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Vieux Lyon Travel Guide

Vieux Lyon was once the gathering place of Italian merchants and bankers during 15th century Renaissance in the midst of Lyon’s silk trade. Today, the quarter serves as the greatest exhibition of Renaissance architecture in Europe and the site of the majority of Lyon’s attractions. Many of Vieux Lyon’s old urban town houses, Italian in architectural style, were built by the rich merchants. The entire Vieux Lyon and its narrow cobblestone streets, sidewalk patios, medieval mansions, cathedrals, small museums, traboules, and hidden courtyards have been designated national monuments.

Rue du Boeuf
The highlight of Vieux Lyon is its traboules and secret passageways, with many of them leading into courtyards. The Rue du Boeuf at the heart of Vieux Lyon provides perhaps the best example of these. This cobbled street is filled with lovely traboules, courtyards, towers, facades, and spiral staircases. The street’s name is derived from the famous sign at the corner of Place Neuve St Jean, which portrays a bull. The traboules on Rue du Boeuf were originally built to protect silk from being exposed as it was being transported around the city. Some of them hook through and out onto the perpendicular Rue de la Bombarde while others lead into courtyards. There is one house in particular at No. 19, the 15th century Maison de l’Outarde d’Or, which features a courtyard inside that has spiral staircases in the towers. Another standout is the Maison du Crible; it is a 17th century mansion and one of Lyon’s oldest. Its courtyard has a charming garden and the original elegant pink tower called the Tour Rose. In those days, the higher the tower was built, the greater the prestige it symbolized.

At the end of the Rue du Boeuf strip are two museums: the Musée Historique de Lyon (Lyon Historical Museum) and the Musée de la Marionnette (Puppet Museum). The former features medieval sculptures, pottery, furniture, paintings, and engravings on display inside the 15th century Hôtel de Gadagne, which is the city’s largest ensemble of Renaissance buildings. The latter museum, the Musée de la Marionnette, retraces the history of marionettes with a focus on Lyon’s very own Madelon from the 18th century.

Rue St Jean
Paralleling Rue du Boeuf is Rue St Jean, Vieux Lyon’s major thoroughfare. This street connects Place St Jean with Place du Change – the latter square being the site of past medieval trade fairs. The houses along Rue St Jean were built by wealthy Lyonnais bankers and Italian silk traders during the Renaissance, and the shops along this strip still display the old intricate iron signs. You’ll also find many traboules, courtyards, and pretty Renaissance town houses with splendid facades.

At the end point of Rue St Jean at Place du Change is Loge du Change. This was the original center of banking activities in the late 15th and 16th centuries, its building was constructed by Simon Gourdet in the mid-1500s. It was later redesigned by Jean Baptiste Roche in the mid-1700s using plans from the hands of Soufflot, who was the architect of the Panthéon in Paris. The Loge du Change was used as an inn during the French Revolution, then as a church in the early 19th century, before becoming the prime concert venue of Vieux Lyon that it is today.

Further south on Rue St Jean is the Jardin Archéologique (Archaeological Garden), which contains the excavated ruins of two previous churches on the site; the later of the two was destroyed during the French Revolution. The discovery of the ruins was made during the demolition of apartment buildings on the site.

Just further south down the block of the Jardin Archéologique is the Cathédrale St Jean. This 12th century Romanesque cathedral features a 14th century astronomical clock that was impressive technologically for its time. Also notable are the church’s 13th century stained-glass windows, the tracery and vaulting in the chapel’s side, and the 12th century Manécanterie choir school next to the cathedral.

Place St Paul
At Place St Paul which is a couple of blocks north of Rue du Boeuf are a few notable architectures. Prominently dominating the square is the 12th century church of St Paul. This Flamboyant-Gothic chapel has a notable octagonal lantern. Across the square from it is the Hôtel Bullioud and Hôtel Paterin. These are both splendid Renaissance mansions. The Hôtel Bullioud in particular has a nice courtyard and gallery built in 1536 by Philibert Delorme, who was France’s most accomplished advocate of Classical architecture.

Rue du Boeuf
Rue St Jean
Maison du Crible
Loge du Change
Cathédrale St Jean
Hôtel Bullioud
Hôtel Paterin
Jardin Archéologique
Musée Historique du Lyon
St Paul

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