Lyon Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Lyon

The city of Lyon – capital of France’s Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region – has been around for 2,000 years, sitting at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers. Established in 43 BC as a settlement for Roman refugees of war, it was also the capital of the Gauls at the time of the Roman Empire; two Emperors – Claudius and Caracalla – were born here. Due to its foundation on the Fourvière hill, the city was originally referred to as Lugdunum which means "Desired Mountain" in Gaulish.

During the Renaissance, Lyon became a major economic hub and the banking centre of France, driven by silk trade, which strengthened its ties to Italy. Italian influence on Lyon's architecture is still visible today among historic buildings. In the late 1400s and 1500s the city was also a key centre of literary activity and book publishing.

An important industrial town by the 19th century, Lyon went down in history in 1831 and 1834 as the place of two major uprisings of the silk workers. During World War II, it was a centre for the occupying Nazi forces, including Klaus Barbie, the infamous "Butcher of Lyon". However, the city was also a stronghold of the French Resistance; the many covered passageways, known as traboules – a quintessential feature of Lyon’s architecture allowing to walk right through a building from one street to another, – enabled people to escape Gestapo raids.

Today's Lyon is recognized for its cuisine and gastronomy, much as for its historical and architectural landmarks, reflecting two millennia of history set in stone of the Roman Amphithéâtre des Trois Gaules, medieval and Renaissance buildings in Vieux (Old) Lyon, the Fourvière hill, the modern Confluence district on the Presqu'île peninsula and the slopes of the Croix-Rousse inscribed on the UNESCO world heritage list. The birthplace of cinematograph - invented by Auguste and Louis Lumière, Lyon is also known for its light festival, the Fête des Lumières, which starts on 8 December and lasts four days, earning the city the title of Capital of Lights.

If you wish to explore some of the most notable attractions of Lyon, take this self-guided introduction walk.
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Lyon Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Lyon Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: France » Lyon (See other walking tours in Lyon)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.2 Km or 2 Miles
Author: emily
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Place Bellecour (Bellecour Square)
  • Place des Jacobins (Jacobins' Square)
  • Ancien Palais de Justice (The Former Palace of Justice)
  • Lyon Cathedral
  • Rue Saint-Jean - Old Lyon Traboules
  • La Tour Rose (The Pink Tower)
  • Maison Thomassin (Thomassin House)
  • Fresque des Lyonnais (The Lyon Fresco)
  • Ancient Theatre of Fourvière (Amphitheatre Gallo-Romain)
  • Place des Terreaux (Terreaux Square)
  • Rue de la Republique (Republican Street)
1
Place Bellecour (Bellecour Square)

1) Place Bellecour (Bellecour Square)

Place Bellecour is the third largest square in France, the largest square in Europe that is entirely pedestrian, and the focal centre of Lyon.

In Gallo-Roman times it was an island made of earth and sand left by flood water, and was used for military and commercial purposes. In the 12th century, the Archbishop of Lyon had a vineyard here, for “medicinal purposes”. After being abandoned, the area became a swamp.

In 1562, Baron des Adrets used it to station his troops during his attack on the city. Eventually, the area dried up and became a pastureland. In 1604, King Henry III ordered the city to create a public square in this place, but for some reason the current archbishop was against the idea and the resulting legal wrangle between the monarchy and the clergy went on for another 100+ years.

Finally, in 1708 King Louis XIV won the day and the resulting square opened in 1715, called Louis-le-Grand. During the French Revolution, it was the place of a guillotine.

In the centre of the square, there is an equestrian statue of Louis XIV by Lemor installed in 1825 to replace an earlier statue destroyed in 1793. At the foot of the statue there are two allegorical figures representing the Saône and the Rhône rivers. At the west end of the square are the statues of Antoine de St Exupery and the Little Prince.

There are two pavilions on the square, one housing the Tourist Office and the other an art gallery. There is a small play area for children, a fountain and two bars. On several occasions, a huge Ferris wheel is set up here too.
2
Place des Jacobins (Jacobins' Square)

2) Place des Jacobins (Jacobins' Square)

Despite lying at the intersection of twelve streets and abuzz with heavy traffic, Place des Jacobins is a notable attraction.

Back in the late 13th century, the Jacobins established here a convent and a church; in time, the area which is now the square became a walled-off market. In 1556, the walls were knocked down and a triangular public square emerged.

