Lugdunum was the capital of Roman Gaul. The site was strategically chosen as the Presqu’ile (almost island) lies at the confluence of the Saone and Rhone rivers.
Saint-Exupery International Airport
Main Railway stations:
Gare de Lyon-Perrache Station
Gare de la Part-Dieu Station
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE DESCRIPTION
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. This is embodied in an international treaty called the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by UNESCO in 1972. What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.
UNESCO World Heritage Site description are available for use under CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0 The UNESCO text has edited to focus on content relevant to France study abroad.
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE DESCRIPTION – START
The long history of Lyon, which was founded by the Romans in the 1st century B.C. as the capital of the Three Gauls and has continued to play a major role in Europe’s political, cultural and economic development ever since, is vividly illustrated by its urban fabric and the many fine historic buildings from all periods.
Outstanding Universal Value–Brief synthesis
Located in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, at the confluence of the Saône and the Rhône Rivers, the city of Lyon is dominated by two hills: Fourvière to the west and Croix-Rousse to the east.
The long history of Lyon, from a proto-urban agglomeration from the Celtic era to its founding by the Romans with the capital of Trois Gaules in the 1st century BC, has continued to play a major role in Europe’s political, cultural and economic development, and is vividly illustrated by its urban fabric and the many fine historic buildings dating from all periods.
Humans have settled at this site destined for urbanization for more than two thousand years and built a city whose stages of development are still visible today: from the Roman vestiges of antique Lugdunum to the medieval streets on the slopes of Fourvière and the Renaissance dwellings of Vieux-Lyon, from the peninsula with a wealth of classical architecture to the slopes of Croix-Rousse with its very particular canut dwellings, which bear witness to an essential page in the history of the labouring classes of the 19th century.
Among the outstanding examples are the Thomassin House, on the Place du Change (late 13th century, enlarged in the 15th century); the Claude de Bourg House (1516), the house of the poet Maurice Scève (1493, additional storey in the 17th century), the Chamberlain’s mansion (1495-1516), illustrating the transition from Gothic to French Renaissance style, the Mannerist House of the Lions (1647), the classical building on the Quai Lassagne (1760), and the “House of 365 Windows” and the “Courtyard of the Voracious”, striking examples of the tenements built for the canuts in the first half of the 19th century.
Among the public buildings, mention should be made of the late 11th-century Manécanterie (scola cantorum); the Ainay Abbey Church (1107), of pure Romanesque style; the Cathedral of St John the Baptist (1160-1481), which retains a remarkable degree of stylistic homogeneity, despite the long period of construction; the Church of St Nizier, begun in the 14th century and completed in 19th century, with its Flamboyant Gothic nave, its typical classical Renaissance façade and its neo-Gothic spire; the imposing Hôtel de Ville (1646-1703); the 17th-18th century Hôtel-Dieu built over a medieval original; the Loge du Change (1745-80), now in use as a Protestant church; the Fourvière Basilica (1872-96), one of the most important landmarks of the city; and the Weaving School, the work of modernist architect Tony Garnier (1927-1933).
The specificity of Lyon is its progressive expansion towards the east while preserving, at each stage of its growth, the richness of its earlier dwellings. Unlike many other cities where the centre was destroyed in order to be rebuilt in the same place with new architecture, Lyon’s centre has shifted location, enabling the safeguarding of whole districts whose permanence renders the history of the city visible on the buildings themselves.
Criterion (ii): Lyon bears exceptional testimony to the continuity of urban settlement over more than two millennia on a site of great commercial and strategic significance, where cultural traditions from many parts of Europe have come together to create a coherent and vigorous continuing community.
Criterion (iv): By virtue of the particular manner in which it has developed spatially, Lyon illustrates in an exceptional way the progress and evolution of architectural design and town planning over many centuries.
On this exceptional urban fabric, inscribed in the medieval precinct that endured until the 19th century, the majority of the conserved buildings represent a long period of its development. The architectural heritage of Lyon is representative of all periods from the Middle Ages until today, including significant Gallo-Roman elements. The threats to the integrity are essentially due to opening-up and redevelopment since the 19th century, as well to modifications to buildings (mainly raising), due to continued and dynamic human occupation of this urban centre of prime importance.
