Saturday, August 18, 2007

A short note on Lyon's history, and some pictures

From the top of Fourviere hill of the French city of Lyon - the second largest metropolitan area in the country - it is possible see the sprawl beneath: clusters of buildings, hundreds of them, large and small, with sloping, red roofs; the path of the Saone river, and more faintly, the path of the Rhone, the other major river that runs through the city (the two rivers converge south of the city center and enclose a peninsular strip called Perrache).

The view is fantastic (I wish I had a picture that could do justice) but it is all the more special because it reveals – just in that one view – the layers of the city’s history. The hill itself was, and continues to be be, a place of importance and interest. A majestic late 19th- century Basilica church stands there today. But one can go well back: back to first century BC when Romans controlled Fourviere hill and constructed a theater with a capacity of 10,000; and back, even further, to when the Gauls held the place.

With the decline of the Roman empire in the middle to late part of the first millennium, and with the arrival of the Germanic peoples, the population moved towards the foot of the hill, close to the Saone river. The old, darker rooftops visible immediately below Fourviere and close to the river are in a quarter called Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon), which had a large settlement during the middle ages and the Renaissance times. Further away, to the north, is Croix-Rousse where wealthy silk and garment merchants resided in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And now all around, stretching as far as the eye can see, are modern buildings, including a 142-meter high pencil shaped building (not to be confused, by any means, with the picture below), near the bustling Part Dieu railway station.

So much, then, is encapsulated in the panoramic view from the vantage point on Fourviere that it can seem as if people have been spilling their buildings and their monuments over the hill over the last two thousand years, dispersing them far and wide. This presence of history everywhere – very old history blending seamlessly with more recent – is what makes travelers, Americans especially, coo in admiration.

A steep winding pathway that cuts through the wooded slope of Fourviere, leads to Vieux Lyon. Houses here crowd over each other; some streets are cobblestone; and there are narrow passageways unique to the city, called traboules. Close to the foot of the river is the St. John’s Cathedral, another magnificent church, even older than the Basilica atop the Fourviere. The cathedral was built from the over a period of 3 centuries, from the 12th to the 15th, its style Romanesque in the beginning and but later, towards the end of its construction, heavily Gothic.

Note on pictures: The first picture is that of the Basilica on Fourviere. The second is a tower I came across while walking through Vieux Lyon. Interestingly, the Wikipedia page on traboules, the narrow passageways of the old town, also has a picture of the same tower, and calls it the courtyard of a traboule. And below are some more pictures I took in Vieux Lyon: the first an alley; the second a heavy door to a building used for religious purposes; and the third the lower part of St.John Cathedral's facade.


Iris said...

These pictures look so much better here than on your overcooked laptop!

Hari said...

They looked better on my office computer too! So maybe I should stop using my laptop as a stove top :)