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Lyon, known at the time as Lugdunum (meaning “the hill of light” or “the hill of crows”) began under the Romans, in the first century B.C. when the city was proclaimed capital of the three Gauls. This official status brought political, economic, military and religious development to the city. This period of pre-eminence lasted 3 centuries but did not survive the downfall of the Roman Empire. A long period of upheaval possessed the city until the church gave it new impetus by declaring Lyon the seat of the Primate of Gaul in the 11th century.
From that time, prosperity continued to grow, reaching its peak in the Renaissance. By the end of the 15th century, Lyon was an important center of trade with its fairs and a well-developed banking system which attracted commercial interests from all over Europe. Soon, the social, intellectual and artistic elite settled here. Development continued through the 17th and 18th centuries with the Lyon silk industry supplying the world’s wealthy with clothing and interior decoration. The city continued to gain in size and equipped itself with hospitals, public squares and impressive edifices.
The French Revolution in 1789 brought a brutal halt to expansion but development was re-vitalized under the Napoleonic empire. Lyon became an industrial city and pursued its urban development with a distinct preference for the Haussman style prevalent at the time. Though the revolt of the Canuts silk workers tarnished the era, Lyon enjoyed an undeniable power which it carried into the 20th century.
Urban development continued to expand and change the face of the city. During World War II, Lyon was the center of the French Resistance. The post-war period marked the beginning of the race for modernity with a new challenge, the construction of Europe. Lyon acquired a European dimension through the development of the transportation system, hotel and other tourist facilities, cultural establishments and the creation of the Part Dieu business quarter in 1960.
The 1980’s saw a new drive to improve the city’s infrastructure. The momentum continues today. Important town planning projects have been completed in strategic locations, while maintaining a policy of preservation of local historical cultural assets. In barely a dozen years, Lyon has become a major metropolis where the successes of the past live in harmony with the goals of the future. These different phases of Lyon’s history are engraved in the urban landscape.
Lyon’s special affection for nature is primarily due to its geographic situation.
Proud of its two hills and two rivers, the city also boasts an extraordinary green belt.
No matter what part of town you may be in, nature is always close at hand: the vineyards and golden stones of the Beaujolais are only 20 minutes away; the Monts d’Or, the Monts du Beaujolais and the gentle hills and ponds of the Dombes entice many a visitor.
The metropolitan area counts 3 city parks: the Tête d’Or Park, spreading over 105 hectares (262 acres), with a design inspired by English gardens, has a 16-hectare (40-acre) lake filled by a tributary of the Rhone, along with a zoo and a botanical garden; the Parc des Hauteurs, which overlooks the city; and the Gerland Confluence Park created along the banks of the Rhone. A bicycle path runs from Gerland in the south all the way to the Cité Internationale in the north sector of the city.
On the outskirts of the city, just a few minutes from the center, the Miribel Jonage Park stands as a leisure zone offering a great number of sports and nautical activities. The Lacroix-Laval Park, property of the Regional Council, is 12 km. from downtown Lyon. This 287-acre domain has a forest graced with a wide variety of trees, prairie-like expanses, ponds and a river. You’ll also find a French-style garden, a farm and a château with a restaurant. One of the main attractions of this park is its Doll Museum in the château, housing a collection of more than a thousand antique dolls, among the most beautiful in the world.
The Parilly district Park, located at the city limits of Lyon, Bron and Vénissieux, has a hippodrome and attracts a large public to its shaded paths and sports grounds.
See our previous blog editorials on this great city: Lyon Stories