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.
History of Old Lyon District
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.