Friday, 16 March 2012

Lyonnaise Attractions

Lyon is split into sections by the Rhône and the Saône rivers, with the Old City (or Vieux Lyon) and the Fourvière Hill to the west of the Saône. There is an extensive shopping area in the city center between the rivers (called the Presqu’île for “peninsula”), and a further commercial district to the east of the Rhône. Our hotel was in the center, which offered the perfect location for exploring all areas of the city by foot. We had beautiful, sunny weather for the entire four days and only needed a light jacket.

The first must-see attraction we checked out was the Museum of Fine Arts, or Musée des Beaux-Arts. It’s reasonably priced and housed in a 17th century Benedictine abbey that’s a work of art in itself. The works of Rodin were my personal favorite but there is truly something for everyone, as their massive collection spans from antiquity through modern art. French is the only language on the placards, so be sure pick up an English audio guide at the reception if French isn’t your forte.

We entered through the courtyard sculpture gardens and started by going downstairs into the chapel which contains all of the 19th and 20th century sculpture. We then came back upstairs to the first floor and worked our way around, starting with the Egyptian artifacts and continuing through the coin room and finishing with Madame Guimard’s bedroom exhibit, which was far nicer than our hotel room. The carved ivory and Islamic art was a highlight on this floor for us. We finished our tour by visiting the second floor to see the paintings from the 15th through the 20th century.

This museum set the perfect theme for the start of our Lyon adventure. We only spent a few hours here, but you could easily spend an entire day and not see everything. There is also a café and bookstore, and the courtyard is great place to visit if you need some fresh air.

Next up we visited the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, or Cathédrale de Saint-Jean-Baptiste, located in the Old City. We wandered through the archaeological garden north of the cathedral, taking pictures of the ruins including the arch and baptismal font. The front of the cathedral is striking, a fantastic example of Gothic architecture with intricately carved entrances. The gargoyles watch your every move as if they know your sins before you even step foot in the cathedral. Inside the mood deepens. The sounds of the pipe organ fill the cavernous space, and the light shining through the stained glass dances on the stone pillars. It is truly a sight to behold.

We slowly made our way through each of the chapels, stopping to admire the art and stained glass as we went. Towards the front of the cathedral on the left hand side stands the astronomical clock. This was by far my favorite part of the experience. The clock dates to 1383 and can only be described as a masterpiece. The elaborate gold discs create the perfect meld of astrology, religion, and scientific precision.

Crossing the front of the cathedral we arrived at the statue of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, beautifully clutching her rosary in one hand and her bouquet of roses in the other. I paused to give an offering and lit my yellow candle. From this spot, if you look across the cathedral and above the astronomical clock, there is a perfect view of the round stained glass depicting the good and evil angels. For reference, the good angels are framed in red and the evil ones in blue.

This is an active cathedral that is used on a daily basis, so appropriate dress is expected and it’s closed to the public during services. However, don’t let that discourage you from visiting as you don’t have to be Catholic or even religious to appreciate this cathedral. It is an awesome structure housing beautiful stained glass and artwork. Stop in and stay for awhile; you won’t be disappointed.

After leaving the cathedral, we continued onto the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière, which dates to the late 19th century. There’s a Metro link directly from the cathedral to the basilica, or if you’re feeling really adventurous, you can climb the winding cobble stone street to the top as we did. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of space on the walk to stop and pretend to be tying your shoe/admiring the staircase as you try not to have a stroke. There may also be a bicyclist who travels up and down the hill no less than three times as you struggle on. Once you arrive at the top of the hill, you are rewarded with a breathtaking (no pun intended) view of the city. To the left of the basilica is a viewing area with a guide to each of the buildings. If you need to quench your thirst or grab some lunch, to the right of the basilica is the Restaurant de Fourvière which has a great patio area overlooking the city. In comparison to the cathedral, I found the basilica itself to be a bit underwhelming. However, the intricate mosaics that line every surface of the interior were very impressive and I don’t regret my visit in the slightest!

There’s plenty more to see and do in Lyon; these are just the three attractions we decided to visit. As France’s third largest city (after Paris and Marseille), this city is small enough to feel comfortable, but large enough to keep you occupied.

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