France’s often-overlooked city holds many worthwhile cultural and historical treasures
Lyon’s fascinating history began nearly 2,000 years ago, when the city was founded by one of Julius Caesar’s lieutenants, and became the capital of Gaul under the Roman Empire. Today, visitors can explore Lyon’s Roman roots at Roman amphitheaters on the western side of the Saone, as well as by visiting the Gallo-Roman museum, filled with artifacts from the Roman era.
In medieval times, Lyon served as the hub of France’s textile industry, a legacy which lives on today in the medieval neighborhoods of Vieux Lyon and Croix Rousse. Visitors here can see medieval architecture and Lyon’s unique hidden passageways between buildings, called traboules, which were used to transport silk reams without exposing them to the elements.
To take in the city’s Napoleonic era, visitors can walk through Lyon’s Presqu’ile (this “almost island” is a narrow strip of land between the city’s two rivers), where 19th century architecture, the 17th century City Hall, and the 1831 Opera building are all located.
During World War II, Lyon was the center of the French Resistance, as well as the headquarters of the local Gestapo leader, Klaus Barbie. His headquarters are now the Center of the History of the Resistance and Deportation, a museum where visitors can learn about the French Resistance and the Jewish victims of WWII.
What to See in Lyon
– Place des Terreaux: The large fountain here was designed by Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, the artist who created the Statue of Liberty. The sculpture depicts France as a woman on a chariot pulled by four horses, representing the country’s main rivers.
– Parc de la Tete D’Or: The largest urban park in France is home to botanical gardens, a zoo, a lake and picnic areas.
– Fourviere: Take a funicular to the top of the hill of Fourviere for amazing views of the city and a visit to the gothic cathedral Notre Dame de Fourviere.
– Lumiere Institute and the Lumiere Museum: Lyon is the hometown of Auguste and Louis Lumiere, the inventors of film. Visitors can explore this heritage at the Lumiere Institute, which shows silent films, and at the museum, which focuses on the brothers’ lives as well as the early history of film.
– Festival of Lights: The annual festival takes place around December 8, and includes a series of dazzling light shows and displays in public squares and streets around the city.