The third largest city in France is over 2,000 years old. All the iconic sights of Lyon are associated with some kind of historical event.
Who and why comes to Lyon
The majestic architecture of the city has preserved a few traces of the ancient Roman heritage. A walk through the winding streets, squares and quarters promises vivid impressions for aesthetes.
Gothic churches with dignity survived natural disasters and wars. They are worth a visit for lovers of church art. Frescoes, statues, bas-reliefs and other decorative elements deserve the closest study.
The museums of Lyon store a variety of exhibits — from medieval paintings to vintage cars. Visiting exhibitions will appeal to inquisitive intellectuals.
The majestic three-story town hall was built in the 17th century according to the project of S. Maupin. The architect endowed the building with canonical baroque features, decorating it with stucco, gold decorative elements and bas-reliefs. In the center of the building rises a clock tower with a stone silhouette of a rider. The interiors, decorated with works of art, are just as pompous.
The façade of the building overlooks Terro Square, which has been noticeably transformed since the construction of the Town Hall. It became the cultural and administrative center of Lyon.
Traboules are through passages made right in buildings. Made in the form of arches, covered galleries and corridors, they connect the streets and lanes of the old part of the city.
In the Middle Ages, when the building was mostly chaotic, the locals significantly shortened the route, using such passages. Today, traboules are a popular attraction in Lyon.
The building has an unusual exterior, which combines classic and modern. The opera house was built in 1831 and renovated in 1993. The main result of the renovations is a glass cylindrical dome, under which there is a dance class. The auditorium of the opera can accommodate more than 1000 people.
Hotel Dieu (“House of God”) was built in the 17th century. It served as a haven for pilgrims and clergy. The hotel was later expanded and turned into a hospital. The main building was erected in 1748 according to the design of Jacques-Germain Soufflot. The classical structure with a number of high windows is crowned by a giant dome with a cross.
Built in the 19th century on the Place de la Cordeliers, the Palais des Exchanges is not only a landmark of Lyon, but also a symbol of the economic prosperity of the city. The architect of the palace was René Dardel. The opening ceremony was attended by Emperor Napoleon III and his wife Eugene.
The exterior of the building combines classical restraint and baroque luxury. The façade is decorated with columns, carvings, and statues representing agriculture, industry, and trade. There is also a bas-relief by the master Velmar. He depicted the rivers Sona and Rhone as a man and a woman.
Amphitheater of the Three Gallias
The ruins of a former Roman amphitheater, built around 19 AD, are located on the Croix-Rousse hill. It got its name in honor of the three provinces (gauls): Aquitaine, Belgica and Lugdun Gaul, on the site of which modern France is located.
Once upon a time, gladiatorial battles were held in the amphitheater, soldiers swore allegiance to the emperor, and the first Christians were executed here. Today, it hosts the Fourvière Nights film festival.
Near the amphitheater there are other ancient sights: the theater, the remains of the aqueduct and the ruins of the temple of Cybele.
Odeon on the hill of Fourviere
Once upon a time, the ancient Roman city of Lugdunum was located on the Fourviere hill, the monumental ruins of which have survived to this day. Of greatest interest is the Odeon, built around the 2nd century AD.
The complex consists of an amphitheater with a capacity of about 3,000 spectators, and a stage in the middle with a diameter of 73 m. Performances, public discussions were held here, important laws were announced.
This tourist attraction appeared in the 17th century — it was built by the architect Sebastian Serlio. At the top of a semicircular tower with arched windows there was a sentinel post, which was supposed to give an alarm in case of fire or other disaster.
Later, the structure was crowned with battlements. Behind the forged door is a traboule — a corridor leads to the opposite bank of the Seine.
The legend explains the pink color of the tower in its own way. It says that a girl who was forbidden to marry a loved one jumped from the highest window and spattered the walls with blood.
