Historic Site of Lyon

Department of Rhône, Region of Rhône-Alpes
N45 46 1.992 E4 49 59.988
Date of Inscription: 1998
Criteria: (ii)(iv)
Property : 427 ha
Buffer zone: 323 ha
Ref: 872
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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.

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.

Suggested Bases:

Lyon is the capital of the French administrative region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. A city of half a million, Lyon alone is the country’s third-largest city, but its metropolitan area is only second in population to Paris. Lyon is mostly known as the gastronomic epicentre of France, with one of the highest concentrations of restaurants per capita in the country. Lyon was a former Roman provincial capital and thus has extensive Roman ruins. Architecture in old Lyon ranges from 12th century to modern, and is primarily influenced by its position in the Renaissance as a centre of silk production. Founded by the Romans, with many preserved historical areas, Lyon is the archetype of the heritage city, as recognised by UNESCO. Lyon is a vibrant metropolis which starts to make the most out of its unique architectural, cultural and gastronomic heritage, its dynamic demographics and economy and its strategic location between Northern and Southern Europe [read more].

Saint-Étienne is a city in the central eastern part of France, 60 km (40 miles) southwest of Lyon. Located in the Rhône-Alpes region, Saint-Étienne is the prefecture (capital) of the Loire Department. It is situated in the Massif Central. The city is situated on the Furan or Furens River at the foot of the Pilat Massif. It is around 59 km (37 miles) southwest of Lyon and 53 km (33 miles) from Vienne. A legend states that in Roman times, it was a settlement with the name Furanum, from the name of the Furan River. The name was then changed to Furania, a name it would keep until the Middle Ages. The first written traces of the city’s history date to 1258 when the town was called Sancti Stephani de Furano after Saint Stephen (Saint Étienne in French). The town, known for its arms industry, was briefly renamed Armeville or Commune d’Armes (Arms Town) during the French Revolution [read more].

Grenoble is a city of around 158,000 inhabitants (550,000 taking into account the metropolitan area) in the French Alps. The climate is quite cold in winter, with days of snow almost every year. Summers are known to be hot, as mountains surrounding the town stop any wind. Grenoble is crossed by two rivers, the Drac and the Isère (“the lion and the serpent”), and is surrounded by three mountain chains, the Vercors, Chartreuse and Belledonne. The city is renowned for its universities on the campus, for its scientific research centers in the northeast of the city, including Minatec for nanotechnologies, CEA the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, a French National Center for Scientific Research agency, the European Synchrotron for high-brilliance source of X-rays, the Institut Laue-Langevin for the most powerful source of neutron in the world, the EMBL the Europe’s flagship laboratory for the life sciences as well as for its industrial center in the western suburbs: Meylan, Montbonnot and Crolles including high-tech companies such as STmicroelectronics and Motorola [read more].

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