The site of Lyon presents high authenticity through the permanence of three principal characteristics that define its town planning, the development of which is unique: the confluence, the coherence of the urban model and urbanity.
Located at a very specific geographical and geomorphological site, (the confluence of two rivers and three hills), the city was established at the crossing point of the trading thoroughfares between the influences of northern and southern Europe.
Moreover, Lyon represents, with its urban construction of more than two millennia, a development of its unique town planning: instead of rebuilding on itself, the city progressively expanded towards the east, thus conserving all the forms of town planning of the different eras alongside each other. Furthermore, the town planning models and the architectural styles developed and improved over the centuries and continued to evolve without interruption.
With its unusual town planning, the city has always been characterised by important human occupation, still evident today. The city is typologically and architecturally permeated by its uses (commerce, craft, industry, teaching, religion…) and the expression of powers (civil, religious, hospitable, merchant, bourgeois, canut, industrial…).
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE DESCRIPTION – END
“The history of Lugdunum starts in 43 B.C., nine years after Caesar had conquered Gaul and one year before his assassination in Rome, when Lucius Munatius Plancus, the governor of Gaul, was sent by the Senate to found a Roman colony. The first inhabitants were Roman citizens, veterans of the army. Its status as a colony placed Lugdunum at the summit of the municipal hierarchy and would favor its future development. First established on the Fourvière plateau, the city would gradually spread to the river neighborhoods, the peninsula and the right bank of the Saône river. The choice of this emplacement was strategic. The site of Lyon at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône placed it on an important axis of circulation through the Rhône Valley, which linked the Mediterranean to the future interior provinces.” Lugdunum -Musée & Théâtres Romains
The Roman Emperor Claudius was born in Lugdunum. Claudius delivered a historic speech in which he advocated for civic rights for Gauls by highlighting the patriotism of other immigrants to Rome. The landmark speech was transcribed on to a plaque that is preserved in the Lugdunum Museum.
You can read Claudius speech and Tacitus’s account of it on this page: Claudius: Lugdunum Speech.
NOTRE-DAME DE FOURVIÈRE
“The basilica Notre-Dame of Fourvière is the work of the architects Pierre Bossan and Sainte-Marie Perrin. It was built thanks to a public subscription in 1872 and consecrated in 1896. The basilica is at the top of “the hill which prays”. It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and is listed as a historical monument, registered to the UNESCO World Heritage Site…The basilica Notre-Dame of Fourvière is 86 meters long and 35 meters wide. It offers a unique architecture with a byzantine, gothic and romanesque inspiration…The inside of Notre-Dame of Fourvière Basilica is composed of 2 churches one upon the other, with extraordinary volumes, accessible from the square. The higher Church is dominated by 3 domes and lit by 6 stained-glass windows offering a light emphasizing a rich decor…Composed of 3 big naves and 3 vaulted spans, gothic arches, the whole of the higher church is supported by 16 columns. There are 8 chapels and the apse is lit thanks to 7 high stained- glass windows. On the side walls 6 large mosaics of 50 square metres, by Charles Lameire et Georges Décote, show, on the left, the link of Mary to the Church and on the right the relationship of Mary with France.” Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière
Two of the most compelling mosaics in the Basilica Notre-Dame of Fourvière depict scenes of religious wars.
Jeanne d’Arc fighting the English.
The Pope blesses troops in the Battle of Lepanto, in which a Christian Alliance defeats an Ottoman fleet.