Fourviere was built in 1894 and is an exact copy of the third tier of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The height of the structure is about 86 m, weight — 210 tons. The structure stands opposite the Notre-Dame-de-Fourviere Cathedral. By the way, both towers participated in the World Exhibition: the Eiffel tower in 1889, and Fourviere in 1914.
The author of the second was the architect Ge. At the base of the metal structure, he placed a restaurant, and at the top — an observation deck, where visitors were delivered by an elevator. Since 1953, the Fourviere Tower has been closed to the public and has been used as a TV tower.
Fresco Le Mur Des Canuts
A huge fresco adorns one of the houses on the Croix-Rousse hill. It is made in the technique of Trompe l’oeil, in other words, “an optical illusion”. At first glance, it is impossible to distinguish where the real characters and details of the facade are, and where the drawing is. The mural was created in 1986, and then significantly supplemented to reflect the dynamic changes in the area in appearance and atmosphere.
Fresco des Lyonnais
The unique fresco depicts a 7‑storey building, on the balconies and in the windows of which you can see famous characters who have left their mark on the culture and history of the country. Among them are the chef Paul Bocuse, the inventor of the loom Joseph-Marie Jacquard, the Lumiere brothers, the Little Prince Exupery, the puppet Guignol and many others.
The main cathedral of Lyon was built in the XII century in honor of John the Baptist. Stones from the buildings of the ancient Romans were used as building material. Due to the protracted construction, one part of the building was made in the Gothic style, the other in the Romanesque.
Inside, it is worth seeing the stained-glass windows of the 13th century, the statue of John the Baptist and the functioning organ of the 19th century. The astronomical clock of the 14th century, the oldest in France, is also kept in the cathedral. They show not only the date and time, but also the phases of the Moon, the Sun, as well as the rising of some stars in the sky of Lyon.
Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere
The snow-white temple, decorated with a gilded figure of the Virgin Mary, was built in the 19th century on the Fourviere hill. This is a landmark place where ancient Roman buildings used to be located, the most famous of which is the amphitheater.
The basilica stands on the site of a church that was destroyed during the bloody confrontation between the Catholics and the Huguenots. On its ruins in 1870, the inhabitants of Lyon prayed to the Mother of God for protection from the Prussian troops. They promised to build a new temple in honor of the Virgin Mary if she heard their prayers. The enemy army did not reach the city. The Lyons kept their word.
The temple consists of two levels. The ground one honors the Mother of God, and the underground one is a crypt dedicated to St. Joseph. The interior decoration of the basilica impresses with splendor.
Saint Nisier Church
The church dedicated to Saint Niketios was erected in the 5th century on the ruins of an ancient Roman temple. The remains of the first Christian martyrs who were executed not far from this place are buried here.
The building has been modernized several times. The first global reconstruction took place in the 11th century, and the last five centuries later — during the last, the temple acquired a Gothic look.
A distinctive feature of the church is two spiers of different heights, built in different centuries. The facade of Saint Nisier is decorated with arches, turrets, sculptures and carvings that can be looked at for hours.
Museums of Lyon
The museum is located on the Fourviere hill. The building is so organically inscribed in the surrounding landscape that it is almost imperceptible. The architect Bernard Zephryus did not want the remake to stand out against the background of ancient buildings.
Inside are valuable items found during excavations of the ancient city of Lugdunum. Some belong to the Roman era, others to the earlier Celtic.
The exhibition presents household items, jewelry, altars, sculptures, mosaic panels. Here you can also see the layout of Lugdunum, which gives an idea of what the ancient settlement looked like.
House of weavers
In the XV-XVI centuries, Lyon was the center of the silk trade. Later, the first weaving factories appeared here, where, following silk, other fabrics began to be made, which became known far beyond the borders of France.
The weaver’s house, located in the Croix-Rousse area, invites you to get acquainted with this type of activity. There are a variety of machines here — some of them are even launched to demonstrate the weaving process to the tourists.
In addition to the applied exhibition, the museum also has a historical exposition. She talks about the evolution of fabric manufacturing, as well as important events in the industry. For example, about the uprising of the Lyon weavers, when the workers took to the streets to protest against the low wages of their labor.
