On one of our walks around Lyon we came on a square which looked pretty haphazard. Looking more closely I saw that the buildings were narrow and oddly matched. Among many late 19th century CE and early 20th century buildings, a sliver of a much older building was left. Lyon’s history spans a long period, so it requires a better eye than mine to start to guess the age of a building from these little clues. The door was topped by a lovely crescent of stone and wood. Above that was a single slit of a window which gave light to what I thought was five floors of the structure. Worth walking up closer to see.
The arch over the door was done in well-dressed light and dark stone. The same stones had been used in the pillars and arch of the window slit centered above it. The rest of the facade was far rougher. What was this place? The keys carved into the wood above the door was my only clue. It could signify skill, and so this could be a medieval or renaissance guild house. But it was more likely that it signified the keys to heaven, and make this a small church or chapel. The fact that it was left unchanged for centuries while the houses around it underwent renovations made this interpretation the more likely. Maybe then the thing above the keys was a bishop’s mitre?
My eyes slid away to the tobacconist next door. I used to love these old style Tabac-Presse shops: you could get cigarettes, newspapers, bus tickets, and any old thing there. This one had a fine piece of advertisement painted on its shutters. Lyon is large enough to retain its minor talent: not just the buskers making music around the square but also good artists who wouldn’t be able to break into the bigger art world.
When The Family asked me to design a different trip to France, the first place I thought of was Lyon. The home of the Lumiere brothers and Paul Bocuse: cinema and food. What could be more French? But also we hadn’t been there before. A TGV leaves Charles de Gaulle for Lyon every hour. Straight out of Mumbai, we hopped on to one, reached Lyon, and located our hotel overlooking the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers. We’d slept on the journey, so we decided to get to the very large Place Bellecourt and start a walk around the town. The featured photo is the first I took on this trip and shows the statue of Louis XIV in the center of this square.
It was a late spring day, mostly warm and sunny. Clouds kept blowing in every hour and covering the sun, so it never got too hot. Perfect for the walk we had in mind. Place Bellecour is part of the long finger of land between the rivers called the Presqu’île. We wandered north to see Bartholdi’s fountain in the Place de Terraux, and listened to the buskers around it. The little green “cushions” (coussins de Lyon) of marzipan filled with chocolate that we nibbled would have been much too sweet if it wasn’t for the coffee we had with it. Our walk brought us to the left bank of the Saône. Should we cross over and walk through the renaissance district on the right bank?
You can never say no to such a question. So we left the 19th century behind and walked into the old city. In the 15th century Lyon was a hotbed of strange ideas, disseminated through the new printing presses which the city adopted. If we’d arrived 575 years earlier, we would have been caught in the middle of an uprising against the royal bureaucrats and excessive taxation. Fortunately, things settled down, and the next couple of centuries as a prosperous center of trade in spice and silk gave rise to the parts we walked through. We found the traboules, a warren of passageways below the old houses which led us away from the river. Beautiful renaissance era buildings rose in a close mass above them.
This part of the town was quite full of museums. We would come back another day to see them. For the moment we climbed upwards to an old amphitheater on a slope that overlooked this part of the city. From up there we had a nice view over the city which had grown for two and a half millennia outwards from a little military garrison of the Mediterranean empire which called itself Roman. Walking on towards a restaurant which we’d picked for dinner, I took a photo of the Basilica of Fourviere reflected in the window of a Renault parked on the road. It was quite a memorable walk, we thought as we talked about our travels over dinner last night.