The Roman city of Lugdunum was created on the Fourvière hill two thousand years ago, and at its feet, caught between the Saône and Fourvière, the city grew from the early Middle Ages (from the year 800). Vieux Lyon, comprising the neighborhoods of Saint George, Saint John and Saint Paul, offers visitors an architectural patchwork of nearly 2000 years of history. From its winding streets, sometimes thousands of years old, to its rich historical and religious heritage, a walk in the historic center of Lyon is a constant delight.
From the 16th century onward, the city experienced a period of prosperity that would promote the construction of Renaissance buildings. In the south, Saint George became the artisans' district. In the north, Saint-Paul was characterized by its financial and commercial center and stately homes. Finally, Saint-Jean, in the center, remained the area of the higher clergy and the aristocracy. The prosperity of the city continued until the 18th century thanks to the silk industry. The city then extended across the Saône.
The architectural structure of houses has evolved over the centuries. On the street side, the buildings were erected on two or three levels. Then courtyards were developed at the rear of the buildings, which led to a second building at the back. In the courtyard between the two buildings was usually a well and a spiral staircase, the latter within in a tower. They were officially used as watchtowers but they also represented of the power of the owners of the premises. These elements are often encountered during visits of the district.
The two buildings were connected by galleries. From the street, a passage allowed for direct access to the courtyard. And sometimes from the courtyard, the passage led out into another street. This passage is called the "traboule". Thus, out of these subsequent additions were born the local architectural specificities.
They are very numerous in this area and are sometimes beautifully executed and richly decorated.
From the 18th century onward, the expansion of the city on the Presqu’Ile (the peninsula) led to a relative neglect and impoverishment of the neighborhood. Many projects for destruction were under consideration until the intervention of the Minister of Culture, André Malraux, who championed the conservation of Vieux Lyon in 1964.
Today, thanks to the protection of the district’s heritage by the law that bears the name of the Minister, Vieux Lyon reveals to visitors its superb Renaissance architecture with bold Italian influences.
Montée du Gourguillon, 69005 Lyon
This rising street, the oldest of Vieux Lyon, is one of the most picturesque. A semi-pedestrian street with irregular cobblestones, it connects Place de la Trinité to Place des Minimes, which in turn opens toward the Fourvière district.
Eglise Saint Georges
Quai Fulchiron, 69005 Lyon
Website - tel : 04 72 77 07 90
The present neo-Gothic church dates back to 1844. It is the work of Pierre Bossan. But many buildings have succeeded one another over the centuries on this site, the first of which was a college of canons, founded in 802. Then it was occupied by the Knights of the Order of the Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem in the 14th century.
On the front, Saint George is represented slaying the dragon, surrounded by Saint Peter and Saint John. The interior and its decorations respect the neo-Gothic architecture desired by Bossan.
Musée des Automates
100 Rue Saint-Georges 69005 Lyon
Website - tel : 04 72 77 75 28.
Price: €7 / 3 to 17 years old: €5.
Open daily: 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Accessible to those with reduced mobility.
The exhibition presents 250 animatronics in 20 themed scenes with light and sound. Among the characters you'll recognize some famous people and historical figures (painters, writers and musicians). They have all been produced in the museum’s workshop.
For children : fun family visit in the morning during public holidays, followed by a puppet creation workshop (at 10 a.m., reservations by telephone at 04 72 77 75 28). Treasure hunt adapted by age (from 3 to 12 years old).
Place Saint Jean
This pleasant square is a bustling place at which many events and festivals are held throughout the year. The fountain that stands in the center was done in a Renaissance style by Dardel and Bonassieux. It depicts a small antique temple in which Saint John baptizes Jesus.
Saint John Cathedral
8 Place Saint-Jean, 69005 Lyon
Website - tel : 04 78 81 48 81.
Open daily : Monday to Friday : 8:15 a.m. to 7:45 p.m. ; Saturday : 8:15 a.m. to 7 p.m. ; Sunday : 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Wheelchairs accessible. Guided tours possible.
Saint John's Cathedral was built starting from the 12th century and was completed three centuries later, even using blocks of stone from the Roman buildings nearby. Inside the cathedral, the chronology and different architectural styles are evident. The marriage between the Romanesque and Gothic styles reflects this long period of construction. The eastern parts of the cathedral are Romanesque : the apse, the choir, the walls of the apsidal chapels, the lower parts of the chevet and transept, the two eastern towers and the first four bays of the nave are from the 12th century. The Gothic style (it appeared in the second half of the 13th century) is hinted at in the vaults of the chevet, the windows of the choir, the last bays of the nave and the west facade, completed in the early 14th century. The bell tower, two rosettas of the transept and the rosetta window of the facade were completed at the end of the 14th century. The front towers were added at the end of the 15th century. In 1562, during the Religious Wars, the cathedral was damaged extensively, including statuary.
