Yesterday we visited Lyon. We had never been to the city before and thank goodness our friend Marie Antoinette very kindly offered to be our guide for the day. Lyon is the second largest city in France after Paris and was a bit of a culture shock to us having been used to a more rural life for the past year or so.
The two major rivers of the Saône and the Rhone run through Lyon and converge, forming a peninsula or the “Presqu’ile” with its ancient 12th century houses and church. Lyon is dominated by two large hills, the Croix-Rousse and the Fourvière.
We started at the top of the Croix-Rousse to the north. This is the site of the former silk industry. There are high apartments built by the silk merchants interlaced with narrow passageways called traboules which pass between the buildings and link the street on either side. There are many flights of steps that lead past the remains of the roman ampitheatre down to the old town.
The original medieval city was built on the Saône at the foot of the other hill to the west, the Fourviére. At the summit is built the most beautifully decorated church I have ever seen, the Notre-Dame de Fourvière basilica. Here we could see similarities with Paris as it looked very much like the Sacre Coeur. Funnily enough almost next to it was something that looked remarkably like the Eiffel Tower. Apparently it is a TV tower and it was built to be higher than the Church.
Coming down from the Church is a funicular railway which takes you down to the centre of Vieux Lyon with its 17th century town hall and the largest square in Europe.
I almost forgot to tell you the purpose of our visit to Lyon. It was to see the Festival of Lights which is a celebration of thanks to the Virgin Mary who saved Lyon from the plague in the Middle Ages when it was devastating the population in the surrounding countryside. The Lyonnais lit candles at the windows and prayed. So to this day the time around December 8th is celebrated with lights. We saw several impressive “son et lumière” shows. The lights were projected on to the medieval monuments such as the Cathèdrale St-Jean. The most impressive show was in the Place Bellecour when the lights were projected against the Hôtel de Ville and the Museum. There were terrific snowstorms, then icicles. Stones fell off the top of the buildings and fell to the floor until there were just ruins. Then Spring came and covered everything with flowers and ivy.
Lyon is also noted for the “trompe d’oeil” which is a very old tradition here. One of the walls shows the Lumière brothers who invented motion photography in the town in 1895. Another shows how Lyon was a centre for printing books in the 1400s.
I would recommend a day out in Lyon for anyone staying in this area. There are so many beautiful and historical sites to see. From here it is an easy run down the autoroute. Once there you can get around on the metro. But remember to put on your stoutest walking shoes!