Some of its buildings were pulled down in 1562 when Rue St Dominique was created. A small fountain was installed in the square and the locals used to meet here regularly to idle time away in gossip. The square was renamed Place du Comfort, but the fountain was too small to be of much use to the growing population, so eventually it had to be removed.

In 1609, a pyramidal obelisk was erected, topped by a cross with the name of God engraved in 24 languages around the base. This was destroyed during the French Revolution. The church was rebuilt in 1689 and the convent restored in 1714. In 1818 the church was destroyed again and the convent repurposed to accommodate the Préfecture until 1852.

The fountain that you see today was built in 1878 by Gaspard André. The four statues, representing Audran, Coustou, de l’Orme and Flandrin, were sculpted by Degeorges and installed in 1885. A plaque near the fountain, retracing the square’s history, was installed in 2004.
3
Ancien Palais de Justice (The Former Palace of Justice)

3) Ancien Palais de Justice (The Former Palace of Justice)

The Former Palace of Justice is perhaps the most impressive building in Lyon and, as such, rightfully deserves a visit.

It stands on the site previously occupied by the courts of justice since the 14th century; the present building was erected in 1842 by Victor Baltard. Rectangular in shape, with a central courtyard and 24 Corinthian columns, this is one of the best examples of Neo-classical architecture in France.

Its main entrance hall – known as Salle des Pas Perdus – where lawyers and witnesses used to wait to be summoned by judges, is beautifully decorated with tall marble columns, rich stucco work, vaulted ceilings and three cupolas. The red-carpeted Escalier d’honneur leads to the upper chambers and the visitors’ gallery, while a short flight of marble steps takes you to Cour d’Assises (The Assize Court).

The latter, complete with Cour d’Appel (the Court of Appeal), are the only two courts left in the building now. In the past, the palace hosted a number of famous trials, the most noted of which, perhaps, is that of Klaus Barbie in 1987, which saw the notorious Nazi torturer – nicknamed the “Butcher of Lyon” – sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity.

If you're an architecture buff or keen on legal history, you may be interested in checking out this splendid edifice, whilst in Lyon.
4
Lyon Cathedral

4) Lyon Cathedral (must see)

The Lyon Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon) is an archbishopric church and thus is the main church in the city.

It was built between 1165 and 1480 on the site of the ancient Sainte Croix and Etienne churches, whose vestiges can be seen in the nearby archaeological gardens.

Because of the time it took to build, the cathedral has two distinct architectural styles: the eastern end containing the apse and the choir is in Romanesque style, while the nave and the façade are in Gothic style. Above the main portal there are several medallions representing the signs of the Zodiac, the Creation and the life of Saint Jean.

While the church may seem austere, if you visit the Basilique de Fourvière, in the choir you will see lovely 13th century stained glass windows, and on the left and right of the main altar there are two crosses dating back to 1274. You can also admire there several paintings, including the “Adoration des Mages” by Houyez, “La Circoncision” by Vignon and “Le Christ et la cananéenne” by de Plattemontagne.

The most compelling item within the cathedral is the magnificent astronomical clock in the north transept. Built in the 14th century, it is a marvel of technology for the era and it still works today. When it chimes on the hours of 12, 2, 3 and 4, a cock crows and the angels make a triumphant sound – reminding us of St Peter denying Christ before dawn and His subsequent entrance into Heaven.
5
Rue Saint-Jean - Old Lyon Traboules

5) Rue Saint-Jean - Old Lyon Traboules (must see)

Rue Saint-Jean is the main street of the eponymous district of Lyon and is one of the city's busiest. Fully pedestrian, this cobbled street is renowned primarily for its many courtyards and traboules. The latter is a quintessential feature of Lyon’s architecture – a type of secret covered passageways, many of which are now open to the public, allowing to walk through one or several buildings from one street to another.

The word traboule comes from the vulgarized Latin verb trabulare which means “to cross/pass through”. The most remarkable and longest of them in Old Lyon starts from Rue Saint-Jean No. 54 and passes through four houses to reach Rue du Bœuf, at No. 27.

