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!

Welcome to Lyon

I’m unpacked and living in Lyon, France for the next month. I had a comfortable, two-hour flight from Dublin on Aer Lingus and the French Customs and Border Control officer stamped my passport without asking me a single question. My luggage appeared as expected and in good shape.

Cobblestone streets and three- and four-story buildings

Lyon is in the southeastern part of France, about 467km (290 miles) from Paris and 148km (90 miles) from the Swiss border and Geneva. It’s an ancient town and was a key part of the Roman empire, back when it was called Lugdunum. Lyon is the third largest city in France and, historically, was known as an important area for the production and weaving of silk. In modern times, it has developed a reputation as the capital of gastronomy in France.

Lyon is divided into three parts by two rivers, the Saône and the Rhône, which converge to the south. The western part of town is Vieux Lyon (old Lyon) and my flat is within the blue circle above. My neighborhood is part of the charming old town, with sloping, cobblestone streets fronting old buildings. The main attraction in my area is the Cathedral and the really touristy area is north of it; my place is just south of it. So I’m close to a lot of interesting things, but not directly in the flow of the tourist hordes. Come to think of it, I’m not sure there are tourist hordes in March. At least I haven’t seen any yet.

My flat is in a very old building, a few steps up from the street, and was nicely renovated by a local architect. You can see the rooms here: As always, there are a few quirks (hit my head twice on a low beam) but generally it’s really pleasant. The shower is terrific: roomy, good water pressure, rainfall shower head. The flat’s in a great location, with a Metro stop just 50 yards away, and bakeries, banks, small grocery stores, and good restaurants nearby. My initial Airbnb throw-a-dart-at-the-map selection process seems to be working well!

Behind my flat the ground rises steeply to the Fourvière hills and atop them are the ruins of a large Roman theater complex and a modern Basilica. The walk up there is steep enough that there’s a funicular that leaves from the Metro station. I’ll definitely be exploring the hill top.

The weather so far has been mixed sun and clouds, with light winds and temps in the 40s-50s, which is an improvement on my last few stormy, windy weeks in Dublin.

Lyon is foodie central and is famous for its bouchons. A bouchon is a restaurant that serves traditional Lyonnaise cuisine, such as sausages, salade lyonnaise, duck pâté, and roast pork. Compared to other forms of French cooking, such as nouvelle cuisine, bouchon dishes are quite fatty and heavily oriented around meat. There are several bouchons near the Cathedral and I will investigate! In addition, traditional French, Italian, and Indian restaurants abound. In case I miss Dublin, there are two Irish pubs nearby, and if I get a hankering for ribs, there’s an American BBQ joint just around the corner.

I like the French restaurant ambience – tables and chairs spilling out onto the street, menu boards, waiters with white aprons in attendance – and especially the great French wines. Beer is, of course, also available, with good German brews on tap. A bar at the end of my street even sells Paulaner Munich Lager in sizes up to 1-litre in the traditional Oktoberfest Maas mugs.

As elsewhere, concerns about the coronavirus are running high here. I did not see anyone, though, in either airport or on my plane wearing a face mask. The papers report that Paris has taken some pre-emptive actions, closing some schools and canceling some events, but I’m unaware of anything like that yet here in Lyon. I’m washing my hands a lot, using hand sanitizer in public, and feel great. I hope you are, and do, too.

Tomorrow I’m going to venture out to learn to ride the Metro and go to the Tourist Information office. Au revoir for now!