The cathedral is under renovation until 2018.
This cathedral is also known as the Primate. It owes this distinction of “Primate of the Gauls” to Pope Gregory VII in memory of the martyrs of the first church founded in Lyon by Saint Pothin around160 AD. It is a place steeped in history that has hosted the remains of Louis IX (1271), the coronation of Pope John XXII (1316) and the royal marriage of Henri IV to Marie de Medici in 1600.
The three portals of the facade are framed by 280 medallions relating biblical scenes from the Old and New Testament.
The rosettas of the transept depict scenes from the Old and New Testaments. The magnificent rosetta window of the facade (8 meters in diameter) recounts the life of Saint John the Baptist and Saint Stephen around the story of the Passover lamb.
The Astronomical Clock
The astronomical clock was created in the 14th century. Its mechanism, decoration and movement have all been reworked over the centuries. Its automations are activated four times a day at 12 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., indicating the date, the position of the sun, moon and Earth.
The Manécanterie and the Musée du Trésor de la Cathédrale
Place Saint Jean (entry into the cathedral, right), 69005 Lyon
Visits from Tuesday to Saturday from 9:30 a.m to noon and 2 p.m to 6 p.m.
A “manécanterie” (a choir school) is primarily a boys’ vocal choir attached to a parish, but in the 16th century, they became real prestigious schools where musical education was associated with religious education. These schools trained students for the most important positions in the Church.
The Romanesque facade dates back to the 11th century. At that time the building served as a refectory to the canons of Saint Jean, it was not until the 18th century that it became a real choir school. Meanwhile the building was extensively remodeled and transformed.
The Treasury of the Cathedral was placed within these walls in 1930. Created from liturgical objects, antique silverware and books, it was restored in the 19th century because the original Treasury had completely disappeared.
Located north of Saint John’s Cathedral
Open access, open daily 24h/24
It was during archaeological excavations that remains from the 1st to the 16th centuries were discovered in the early 1970s. The city of Lyon then decided to buy the land on which these findings occurred in order to expose them to the public. This ensemble corresponds to the Primitive Episcopal city consisting of three churches : Saint John, Saint Stephen and Holy Cross. Also clearly identified are the Baptistery, the room of the bishop and the church of Saint John the Baptist. The site also features older remains from antiquity, but because they are located beneath the medieval buildings, they couldn’t be completely cleared.
The Palais Saint Jean
Place Saint Jean, 69005 Lyon
Cannot be visited.
The Palace of Saint John is a former archdiocese that unveils a Gothic architecture. It now houses a library.
Palais de Justice
Rue du Palais de Justice, 69005 Lyon
Tel: 04 72 77 30 30.
Can only be visited on guided tour.
The courthouse has a beautiful neo-classical architecture composed of 24 Corinthian columns in front, on the side of the river. The building dates back to 1847. Inside, the concourse is exceptional by its volume, which rises to a height of 17 meters. It now houses the Court of the Rhone and the Court of Appeal of Lyon. Other courts were transferred to a new courthouse in 1995.
Musée Miniature et des décors de cinéma
60 Rue Saint Jean, 69005 Lyon
Website - tel : 04 72 00 24 77.
Full price / reduced price: €9 / €6.50 / 4 to 15 years: €6.50. Free for children under 4 years old. Free with the Lyon City Card.
Open daily : Monday to Friday : 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. ; Saturday and Sunday : 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
This original and unique museum of miniatures and film sets, founded by Dan Olhmann, is housed in the "Maison des Avocats", a beautiful 16th century building.
The museum features a hundred reproductions of extremely realistic miniaturized scenes of daily life by international artists.
The film sets
The second part of the museum explains the techniques of special effects in film. The circuit, illustrated by 300 objects from real movie sets, reveals the secrets of contemporary cinema studios and pays tribute to the talent of these artists.
A living museum as well, artists work daily on the 3rd floor of the building, creating miniatures or restoring objects from film sets.
Rue Saint Jean
A must-see during your visit, this street is lined with medieval houses with shops and restaurants on the ground floor. But it is especially known for its numerous traboules (No. 27, 40, 54) and beautiful courtyards (No. 18, 26, 28, 33, 42, 50, 58).
