In 43 BC the Roman military colony of Lugdunum (Lyon) was founded. It served as the capital of the Roman territories known as the Three Gauls under Augustus, but had to wait until the 15th century for fame and fortune to strike: with the arrival of moveable type in 1473, Lyon became one of Europe’s foremost publishing centres, with several hundred resident printers contributing to the city’s extraordinary prosperity. By the mid-18th century, the city’s influential silk weavers, 40% of Lyon’s total workforce, transformed what had already been a textiles centre since the 15th century into the silk-weaving capital of Europe.

A century on, Lyon had tripled in size, boasting a population of 340,000 people and 100,000 weaving looms, 40,000 of which were in the hilltop neighbourhood of Croix Rousse. But life at the loom was hard. A weaver spent 14 to 20 hours a day hunched over his loom breathing in silk dust; two-thirds were illiterate; and everyone was paid a pittance. Strikes in 1830–31 and again in 1834 only resulted in the death of several hundred weavers.

In 1870 the Lumière family moved to Lyon, and sons Louis and Auguste shot the first moving picture, of workers exiting their father’s photographic factory, in 1895. Cinema’s birth was an instant winner.

During WWII some 4000 people, including Resistance leader Jean Moulin, were killed and 7500 others deported to Nazi death camps under Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie, known as the ‘butcher of Lyon’. Nazi rule ended in September 1944, when the retreating Germans blew up all but two of Lyon’s 28 bridges. A Lyon court sentenced Barbie to death in absentia in 1952 and again in 1954, but it was not until 1987, following his extradition from Bolivia, where he had settled after WWII, that he was tried in person in Lyon for crimes against humanity and sentenced to life imprisonment. The 72-year-old died in prison three years later.

The international police agency Interpol has been headquartered in Lyon since 1989. Urban violence on central place Bellecour in late 2005 served as a poignant reminder that Lyon is not as picture postcard perfect as its trim city centre suggests. Impoverished suburbs with substantial immigrant populations are as much a fact of life in Lyon as in other large French cities.

Lyon is France's third largest city and is known for its rich history, cuisine, and architecture. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has a history of producing and weaving silk, and visitors can still explore the traboules through which the silk was transported. Some of the most popular attractions in Lyon include the museums and amphitheaters in the Fourvière, the historic sites in Vieux Lyon, the art in the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, the Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon, and the street art and markets found on La Croixe-Rousse.

1. Vieux Lyon

Vieux Lyon, or Old Lyon, is one of the largest and oldest Renaissance districts. It is considered one of France's most important cultural sites and is broken down into Saint Paul, Saint Jean, and Saint Georges. Each of the sections focuses on different aspects of Lyon's past, such as political and religious power, the Italian banker merchants that made the city wealthy, and the silk weavers that settled in the 16th century. Visitors can explore Lyon Cathedral, Gare Saint-Paul, and buildings in the Rue de Boeuf among the many other attractions that can be found there. It's also the starting point of many tours that focus on history, art, architecture, and Lyon's gastronomy.

2. Traboules

In Vieux Lyon and La Croix-Rousse Saône are an architectural feature unique to this city: Traboules are delightful renaissance passageways, some 40 of which are open to the public, running beneath buildings in the direction of the Saône River. They gave the city’s silk workers direct access to riverbank, making it quick and easy to transport textiles, while also offering shelter from the elements. Nearly all of these passageways are part of residential properties, so it’s a good idea to go quietly. The best place to start your adventure is around Quai Fulchiron Rolland and Rue des Trois Maries.

3. Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere

The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière was built in the 1880s and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who was credited with saving the city of Lyon from the bubonic plague that hit Europe in 1643, the cholera epidemic in 1832, and the Prussian invasion in 1870. The church was a place for people of Lyon to be able to thank her. Visitors in Lyon in December can see the city and the church light up during the Fête des Lumières – the Festival of Lights. Built atop Fourvière Hill, the church stands prominently over the city and is a symbol of Lyon. Visitors can enjoy guided tours of the basilica and the Museum of Sacred Art and can sometimes access the basilica's north town and see amazing views of Lyon.

4. Parc de la Tete d'Or

The Parc de la Tête d'Or, or the Park of the Golden Head, is a popular location for locals and visitors to go and spend the day relaxing with families and friends. The park is over 117 hectares in size and includes a lake, jogging paths, and a small zoo. Visitors can spend the day boating on the lake, going for an evening jog or bike ride, having a picnic, playing mini golf, or horse riding. The small zoo is a great place for visitors with younger kids as it's home to elephants, giraffes, deer, reptiles, and other animals. The park has an area dedicated to the African plains and is also home to a wetland that houses pelicans, flamingos, and many other species of bird.

5. Ancient Theatre of Fourviere

The Grand Theatre of Lyon, also known as the Ancient Theatre of Fourvière, was constructed in 15 BC on the hill of Fourvière and is able to seat over 10,000 people. This ancient structure is one of the oldest of its kind and after years of deterioration was restored in the 20th century for visitors to be able to enjoy for years to come. Though the theatre is one of the most visited tourist sites in Lyon, it is also home to the annual festival of Nuits de Fourvière, which is a collection of circus, dance, music, and theatre and invites visitors from all over the world.

