Lyon is a fascinating fusion of classical and contemporary; the city’s vastly different districts blend beautifully together resulting in living history amidst a bustling modern city. Lyon is France’s third largest city, trailing Paris and Marseilles. Lyon is located in the Rhone-Alps region of France. We had spectacular access to the city, free parking which is rare in any city, at the Quay Marechal-Joffre. Here we were welcomed by a young Frenchman who caught a dock line for us and helped to secure Detour to the quay. He and some buddies were drinking beers, smoking cigarettes, talking, and casting a fishing line into the Saone River on a sunny afternoon. The French are marvelous loungers! His English was spectacular, and appreciated. Seeing our American flag he asked from where we had come and enthusiastically suggested some sights to see in Lyon. A great first impression to the city, especially after arriving from the sleepy vineyards of Les Roches de Condrieu. We had a lot of touring ahead of us, with 10% of the city listed as UNESCO World Heritage sights. Lyon was founded by Romans during 1st Century BC; and so we began with the old, crossing the river to explore Lyon’s old town, Du Vieux District, along the right bank of the Saone. Here we toured the Roman Theatres of Fourviere, freely roaming through the remains of these massive theaters listed as Historical Monuments in 1905. Among the tourists were French elementary students on class trips and college-age art students drafting the scene from various views. The Great Theater is the oldest in France, built by Augustus in 15 BC, it was dedicated to tragedies and comedies and had capacity of 4,700 spectators. Just above the Great Theater, remains of the town shops that had lined the street.
The Odeon Theater was smaller, with capacity for 3,000 spectators, and performances were primarily political, philosophical orators, musicians, or poets. Atop the hill above the Roman theaters rises the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere, our next stop. Construction for the Basilica began in 1872; the Basilica was inaugurated in 1896 with interior decoration continuing until after World War II. The building is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who saved the city of Lyon from a cholera epidemic that swept Europe in 1643. Annually on December 8th, Lyon celebrates the Virgin Mary (the day of Immaculate Conception) through a Festival of Lights where candles are lit throughout the entire city. The Basilica is stunning! Its walls and ceiling are covered in mosaics that shimmered with golden highlights. Statues adorned pillars and archways on both the interior and exterior. The voluminous chapel beneath, with tiled floors and lightly colored walls, contained various representations of the Virgin Mary. From outside at the front of the Basilica, a panoramic view of Lyon between the majestic Rhone and Saone Rivers.
Down, down, down the hill from the Basilica, we promenaded through the Parc des Hauteurs encircled with the aroma of blooming rose gardens. We strolled the streets of Lyon’s old town. Here, beyond what appears to be a normal looking doorway, we discovered a traboule. Lyon, the capital of silk-making, once used traboules, or passageways, to safely transport silk through the city. Now the narrow passages lead into residential buildings, sometimes accessing a courtyard and sometimes traversing between two streets directly through the buildings. The Saint Jean the Baptist Cathedral in the center of old town; built during the 14th century, this cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Lyon. The Astronomical Clock on the exterior is still in working condition; it had been used to call canons to prayer and to date religious feasts. Inside, a dark contrast to the Basilica. Back across the Saone River, we were on a mission to locate the mural of famous Lyonnais people (a slightly more unusual city sight). From the riverside, this building looks like any other apartment complex. But take a walk ’round back to see a colorfully and very realistically painted mural depicting 25 historical Lyonnais figures and 6 contemporary Lyonnais figures. (And one, real, Lyonnais man sitting on a bench.) List of famous Lyonnais figures depicted can be found here.Along our trek back toward Detour we passed through the Presqu’ile District and paused at the Place des Terreaux, but not to admire the Hotel de Ville, Town Hall, which stands imposingly over the square… …rather to admire the Fontaine Bartholdi; this fountain is said to depict France as the female driver of the chariot commanding the four great rivers of France (Rhone, Loire, Seine and Garonne), represented by horses. What is interesting about this fountain, besides the fact that in-person you can observe a fine mist “smoking” out of the nostrils of each horse, is that it was sculpted by the very artist who made the Statue of Liberty, Frederic Bartholdi. We’d covered a lot of ground along our own walking tour of Lyon, but there is so much more to see and experience in this fabulous city! Our travel plans to continue northward require us to leave the city behind, but there is soooo much to explore in Lyon.