Rue du Bœuf
Parallel to the Rue Saint Jean, it is probably one of the oldest and most picturesque streets of Vieux Lyon. It is lined with opulent homes and opens onto hillside gardens. The peacefulness of this pedestrian street allows visitors time to appreciate the facades and their architectural and artistic treasures. At No. 16, in the courtyard behind the facade of this 17th century house, the Rose Tower, symbol of the area, is exceptional for its size and height. At No. 27, a long traboule runs through four houses to fall out onto Rue Saint Jean. Another, at No. 7, connects the two streets.
Place du Gouvernement
Located at the end of Rue Saint-Jean, the square owes its name to the governors of Lyon who had a mansion there between the 15th and 18th centuries, but was demolished in the following one. The buildings around the square are built on four levels, but each has its specificities. At No. 2, the Government Bureau (15th century) is remarkable for its fine windows. This building actually housed the Saint Christophe hotel, which welcomed travelers. The building still retains some of its original Gothic decor. From here we can go through a beautiful traboule (passage) through two courtyards, coming out onto quai Romain Rolland.
Musées Gadagne (for the family)
1 Place du Petit Collège, 69005 Lyon
Website - tel : 04 78 42 03 61.
Full price / reduced price: €6 / €4. Free for those under 18 years old.
Full price / reduced price with temporary exhibitions: €8 / €6. Free for those under 18 years old. Free with the Lyon City Card.
Open Wednesday to Sunday: 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Free audio guides and multimedia devices. Educational workshops and performances for children and adults. Guided tours possible.
Wheelchair accessible. Bar, boutique and restaurant.
This magnificent Renaissance mansion houses two museums: the Museum of Lyon History and International Puppet Museum. It owes its name to the Gadagne family, owner of the building in the 16th century.
Museum of Lyon History
This museum is an ideal introduction to the history of the city for new visitors. 30 showrooms open to the public include some 80,000 objects, crossing 20 centuries of history.
The visit begins with the "Museum of construction", which tells the story of this magnificent Renaissance building, before following a chronological circuit, from antiquity to the present day.
Museum of world puppets
Dedicated to this living art and unique in France, this museum is composed of more than 2,000 puppets.
Lodge or Temple du Change
2 Rue de la Loge, 69005 Lyon
During the Renaissance period (16th century), Lyon was the leading financial center of Europe. Moneychangers had occupied the same area since the 13th century but it was not until 1653 that the first "Loge des Changes" (Exchange Bureau) was built. Become too small, it was enlarged in 1750. It would retain this function until the Revolution. Later the building was entrusted to the Protestant community of the city. The former "Loge du Change" became the “Temple du Change”, dedicated to Protestant worship. It was here that the merger of the four Protestant churches took place in 1938, which allowed the creation of the Reformed Church of France.
The current building has hardly changed since its expansion. The first level consists of five regular bays organized by Doric pillars. The second level, added in 1750, is composed of alternating bays with 12 Ionic columns. At the top of the facade are two clocks. The right one is original. The left, more surprisingly, was recently completed on plans from the period (but that were never used). It represents an ideal clock, showing the days, months and years.
Rue de la Juiverie
As its name suggests, the Rue de la Juiverie was mainly inhabited by Jews during the 13th and 14th century. The name stuck. Thereafter, the street was modernized and embellished. Notable and wealthy merchants settled there and built beautiful Renaissance houses on older foundations. It is one of several streets whose visit is a must along with Rue du Boeuf or Rue Saint John for their outstanding Renaissance heritage.
No. 4: Hotel Paterin, also called Maison Henry IV thanks to the sculpted bust in the courtyard, visible when the door is open. Beautiful architecture.
No. 8: The Maison Bullioud, composed of seven main buildings and two courtyards, was the home of the Finance General of Brittany in 1536. It now bears his name. If the door is open, you will notice the beautiful covered porch by the Lyon architect Philibert de l'Orme.
No. 23: The Maison Dugas dates back to the 17th century. Its facade, which has five levels, presents a classic, typically Florentine style.
Eglise Saint Paul
3 Place Gerson, 69005 Lyon
Tel : 04 78 69 89 14.
The first Church of Saint Paul was built around 549 in order to found a monastery. During the 11th and 12th centuries, it was rebuilt and became a parish church. Some architectural vestiges remain from this period: the lantern tower, apse, choir, transept and a part of the nave. In the following century, the bell tower was rebuilt and Gothic additions begin to appear, such as the main nave or the ribbed vaults. The side chapels were added in the 15th century.
Over the following centuries the church deteriorated. After the Revolution it was used as a saltpeter store before being returned to worship and significantly renovated in the 19th century. The neo-Gohic portal was modified in 1877. The conversion of Saint Paul on the road to Damascus is shown on the tympanum.