Lyons (Lyon), France
The second largest conurbation in France and the third largest city, Lyons is the capital of the Rhône department in Southeast France. Situated on the confluence of the Rhône and Saône Rivers, Lyons is a major river port as well as an industrial and financial centre.
Lyons was founded by the Romans in 43 BC. The settlement on the Plateau Fourvière was named Lugdunum (hill of light or hill of crows). Under Augustus, Lugdunum was made the capital of the three Gauls––Aquitania, Belgica and Lugdunensis. As such, the town held an annual council and became the centre of the Roman road system. Lugdunum, along with Vienne, was the only Roman city to have two theatres, remains of which can be seen today.
Lugdunum’s importance lasted three centuries. Despite attacks by Marcus Aurelius in 177 and Septimius Severus in 197, the second Century AD was the pinnacle of Lyons’ classical development. In the same century Lyons converted to Christianity. Under Burgundian occupation, Lyons became a capital in 478. The city was taken by the Franks in 534. Despite being stripped of its capital status, Lyons remained an important religious centre and was the site of two Christian councils in 1245 and 1274. At the end of the first millennium, changes in language reduced Lugdunum into Lyon. In 1024 Lyons became the chief town in the kingdom of Provence. During the turbulent sixteenth century, Lyons remained relatively peaceful, owing to François I’s patronage of the city.
In 1462 four annual fairs were inaugurated by Louis XIV. Lyons developed into an important trade centre, frequented by Italian merchant bankers. Prosperity increased further in the fifteenth century with the founding of Lyons’ major industry, silk weaving. From the fifteenth–mid eighteenth centuries, Lyons was Europe’s silk weaving capital. In the sixteenth century Lyons became a centre of printing with several hundred resident printers.
The Revolution (1789) caused a slump in the silk trade, and in 1793 Lyons, a Royalist stronghold, was besieged by the Montagnards. The attack destroyed many public buildings. The city prospered again with the introduction of the Jacquard loom, a steam powered method of weaving invented by Joseph-Marie Jacquard, a Lyons native, at the turn of the nineteenth century. This initiated Lyons’ industrial and urban expansion of the nineteenth century. During this time, industrial unrest by the Canuts, or silk workers, unsettled the city. In one uprising of 1834, hundreds of workers were killed.
Lyons was occupied by the Germans in 1942 when the city was already the headquarters of the Resistance. The Resistance was helped in its efforts by the layout of the city centre, and especially the Troubeles. From the Latin trans ambulare (to walk across), these windy, narrow, maze-like streets, originally constructed to carry silk in all weathers, were ideal for avoiding pursuers. Some Troubeles in the old town date back to Roman times. It was at Lyons that Jean Moulin, the Resistance leader, was betrayed to the Germans in June 1943.
After a long period of stagnation, Lyons came into its own as one of France’s leading business centres after 1950. In 1960 the Part-Dieu business district was created. In 1993 Lyons hosted the G7 summit.
Lyons was traditionally famous for its silk production and now manufactures rayon and nylon. It is the headquarters of the leading bank Crédit Lyonnais and since 1989 has been the headquarters of Interpol. Lyons’ industries include engineering, automobile production and pharmaceuticals. The city is an important centre of medical research.
Lyons has two railway stations and an international airport. The city is served by a metro system.
Places of Interest
The Presqu’Ile contains numerous monuments including the town hall and the Place des Terraux which houses the Musée des Beaux Arts. Vieux Lyons, Renaissance in style, is built around three churches. The oldest building in the district, the Cathédrale Saint Jean was built between twelfth–fifteenth centuries. Containing an astronomical clock and adorned with 280 medallions, it was the setting of Henri IV’s marriage to Marie de Médicis; the Romanesque Eglise Saint Paul has an octagonal belfry and contains frescoes dating from 1480; and the nineteenth-century Eglise Saint Georges. Much of the old quarter was scheduled for demolition but instead, Lyons embarked on an imaginative scheme of renovation. Lyons is the hometown of the Lumière brothers and has a museum devoted to the nineteenth century pioneers of cinema.