“This district, built between Fourvière hill and the river Saône, has lost none of the charms to be found within its narrow Renaissance alleyways. Step back in time to a day and age when Lyon was a well-known trade fair town and suppliers from all over Europe flocked here to exchange their wares. Its 15th and 16th century buildings have housed wealthy families of bankers, as well as Italian, German and Flemish merchants. Vieux-Lyon is a secret and mysterious district, revealing itself mainly behind closed door, where hidden passageways or traboules enabled people to pass discreetly from one street to another without leaving the building. Nowadays, the inner courtyards reveal the great wealth of their former owners. Although the façades of the buildings may appear plain from the outside, visitors are astounded when they dare to peep behind closed doors!” ONLYLYON
‘Traboules’, from the Latin ‘trans ambulare’ (pass through), are shortcuts linking streets through one or more buildings…There are about 200 in Vieux-Lyon, 160 on the slopes of Croix-Rousse hill and 130 on the Presqu’île, making a total of 500 traboules in more than 230 of Lyon’s streets.” ONLYLYON
“Of the two hills in Lyon, the second often surprises visitors due to its unusual layout, with its buildings seeming to ascend the hillside in tiered formation. Ever since the 19th century, the Croix-Rousse district has been known as “the hill that works”, while the Fourvière district, was baptised “the hill that prays”. The Croix-Rousse was formerly the neighbourhood of Lyon’s silk manufacturers, and during the 19th century it reverberated with the sounds of the “bistanclaques”, an onomatopoeic name given to the weaving looms by the inhabitants of the city. With 30,000 canuts (name given to the silk workers in Lyon) the district was a hive of activity, and the city itself a major hub for textiles in Europe. Modern-day visitors are invited to stroll through the area to discover its true essence and the many buildings specially built to house the weaving looms, amid a maze of traboules and stairwells. To this day, the slopes have maintained a real neighbourhood spirit, sheltering a village lifestyle that makes the inhabitants of the Croix-Rousse very proud of their district. Here, past and present cohabit on a daily basis, with traditional silk workshops that are open to visitors, and the boutiques of young designers keeping the spirit of the canuts alive. In fact, Hermès still continues to produce its legendary silk squares close to Lyon!” ONLYLYON
COUR DES VORACES
This Traboule and courtyard on the Croix-Rousse is tied to the history of workers rights. The Canut (silk workers) fought for their salaries, conditions of life, and dignity in this courtyard. In 1848, the workers again confronted the French army.
MEMORIAL DE MONTLUC
“Built in 1921, Montluc military prison is located opposite the fort bearing the same name, in one of Lyon’s industrial areas. After the 1940 Armistice, the prison received a number of regular inmates, military prisoners and perpetrators of “Anti-national Activities” – mainly Gaullist and communist resistance members. Following the invasion of the Southern Zone in November 1942, the Germans requisitioned the prison and placed it under their exclusive control. Montluc then became an internment camp for members of the resistance, hostages, and victims of the racial persecution, prior to their transfer to Drancy and subsequent deportation to the concentration and extermination camps. Montluc operated in daily contact with the Gestapo headquarters, Avenue Berthelot, in the buildings of the Military School of Medicine, where interrogations were carried out (current site of the Resistance and Deportation History Centre). Prisoners were generally deported or shot around Lyon and the DOUA, while other condemned prisoners were shot within the prison itself, on the walkway, at a spot now known as the “Mur des fusillés”. The massacre de Saint-Genis-Laval on the 20th of August 1944, when 120 prisoners were massacred under appalling conditions, gave rise to a vigorous protest from Cardinal Gerlier to the German authorities. On the 24th of August the prisoners were released, partly due to Resistance intervention and partly due to the departure of the prison guards, one week before the liberation of Lyon on the 3rd of September.” Mémorial National de la Prison de Montluc
CENTRE D’HISTOIRE DE LA RÉSISTANCE ET DE LA DÉPORTATION
“The Resistance and Deportation History Centre conserves and cares for archives and collections. What makes it different is its remarkable collection of posters, contemporary song sheets and material coming from the great figures of the Resistance. Some 700 filmed first person stories of members of the Resistance and deportees make it a key place for discovering the oral history of this period…Divided into three basic concepts – commitment, information and propaganda, space and time -, the permanent exhibition offers a concrete experience of the major moments of the Second World War.” Centre d’Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING
EDITOR AND LAST UPDATE
John William Bailly 08 July 2022
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