Visiting the Roman Ruins and Museum

As I mentioned in an earlier post, 2,000 years ago Lyon was a Roman city called Lugdunum. It was a key city for Empire, the capital of Roman Gaul, the intersection of many Roman roads, and the birthplace of the Emperor Claudius. I spent an afternoon last weekend touring the Roman ruins and visiting the great museum beside them.

The view from the stage

Located on top of the western hills above my apartment, the ruins include a bath house, a 3,000-seat odeum music/poetry venue, and a 10,000 seat amphitheater. All three were quarried for building stones in later centuries and exist today diminished in size. The large theater has a rebuilt stage, is set up for modern lighting and sound, and is used for events.

It’s a pretty steep uphill climb to get to the ruins but luckily there’s a funicular that runs up the hill from the local Metro station. The tunnels it runs through have little illuminated niches with Roman statuary in them, a nice touch.

The Lyon Museum of Gallo-Roman Civilization is a really cool place, buried in the hillside adjacent to the large amphitheater. It even has large windows that look out at the stage. I’ve drawn a yellow line around the museum in this photo:

The museum is a concrete marvel, with four of its five stories buried underground. It houses a magnificent collection of artifacts, including nicely-restored mosaics, and a lot of stones and statues. The structure is designed so that you progress downward through four floors of exhibits and has great exhibit lighting. Despite being underground under tons of concrete, I felt that it was an open and airy space. The entry fee was just €4 and included a audio guide!

In addition to the well-displayed artifacts and exhibits, seats and benches were liberally available, some of the multi-media presentations were really well done, and there was a complete absence of guards keeping an eye on things.

A nice animated display showed the amphitheaters as they were, complete with their long-gone stage houses, and there was a working (just push the button) scale model of the stage showing the mechanics used for changing scenery. As a veteran stage hand, that was my kind of exhibit!

You never know who you’ll run into when visiting a museum; the two scary dudes above, for example.

Not too far away, on what was the site of Emperor Trajan’s Forum, the Christians have had their revenge with the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvièr. Next to it is Lyon’s own min-Eiffel Tower replica, used only for modern communications tech.

If you’re in Lyon, I highly recommend a visit to the ruins and the museum!

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