning almost island and named such for obvious reasons. It was pretty much completely remodeled in the 19th century and explains its striking resemblance to Paris, remodeled at the same time.
Built in 1641, the Town Hall of Lyon was commissioned by Henri IV of the Bourbon family. Naturally, Henri IV is represented in the middle of the building riding a horse. Above him is the family crest with a crown on top, symbolizing the family's nobility. To the left of the crest is Hercules, with his three apples and lion skin, symbolizing the strength of the family. To the right is Athena, completely covered in armor, symbolizing the wisdom.
This Bartholdi fountain is located on the same square as Town Hall:
la Place des Terreaux.
This fountain was originally intended for Bordeaux, representing the Garonne river with its four subsidiaries (i.e. the four horses). Normally, there is also steam coming out of the horses' noses.
This beautiful garden was once a monastery for noble women who could not be married off. This Royal Abbey was started under the initiative of abbess Anne de Chaulnes in 1659 and completed in 1685. It maintained itself through the dowries that the nun-to-be's family paid to "God" for the "marriage".
This ex-monastery is now the city's Museum of Fine Arts. It contains many works by famous French artist Rodin.
Located around the Pont de la Feuillee at 6 Rue de la Platière, this fresco is entitled "The Library of the City". It features prominent French revolutionaries such as the Lumière brothers on the first floor, TinTin on the second and Lyon's hero Paul Bocuse of course on the ground floor in his chef's hat!
Fake windows are drawn onto the facade to open up the space
A very realistic fresco opening up the painter's workshop to all passerbyers
Having a couple different names over the years, the Jacobin Square got the name that it has today due to the proximity of the Jacobin convent.
The fountain in the middle of the square was erected in 1885. It features four famous artists native to Lyon: Philibert de l'Orme, Guillaume Coustou, Gérard Audran and Hippolyte Flandrin.
Théâtre des Célestins was designed in 1877 by the same man who later designed the fountain on Jacobin Square: Gaspard André. It is one of the oldest theaters in France that are still used today.
Grand Hotel Dieu was built in 1184 by the Pontife brothers as a hospital. Due to its large rooms and windows, the building could easily be aired out. This helped in cleansing the rooms and ensuring that the sick get better. The hospital was rather successful as it led to only 1 death from around 80 patients while the hospital in Paris led to 1 death in about every 4 patients.
Recently, the entire complex was remodeled to serve as luxury restaurants, shops and offices. Remodeling the old cafeteria into a new luxury restaurant alone took four million Euros to complete.
The Grand Hotel Dieu chapel
The Grand Hotel Dieu crest with the city's motif on the left in red and religion represented on the right with Mary and dying Jesus.
Notable doctors have memorials on the walls of the complex
I ordered the Lyonnais menu from Chabert et Fils for a little under 20 Euros, starting with
Œuf cocote au chorizo.
I followed it by the sausage and vegetables
saucisson chaud pistaché (chicago), cervelle de canut et pommes vapeur.
And I finished off with
ILES FLOTTANTES aux pralines, crème anglaise, which was delicious but also a whole bunch of sugar.
Opened to the public in 1857, the Golden Head Park is the Central Park of Lyon (and a great place to relax after a big meal). Its 117 hectares contain various different sections, including a botanical garden, a zoo and even a velodrome.
View from the southeast entrance
There are many insanely realistic murals around the city. This mural of Charpennes theater is located at 52 Rue Gabriel Péri, 69100 Villeurbanne.
If you get hungry, there are a bunch of great bouchons in the street Rue des Marronniers. Bouchons are typical Lyonnais restaurants that have their beginnings during the economic crash of 1927. These were at the time small hole in the wall (i.e. bouchons) restaurants that were created by poor women, hoping to make some extra money to make a living. Be forewarned though: these restaurants targeted the working class and thus used the parts of the animal that were typically thrown away. The tradition has remained, so if you have a weak stomach, it is maybe not the place for you. If you are looking to try something new and to get a taste of what life was for the Lyon people back in the day, do try one of these restaurants!
Named the “hill that works”, Croix-Rousse is the industrial part of Lyon. It is where all of the textile factories were during the peak of the silk industry. In comparison, the Fourvière Hill is called the “hill that prays”.
Tall ground floors with massive doors are typical for the neighborhood of Croix-Rousse. They are reminiscent of the silk factories that used to populate the hills and that require very large silk making machines.
This particular ex-silk factory has a plaque created by the Chamber of Commerce thanking Louis Pasteur for determining the cause of a silkworm epidemic of the 1860s and thus for saving the city's economy.
Many of the factories have today been turned into cafes. Because the cafes do not need such a tall ground floor, it has often been cut in two, with the top part being used as storage.
Another aspect that is typical of Lyon and particularly of the Croix-Rousse neighborhood is the fact that the bakery is named after Joseph Marie Jacquard, the man who invented the silk machine.
After the move of the silk industry from Lyon to Asia, the city looked for ways to jumpstart the economy of the region. This
Village des créateurs (i.e. designer's village) was created for this reason with the intent of restarting the fashion community after its disappearance after WWII.
Historically a laborer's community and now a hipster community, the neighborhood is rather left leaning. This results in a community that displays more freedom of expression. One of the ways it does this is through street art.
Due to the young, hipster demographic, many of the business shutters are entirely painted
To alleviate some of the traffic in the infamous Old City traboules, the Office of Tourism has indicated some traboules paths in the Croix-Rousse neighborhood.
Towards the City Center is located the Amphitheater of the Three Gauls, dating back to 19 AD. It could accommodate 20,000 viewers vs the 50,000 at the Colosseum.
The Fourvière Hill is visible in the background of this image. The Lyonnais like to joke that they have the tallest Eiffel Tour since their satellite tower in the distance technically reaches a higher altitude than that of the Eiffel Tower.
Many buildings have open staircases such as this one.
Once a market, the Halles Mercière is now a collection of modern casual dining restaurants.
The Confluence neighborhood is the newest neighborhood in Lyon. It is named
because that is the area where the two rivers–Saône and Rhône–converge.
A mix between a natural history and science museum, the confluence museum is a confused collection of random items. Nonetheless, it is a great place to spark the curiosity of its visitors, big and small, through its collection of multinational items.
Silk production, being an important part of Lyon's history, is represented here with this silk machine and the innovative light up wedding dress.
Various games make the museum very interactive, tricking you into being engaged even if you don't want to. This game is simply a random collection of items represented in bubbles that the visitor must regroup to make discoveries. This one for example explains the origin of the sewing machine, which was initially developed to make identical uniforms for the army. The workers however revolted claiming that the machine was stealing their jobs. It wasn't for another couple of years that the sewing machine was actually adopted. These videos are perfect for adults and children thanks to the Black Mirror type satire.
View from the top of the Confluence Museum of the Confluence neighborhood (with the City Center deep in the background)
Graffiti on the bridge in front of the Confluence Museum
These modern, eclectic buildings remind me a lot of Rotterdam.
Many of the buildings have adopted the modern glass look.
Buildings around the modern Confluence shopping center