Museum of Fine Arts
The museum is located in a former Benedictine monastery in Piazza Terro. Its richest collection occupies 70 rooms and consists of works of art from different eras and countries.
Here you can admire paintings by European masters, including Tintoretto, Rubens, El Greco, Gauguin, Degas, Cezanne and other masters. The collection of sculptures is represented by masterpieces by Michelangelo, Rodin, Modigliani.
The hall of antiquities exhibits ancient Egyptian exhibits, as well as artifacts from Assyria and Persia. It will take several days to see all the exhibits.
Modern Art Museum
It is one of the largest and fastest growing contemporary art museums in Europe. Its area is 2.7 thousand square meters. m, exhibition halls occupy 3 floors, and they contain more than 30 thousand works of art.
Most of all installations are exhibited here. The vast territory allows artists to create art objects right in the museum. Exhibitions are updated every 2–3 months. A biennale is held here every two years.
Museum of Fabrics and Applied Arts
The 18th-century mansion on the rue Charite actually houses two museums — textiles and applied arts. They are interconnected, visiting both is carried out on a common ticket.
The Museum of Fabrics was the first to open in 1864. At the moment, it houses more than 2 million textile samples, and some of the samples are thousands of years old. This is not only silk, brocade and velvet from Lyon, but also fabrics from all over the world.
The museum of applied arts recreates the interiors of the 18th century. The stylized rooms feature tapestries, carpets, antique furniture, decorative items, ceramics and other attributes that convey the atmosphere of a bygone era.
Henri Malartre Museum
Located 11 km from Lyon, in the picturesque 15th century castle of Rochetal-sur-Saone, the automotive museum grew out of the private collection of Henri Malartre.
More than 100 cars are stored here, including Hitler’s Mercedes and Pope Jean-Paul II’s Renault, about 60 motorcycles, about 50 bicycles and mopeds, as well as public transport and a collection of themed advertising posters.
Places for walking
Once an infamous industrial district, Confluence has become a trendy place with interesting architecture, where young people and local bohemians love to visit. The authorities have invested more than 150 million euros in the abandoned area of 150 hectares.
Museums, boutiques, restaurants, galleries and luxury housing have grown in place of warehouses, destroyed factories and workshops. The unusual design of the buildings will be an excellent backdrop for vivid photographs.
The central square of the city is considered one of the main tourist attractions. It is framed by the facades of historic houses, and the main decoration is a fountain of the 19th century, designed by F. Bertholdi.
The lead composition weighs 21 tons and depicts a chariot drawn by four horses. On the east side stands the town hall, erected in 1665. Here is another water work of art by conceptual artist Daniel Buren — 69 small fountains built right into the paving stones.
One of the largest squares in Europe was founded in the 17th century. Gradually, the perimeter was built up with historical buildings and palaces. The whole territory is strewn with colored gravel, in the center there is a monument to Louis XIV by F. Lemo.
The Sun King is depicted as a Roman emperor. In the 19th century, pompous parades of Napoleonic troops took place on this square.
This area in the 19th century was chosen by weavers, who began to massively move here from Old Lyon. The professional community turned into a powerful commune that lived in its own world. It is believed that the first traboules appeared in Croix-Rousse, when workers laid short routes through houses in order to move faster between workshops and workshops.
Other attractions in the area include a monument to the inventor of the loom, Joseph-Marie Jaccard, a fresco on the wall, and a huge boulder found in 1890 during the construction of the funicular.
Quarter “Old Lyon”
The historic quarter is located at the foot of the Fourviere hill and stretches along the Saone river. This place was inhabited in ancient times by the Gauls.
The main monuments and historical sights are concentrated in Old Lyon. There are also through passages of traboules and bushons — restaurants of local colorful cuisine. The area consists of three quarters: Saint-Paul, Saint-Georges and Saint-Jean.