Presqu’île is the peninsula in the middle of Lyon, sandwiched between Vieux Lyon and the Part Dieu district and also between the Saône and Rhône rivers. Presqu’île is today Lyon’s modern center, full of boutique shops, restaurants, fountain-graced squares, museums, and old buildings. The district is a long narrow strip that stretches from Place Carnot to Rue de la Tourette, which is the rough border dividing Presqu’île from Croix Rousse.
The center of Presqu’île is the Place Bellecour. It is one of the largest squares in France at the midpoint between the Rhône and Saône rivers. The square features a bronze statue of Louis XIV mounted on a horse, which was sculpted by Jean Lemot in 1825. There are no trees or shrubs on any of its sides, only 19th century architecture. The square, however, links the major shopping streets of Rue Victor Hugo and Rue de la République, making Place Bellecour the center of shopping in Lyon.
At the southernmost end of Presqu’île is Place Carnot, which is a bustling square recognized by its two monuments – one that represents La République and the other, a seated figure, representing the City of Lyon. The square is most famous for its Christmas market, held from December until New Year’s.
Between Place Carnot and Place Bellecour are two museums and one basilica church of interest. The Musée des Arts Décoratifs (Decorative Arts Museum) and the Musée Historique des Tissus (Textile History Museum) both run side by side. The former museum is the more impressive of the two; it is housed in an 18th century mansion and features a collection of silverware, porcelain, tapestries, furniture, and other objets d’arts. The latter museum, the Musée Historique des Tissus, showcases an exhibit of silks, tapestries, and carpets. The highlights of the collection include 4th century Asian tapestries, medieval Persian and Turkish carpets, and 18th century Lyon silk. A couple of blocks to the west of both museums is the Basilique de Saint Martin d’Ainay. This church has been used by the Benedictine monastery since the 9th and 10th centuries. It is one of the earliest buildings still around in France, and features severe interior frescoes and murals and a hulking exterior that is tempered by stained-glass windows that glow in the twilight.
Place des Terreaux
The main square at the northern section of Presqu’île is Place des Terreaux. The front and center showpiece of this square is a 19th century fountain that is crowned by four horses. The monument was sculpted by Auguste Bartholdi, the same sculptor of the Statue of Liberty in New York. At night, the square’s 69 fountains are illuminated. On one side of the Place des Terreaux, you’ll find the Musée des Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts Museum). The building of this museum is a 17th century palace that used to serve as a Benedictine abbey. The museum today showcases a large collection of art, mainly impressionist and modern paintings as well as classical artifacts of Egyptian and Etruscan descent. The highlight is Rodin’s Walker and Louis Janmot’s painted visions called Poem of the Soul. On the other side of the Place des Terreaux square is the town hall of Lyon, the Hôtel de Ville. The building was originally constructed in the early 17th century based on the designs of Jules Hardouin-Mansart. There was a fire in 1674, however, and the façade had to be redesigned.
A couple of blocks to the east of the square towards the Rhône River is the Opéra de Lyon designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel only a decade ago. This building is home to the Lyon Opera and has a Neoclassical interior with glass vaulting and an exterior that features heroic statues along its parapets above.
Rue de la Tourette
On the northern edge of Presqu’île across the Saône River on Rue de la Tourette is the Jardin des Plantes (Botanical Garden). The impressiveness of this sight is less its luxurious botanical gardens but more the remains of its Three Gauls Amphitheater (Amphithéatre des Trois Gauls) which was built by the Romans in 19 AD.
Quai St Vincent
Further out west from Rue de la Tourette along Quai St Vincent is the Jardin des Chartreux. This garden is a small park, notable for its splendid view overlooking the Saône River and Fourvière Hill.
Place des Terreaux
Musée des Arts Décoratifs
Musée Historique des Tissus
Basilique de Saint Martin d’Ainay
Musée des Beaux-Arts
Hôtel de Ville
Opéra de Lyon
Jardin des Plantes
Jardin des Chartreux