Looming above Lyon from its position on a hilltop on the right bank of the Saône River, the Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière can be seen from numerous places in the city. So it is certainly a prominent landmark, even for those of us who dislike the building and what it stands for.
Like the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, which has a similarly dominating position on a hill above Paris, the Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière was begun in the troubled period of the 1870s to celebrate the triumph of reactionary “Christian values” over the socialist aspirations of the Paris and Lyon communes.
In the words of Bertrand Taithe, Professor of Cultural History at The University of Manchester:
“The reaction to the communes of Paris and Lyon were triumphalist monuments, the Sacré-Coeur of Montmartre and the Basilica of Fourvière, dominating both cities. These buildings were erected using private funds, as gigantic ex-votos, thanking God for the victory over the socialists and in expiation of the sins of modern France.” (From his book Citizenship and Wars: France in Turmoil, 1870-1871.)
Here’s a look inside the Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière. (I think it looks awful, but I’m not exactly a connoisseur of church architecture.)
This “Metallic tower of Fourvière” was built by a private investor between 1892 and 1894. It was originally intended as a tourist attraction for the Universal Exposition of Lyon in 1894, and was supported by the City Council because they wanted to have a secular monument on the hill to counter-balance the religious Basilica nearby.
Originally the tower had a hydraulic elevator that could carry 22 people up to the top, where there was a restaurant and an observation deck.
In 1953 the tower was acquired by the French radio and television system for use as a transmission tower. Since then it has been closed to the public, and it no longer has an elevator.
Actually I do suggest that you go up to Fourvière, not for the obnoxious Basilica or the pathetic metal tower, but because you can get some good views of Lyon from up there, and then go for a scenic walk along the back side of the hill on the Promenade de la Sarra.
Fourvière, by the way, was where the Romans first settled in this area. They called it Lugdunum and first settled here in the year 43 BC. On the south side of Fourvière hill are the ruins of a Roman theater (which I only saw from a distance) and Roman baths.
The river in the foreground in this photo is the Saône, and the line of trees further back marks the course of the Rhône.
This is the Montée des Chazeaux, one of the stairways leading up to Fourvière from the Old Town, rue du Bœuf.
This staircase is quite steep and used to be known as tire-cul meaning “drag-butt”, because it was so tiring to drag your butt up the 228 steps.
(If you don’t feel like doing this you can also take the funicular, which is what I did.)
If you walk along the Promenade de la Sarra from the back side of Fourvière hill, starting near the Metallic Tower, you will eventually come to the oldest cemetery in Lyon, the cemetery of Loyasse, which has been in use since 1807.
The amazing thing for someone like me is that some of the burial plots contain the graves of up to seven generations of the same family.
Burial plot for seven generations of the same family, all of whom apparently lived in Lyon.
My photos in this post are from 2011. I revised the text in 2017.