6. The Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon Fourviere

The Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon-Fourvière, or Musée Gallo-Romain de Lyon-Fourvière as it is known in French, is a museum dedicated to narrating the many centuries that Lyon was ruled by Rome. Taking visitors back to 44 BC, when Julius Caesar found the city as Lugdunum, visitors of all ages will learn how Lyon flourished and became a thriving capital through a collection of archaeological artifacts from ancient Lyon. From sculptures and statues to inscriptions and mosaics, the museum has an extensive collection that includes stunning jewelry and unique everyday objects. There are many activities and events held at the museum, such as Night of Museums, which allows visitors to spend the night and explore the exhibits.

7. Lyon Cathedral

The Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon, more commonly known as Lyon Cathedral, is a Roman Catholic cathedral dedicated to Saint John the Baptist and is the seat of the Archbishop of Lyon. Built between the 12th and 15th centuries, Lyon Cathedral sits on what was once the churches of St. Etienne (St. Stephen) and Ste Croix (Holy Cross) and a baptistery. Visitors today can still see the remains of these structures in the archaeological garden next to the cathedral. When exploring the cathedral, visitors will come across a stunning 14th-century astronomical clock that sounds a unique combination of chimes, angels heralding, and roosters crowing at certain times throughout the day. The clock is a technological marvel and is one of the main highlights found in the cathedral. Another highlight not to be missed is the breathtaking 13th-century stained glass windows found in the choir.

8. Institute Lumiere

Anybody who goes to the cinema should be excited to pay homage to the Lumière brothers, who are held as the fathers of the movie-making art. The museum was set up by a descendant of Louis Lumière, who, working with August, helped invent the cinematograph, the first motion picture camera and projector. They also made more than a thousand films together, shown at the world’s first cinemas. The attraction is in Villa Lumière, a lovely art nouveau mansion built by the brothers’ father in 1899. In these elegant surrounds you can view many of their movies and check out the ingenious creations, like the cinematograph, that helped change entertainment forever.

9. Lyonnaise Cuisine

Lyon has more restaurants per capita than any other city in the country and for centuries has been lauded for the high quality of its produce and the prestige of its cuisine. You can dig into traditional Lyonnaise cuisine at “bouchons”, typical restaurants , and the best of these (awarded the label, Authentique Bouchon Lyonnais) tend to be around Presqu’île. They prepare meals that would usually have been eaten by workers in times gone by, so are filling, rich and make use of parts of the body you might not usually consider: There is marinated deep-fried tripe, usually served with a garlic and herb sauce. Andouilette, a sausage made from tripe, or gras double, tripe cooked with onions. Don’t worry; it is not all tripe! Coq au vin is also a tradition here, as is Lyonnaise potatoes, which are sliced and pan-fried with onions and parsley.

10. Aquarium de Lyon

A public aquarium located in the heart of Lyon, Aquarium de Lyon opened in 2002 and is home to over 5,000 fish. The 300 different species are located in 47 tanks, which vary from freshwater to saltwater environments. Visitors of all ages will enjoy exploring the aquatic animals and the interesting aquarium layouts with false shipwrecks and other fascinating decorative features. The largest and most popular exhibit is the Fosse Aux Requins, where visitors can visit sharks and stingrays, while younger visitors will love The Five Senses exhibit, where they can hold certain fishes, sea stars and hermit crabs.

11. Fourviere

Visitors are transported back to the Roman era during a visit to Lyon Fourvière, which was the city center when the Romans founded what is modern day Lyon. Filled with wonder, visitors can explore some of the more interesting and unique aspects of Lyon's history, especially in the several churches that can be found there. One of the most popular sites to visit is the Basilique de Fourvière, or Fourvière Basilica, which towers over the city. Other sites to visit include the Metallic Tower, the Gallo-Roman Museum, the Ancient Theatre of Fourvière, Fourvière's Montées, Eglise Sainte-Irenee, Eglise Saint-Just, the aqueduct remains, and Parc des Hauteurs.

12. Musee Miniature et Cinema

The Musee Miniature et Cinema, or the Miniature and Cinema Museum, is a private museum found by modelist Dan Ohlmann. Filled with miniature everyday scenes, special effects exhibits, and neat movie props, the museum's collection includes works not only by the founder but also by artists such as Julien Martinez, Michel Perez, and Yves Chouard. There are twelve rooms comprising the collection, which includes miniature decorations and vehicles, life-sized decor, costumes, animatronics, and masks and prostheses. Visitors will learn so much about digital cinema as well as stop-motion and 3D animation. Although lovers of cinematography may fully appreciate all that the museum offers, visitors and locals will find it just as wondrous.

13. Place Bellecour

A large and popular town square in the heart of Lyon, Place Bellecour is one of the largest open squares in Europe. The square is popular with tourists as it is mostly open to pedestrians. Other than its famous lack of greenery, the square is also popular for the equestrian statue of King Louis XIV, which was created in 1825 by François-Frédéric Lemot. There is also a statue of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry sitting in front of the Little Prince, a popular French character. Nearby, visitors will find the city's popular shopping streets and Lyon Cathedral.

Vieux Lyon
Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere
Parc de la Tete d'Or
The Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon Fourviere
Lyon Cathedral
Institute Lumiere
Aquarium de Lyon
Musee Miniature et Cinema
The Hotel de Ville de Lyon (City Hall)
The city of Lyon lies at the confluence of the Saone and Rhone rivers.
Bartholdi Fountain
Ancient Theatre of Fourviere
Ancient Theatre of Fourviere

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