The street is oriented north-south and links Place du Change with Place Saint-Jean. It takes the name from the Saint-Jean Cathedral to which it leads. Apart from it, there are many other notable places of interest on this street, including:

- Laurencin house at No. 24, also known as the Grand Palais, the former property of Claude Laurencin, Lord of Taluyers, who served as a treasurer of Queen Anne of Brittany;
- Chamarier house at no. 37, aka the d'Estaing hotel, dating from the 13th century;
- No. 60, the former La Croix d'Or inn currently holding the Museum of Miniatures and Cinema sets; and
- No. 29, the house of Jean Le Viste from the 15th century, renowned for being lavishly embellished with tapestries. The most notable of them, the so-called Lady with the Unicorn tapestry, is now featured at the National Museum of the Middle Ages at the Hôtel de Cluny in Paris.
Sight description based on wikipedia
6
La Tour Rose (The Pink Tower)

6) La Tour Rose (The Pink Tower)

Maison du Crible (“The House of the Sieve”), more commonly known as La Tour Rose ("The Pink Tower") – for the attached staircase tower of ocher color, is one of the most remarkable buildings of Lyon's Saint-Jean neighborhood.

It was built in the 16th century, reportedly by the Italian architect Sebastiano Serlio of Bologna. The entire building – except for the courtyard which is restored in the 17th-century – features Renaissance style. The origin of the name "House the Sieve" is questionable. Certain sources associate it with Martin de Troyes, the tax collector who used to live here in the 16th century and whose coat of arms, displayed on the facade at that time, might have carried a sieve.

Among other former prominent residents of the Pink Tower was King Henri IV of France, who stayed here for a few days in 1600 during his wedding to Marie de Medici. In 1937, the property was declared a historic monument.

After many years of being vacant, the building got a “shot of life” when the upscale MiHotel moved in. This incurred drastic renovations resulting in the creation of the Food Traboule – a unique covered food hall spread across three floors and featuring seven areas with a variety of open-kitchen counters. Anyone interested in tasting the wide-ranging facets of Lyon’s creative and dynamic gastronomy, must visit this place – renowned for being delicious, simple, and what's also important – affordable!
7
Maison Thomassin (Thomassin House)

7) Maison Thomassin (Thomassin House)

Maison Thomassin in Place du Change is one of the oldest buildings in the area. Back in the day, the square was the centre of the local textile industry, hosting three to four trade fairs every year, bringing merchants from all over France, Italy and Belgium. Many merchants made their fortunes here during that time, including the Thomassin family.

The Thomassins bought a house, which had stood on the square since 1298, in 1493 and gave it a Gothic style makeover. Further renovations took place in the 18th and 20th centuries. Among them were the first floor mullioned windows surmounted by frieze of the signs of the Zodiac, and the twin bays of mullioned windows embellished by two trefoil arcs. Above them is another, ogival arc bearing the carved coats of arms of the Dauphin (which literally means a dolphin and symbolizes the title given to the heir apparent to the throne of France), plus the coats of arms of King Charles VIII (in the form of lily flower) and that of Queen Anne of Brittany (an ermine) on the second floor.

What's left of the original house today is only the painted ceiling on the first floor, discovered during renovations in 1964. Made of wood and bearing the coats of arms of St. Louis, his mother Blanche de Castille, and of the Fuers – the original owners of the property, this is one of the oldest surviving painted ceilings in France.
8
Fresque des Lyonnais (The Lyon Fresco)

8) Fresque des Lyonnais (The Lyon Fresco) (must see)

Among the many wonderful things to see in Lyon, surely the most remarkable one is the Fresque des Lyonnais.

This incredible trompe-l’oeil covers an entire building with over 800 square meters of still-life deception. It was created between 1994 and 1995 by various artists from the Cité de la Création, who have done similar work throughout France and in several other countries. The marvelous thing about this fresco is that there is always something new to discover that has previously escaped the eye.

Depicted here are 30 famous individuals, both living and dead, from different epochs and places, including the Lumière brothers (early film-makers), the Roman Emperor Claudius, Joseph Marie Charles (inventor of the Jacquard loom), Saint Irénée and many other distinguished historic personages. There are also some contemporary ones too, like l’Abbé Pierre (founder of Emmaüs), Bernard Pivot and Bernard Lacombe (the former player and former manager of the Olympic Lyonnais football club, respectively).

