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Encyclopedia > Lyons
This article is about the French city. For other usages (as Lyons), see Lyons (disambiguation).
Région Rhône-Alpes
Département Rhône
Arrondissement Lyon
Cantons chief town of 14 cantons
Population (1999) 453,187
Population of the metropolitan area (aire urbaine, 1999) 1,648,216
Area 48 km²

Lyon (British English Lyons) is a city in eastern-central France.

Together with its suburbs and satellite towns, Lyon forms the second largest metropolitan area in France after Paris, and approximately the 20th to 25th largest metropolitan area of Western Europe.

Lyon is the capital of the Rhône-Alpes région, and the préfecture (capital) of the Rhône département.

The city gave its name to the Lyonnais province, of which it was the capital. Today the region around Lyon is still known as Lyonnais (French: le Lyonnais), or sometimes even as the Lyonnaise Region (French: Région Lyonnaise). Lyonnaise Region is an unofficial, popular name, not to be confused with the administrative région of Rhône-Alpes, which is much larger than the Lyonnaise Region.



Lyon is the chief town of the Rhône-Alpes région, the préfecture of the Rhône département, the chief town of the arrondissement of Lyon, and the chief town of 14 cantons, covering 1 commune, and with a total population of 445,452 (1999).

Central Lyon from the Fourvière hill


Lyon was founded in 43 BC by the Roman Empire, who named it Lugdunum after the Celtic sun god Lugh ("shining one"). Agrippa recognized that Lugdunum's position on the natural highway from north to south-eastern France made it a natural communications hub, and he made Lyon the starting-point of the principal Roman roads throughout Gaul. The three parts of Gaul mentioned by Caesar met at Lyon. It became then the capital of the Gauls.

Under Roman Emperor Septimius Severus, the Christians in Lyon were prosecuted for their religious views. Burgundian refugees from the destruction of Worms by Huns in 437 were resettled by the military commander of the west, Aetius, at Lugdunum, which was formally the capital of the new Burgundian kingdom by 461.

In 843, by the Treaty of Verdun, Lyon with the country beyond the Saône went to Lothair I.

Lyon was a scene of mass violence against Huguenots in the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacres in 1572.

During the Renaissance the city developed due to the development of the silk trade, especially with Italy; the Italian influence on Lyon's architecture can still be seen. Thanks to the silk trade, Lyon became an important industrial town during the 19th century.

Lyon was a centre for the occupying German forces, and also a stronghold of resistance during World War II, and the town is now home to a resistance museum. The traboules through the houses enabled the locals to escape Gestapo raids.


Lyon is located at 45°46' North, 4°50' East (45.767, 4.833).

The Rhône and Saône rivers meet in the centre of the city, which is dominated by the two hills Fourvière and the Croix-Rousse. Fourvière, known as the hill that prays is the location for the highly decorated Notre-Dame de Fourvière basilica, several convents, the palace of the Archbishop, and a funicular. Croix-Rousse the hill that works was traditionally home to the many small silk workshops, an industry for which the city was renowned.

The Sain-Jean and the Croix-Rousse areas, which are noted for narrow passageways (traboules) that pass through buildings and link the streets either side, were designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1998.

On the peninsula between the rivers Rhône and Saône, is the third largest public square in France, and one of the largest in Europe, the Place Bellecour. Specifically, it is the largest clear square (i.e., without any patches of greenery, trees or any other kind of obstacles) in Europe.


Lyon was an early center for printing books, and nurtured a circle of 16th century poets. For several centuries Lyon has been known as the capitals of gastronomy and the silk trade. The Lumière brothers invented cinema in the town in 1898. December 8 each year is marked by a Lumière festival, with the local population putting lamps in their windows.

Two of France's best known wine-growing regions are located near Lyon: the Beaujolais to the North, and the Côtes du Rhône to the South.


The Roman Catholic Archbishop of the city holds the title "Primate of the Gauls" (Primat des Gaules) and is the leading Archbishop of France. The archdiocese dates to Roman times before Franks entered modern France (see history above).

A mediaeval Pope's admiration of the red vestments of the canons of Lyon is said to have given rise to red becoming the signature color of the cardinals.

Colleges and Universities

  • CPE Lyon
  • École Centrale de Lyon
  • École Normale Supérieure de Lyon
  • École Normale Supérieure Lettres et Sciences Humaines
  • École nationale des beaux-arts de Lyon
  • Institut National des Sciences Appliquées de Lyon
  • Université Jean Moulin
  • Université Claude Bernard
  • Université Louis Lumière


Airport: Saint-Exupéry International Airport

Lyon is connected to the North (Lille, Paris) and the South (Marseille, Montpellier) by the TGV. It was the first city to be connected by the TGV c.1982.

Metro: see www.urbanrail.net/eu/lyo/lyon.htm

Buildings and Structures


Born in Lyon

The long list of notable Lyonnais includes:


Lyon is twinned with :

Musical reference

  • A historical article about a 19th century flood inspired the 1979 song The Flood at Lyons by Renaissance.

External links

  • Lyon town hall (http://www.mairie-lyon.fr/)
  • Lyon Web (http://www.lyonweb.net/)
  • Objectif Lyon: Pictures and descriptions of the monuments (http://www.dboc.net/lyon/)

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