The ‘Presqu’île’, literally the ‘peninsula’, extending from the foot of the Croix Rousse hill to the confluence of the Rhône and the Saône rivers, is Lyon’s modern city centre, with its cafés, restaurants, luxury shops, department stores, banks and cultural institutions.
The spires of the Saint Nizier church, reconstructed starting in the 14 th century, are a neighbourhood landmark, at the foot of the former Saône river bridge. This district was an important counterpoint to the ‘Vieux Lyon’ in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Many picturesque streets still exist. Among these is the rue Mercière, where printers and booksellers gravitated in the 15th and 16th centuries and which still has some superb buildings. The Museum of Printing, housed in the former Hôtel de la Couronne, explains how Lyon’s first books were printed. Squares, in many cases decorated with fountains, and churches sprinkled throughout evoke the presence of numerous convents, including those of the Dominicans (‘Jacobins’), the Celestines and the Conventual Franciscans (‘Cordeliers’), whose Saint Bonaventure church was rebuilt in the 14th century. Further south, the Saint Martin d’Ainay church was located in the confines of a large Benedictine abbey, and is a jewel of Romanesque art in Lyon.
The place des Terreaux was created in the 17 th century, owing to the construction of two prestigious structures: – the Hôtel de Ville, or City Hall, was built between 1646 and 1655 by the architect Simon Maupin and decorated by the painter Thomas Blanchet. In 1674 the Great Hall was ravaged by fire, and the façade facing the square was redesigned in the early 18th century by Jules-Hardouin Mansart. – The Saint Pierre palace, formerly a royal Benedictine abbey, was built starting in 1659 by the Avignon architect François Royers de la Valfenière. It now houses the Museum of Fine Arts. The public garden in the former cloister is decorated with the work of famous sculptors and is a quiet, urban oasis.
In the 17th and 18th centuries the place Bellecour was created in honour of King Louis XIV. Today a statue of the Sun King on horseback dominates the centre of the square, accompanied by two low reliefs carved by the Coustou brothers, representing the Rhône and the Saône. Germain Soufflot expanded the hospital located near the oldRhône bridge, building the HôtelDieu along the banks of the river. Still a functioning hospital, the Hôtel-Dieu now also houses the Musée des Hospices Civils de Lyon, tracing the history of hospital care in Lyon. Numerous hôtels particuliers were built in the vicinity of the place Bellecour. The Hôtel du Gouverneur, built in 1730, now houses the Musée des Tissus (Museum of Fabric) and the Hôtel de Lacroix Laval, designed by Soufflot, is nowthe Museum of Decorative Arts.
In 1855, during France’s Second Empire period, Claude-Marius Vaïsse, Prefect of the Rhône département, created the rue de la République and the rue Edouard Herriot as part of a series of large construction projects. The Stock Exchange, built in 1860, is an example of the Napoleon III style and is in the heart of the banking district. In the 19th century, two theatres were built: the Célestins Theatre and the Grand Theatre, the latter of which is now the opera house, rebuilt in 1993 by Jean Nouvel. These are two of the city’s major cultural centres.
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