On the ground floor you can see shops, a library and a cafe that you’ll never be able to enter, even though they look quite real! On the one wall of the building there are painted hundreds of books, some open, and, if you look carefully, you will find among them “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

Have some fun and try to see if you can spot a smoking pipe, goldfish in a bowl, a pair of glasses and a feather quill in an inkpot.
Sight description based on wikipedia
9
Ancient Theatre of Fourvière (Amphitheatre Gallo-Romain)

9) Ancient Theatre of Fourvière (Amphitheatre Gallo-Romain) (must see)

There are a lot of interesting vestiges of ancient Lyon to behold and one of the best of them, undoubtedly, is the Amphitheatre Gallo-Romain, at the foot of the Croix-Rousse Hill.

This theatre, first built under the reign of Roman Emperor Tiberius, around 19AD, was also known as the Amphitheatre des Trois Gaules. Its main purpose was to serve as the Sanctuary of the Three Gauls – an administrative institution set to federalize and romanize Gallia as an Imperial province.

Other than that, the theatre was used, as were all such places in Roman times, as a place for entertainment. Theatrical plays were put on here along with gladiator fights and other public events. The theatre was also used for public executions.

The original amphitheatre wasn’t very large; it had room for just about 1,800 spectators. The basement was made up of three elliptical walls joined by cross-walls and a channel around the oval central space.

Around 230 AD the theatre was enlarged, added with two new galleries, which brought the seating space up to 20,000. At the end of the Gallo-Roman era the theatre was abandoned and fell into ruin, with parts of it being built on.

Archaeological digs between 1956 and 1976 uncovered the remains of what you can see today in the Jardin des Plantes.
10
Place des Terreaux (Terreaux Square)

10) Place des Terreaux (Terreaux Square)

An ideal rectangle of grand and grey resting on the peninsular (‘presqu’île’) between the Rhône and Saône rivers, at the foot of the Croix-Rousse hill in the 1st district of Lyon, Place des Terreaux is a famous local landmark.

This Lyonnais square is a UNESCO heritage site and a popular meeting place where you can sip beer in the outdoor café, perch on the steps of the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon and observe the Bartholdi fountain, or pop into the beautiful City Hall to pay a visit to the local mayor.

The Hôtel de ville de Lyon on the eastern side of the square was built between 1646 and 1651 by Simon Maupin; after the fire of 1674 it was rebuilt by Jules Hardouin-Mansart. The former nunnery of Saint-Pierre, built in the 17th century, is now home to the Fine Arts Museum since 1803.

The square was the scene of beheading of Henri Coiffier de Ruzé, Marquis of Cinq-Mars, condemned for conspiracy against Cardinal Richelieu. During the French Revolution, the guillotine installed here was running at full speed during the tenure of Marie Joseph Chalier. After the siege of Lyon, 79 people were also beheaded there.

The centre of the square is marked by an allegorical fountain of the Saône, made by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and inaugurated on 22 September 1891. The sculpted group, called Char Triomphant de la Garonne, represents the Garonne and its four tributaries jumping into the ocean, all of which are symbolized by a woman leading a quadriga.
11
Rue de la Republique (Republican Street)

11) Rue de la Republique (Republican Street)

Rue de la République, also known by its apocope "Rue de la Ré", is the main shopping street of Lyon, located in the 1st and 2nd arrondissements of the city. The central location and the high concentration of shops make it one of the most frequented locations, day and night. The street is part of the area designated as the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Like the avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris, Rue de la République boasts a large number of luxury and regular shops, restaurants and cafeterias. In terms of architecture, it is lined with Haussman-style buildings, dated from the 19th century, including:

- The former headquarters of the Le Progrès newspaper, currently occupied by Fnac Bellecour at No. 85, featuring an "RF" ("République Française" – French Republic) mosaic;
- Cinema Pathé - Pathé Lyon-Bellecour - surmounted by a belfry with a rooster at the top, a rare example of Art Deco style in Lyon;
- Palace of Commerce (Palais du Commerce), headquarters of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Lyon and Lyon Stock Exchange;
- Church of Saint-Bonaventure (in Place des Cordeliers);
- New Grand Market (Nouveau Grand Bazar), a rather modern-looking shopping venue, as compared to the nearby sites; and
- The City Hall (Hôtel de Ville) and the Opera Nouvel, both located at the north end of the town, in Place de la Comédie.
Sight description based on wikipedia

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