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Once upon a time, there was a cute little town that suddenly became the capital of a dynamic and important region of Europe. It then became a very attractive and vibrant city in a quite famous country called France.Its Latin name from 43 BC, Lugdunum, means "the place of Lugus". Lugus was a god linked to the light. Therefore, we often refer to Lyon as the "City of Lights" (see below for another explanation).
In 43BC, it was only a small city with very little influence. However, the Roman general Agrippa, Emperor Augustus' son-in-law, named it "Caput Galliarum", the Capital of Gaul (ancestor of France), in 27 BC. Two Roman Emperors were born in Lyon: Claudius and Caracalla.
From then on, Lyon never ceased to gain influence and power despite many challenges the city had to face during its history.
Here are its main three challenges I picked for you, so that you can discover some of the important pages of this very long history.
(Picture below was taken in 2012, from Fourvière hill. There is now a new tower, higher than "the Pencil", the building in red on this picture. It is located next to it.)
Lyon was a very prosperous and dynamic city before 1562. It never recovered from the conflict between catholics and protestants, which destroyed many of the religious buildings (parts of the St John Cathedral (Cathédrale St Jean in French) included). The protestants were lead by the Baron of the Adrets who killed many of the influential catholics in the city, forcing at the same time most of the traders, bankers and printers to flee the city and settle down in Geneva. Therefore, the city lost its main source of income and interest. Fortunately enough, it then became an intellectual heart thanks to the Jesuits around 1630.
2. 1643: the Plague & the Virgin Mary.
If you come to Lyon, you will quickly notice the Basilique de Fourvière, this religious building on the top of the hill overlooking the city. You will also notice that a colossal and golden statue of the Virgin Mary is watching over Lyon on top of this religious building. The explanations behind this building that even the most atheist "lyonnais" (inhabitants of Lyon, in French) admire and care for come from 1643, when the city was officially declared "under the protection of the Virgin Mary".
This terrible year of 1643 was a year of plague in Lyon. Many people died and the situation was so desperate that the main religious authorities promised to pay tribute to the Virgin Mary every year if the plague stopped. A few weeks later, the plague suddenly stopped and therefore, the city pays tribute to the Virgin Mary every year on September 8 since then.
We also have another celebration in her honour, on December 8, every year: the Festival of Lights, created in 1850. Though its origins are at the same time pagan and catholic (celebrating winter and thanking Mary for her protection), it is now also a touristic attraction that no one should miss! All "Lyonnais" put candles on their windows and you can wander in the streets during four days to discover light&sound shows. Most light&sound innovations are tested for the first time in public during the Festival of Lights in Lyon! I will explain it a bit better in another article later.
The city lost almost half of its population during the 1643 Plague.
(Below, a picture of the townhall during the Festival of Lights in 2014, featuring a lion, the emblem of the city.)
Though Lyon wasn't destroyed as much as other cities such as Hannover in Germany, for instance, or Caen in Normandy, it was massively bombed by the Allies on May 26, 1944. This page of Lyon's history is a very important one. My own grandfather told me what happened on this day in this beautiful and proudly resistant city (he was around 10 years old at that time).
Jean Moulin, the operating chief of the Résistance in France, sent by the General De Gaulle himself, settled down in Lyon to monitor all the Résistance's actions. He was arrested in Caluire-et-Cuire, on June 21, 1943. He was tortured by Klaus Barbie himself, chief of the Gestapo in Lyon. Then, he was deported towards a camp in Germany, which he never reached alive. He died on the train, near Metz.
Lyon is extremely proud of this national hero. He never gave up, he never told anything about the Résistance despite all the tortures he went through. Lyon could have been "just a half-free city" like the rest of the "free France", but it became a proud heart of the Résistance and that's what helped its inhabitants to recover from the bombings of 1944. All of the city's bridges were destroyed by the Nazi soldiers when they fled from the city in 1944.
Lyon has a very rich history since 43 BC. It is now one of the most dynamic and influential cities in France, currently hosting the Euro 2016 (it will even host one of the semifinals!). Lyon is also the native city of the Frères Lumière, who invented the cinema. It is home to many other famous Frenchies such as: Rabelais (writer), Edouard Herriot (politician), Louis Pradel (politician), Tony Garnier (architect), and Jacquard, who created the silk industry in Lyon, but also André Manoukian (musician), Florence Foresti (humorist) and Woodkid (musician).
Last but not least: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the man behind The Little Prince, was of course from Lyon. If you arrive in Lyon by plane, you will land at "Lyon St-Exupéry" (LYS): yes, we're so proud of this writer that we named our airport after him!
Come to Lyon & discover more of its history!(Below, a picture from the Festival of Lights in 2014, where you can see the big wheel on the Place Bellecour as well as the statue of Louis XIV.)
(All pictures are from me. Creative Commons. Please do not modify them and don't forget saying where you found them when using them. Also, do not use them for commercial purposes.)
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